Max Verstappen inched a step closer to ending Lewis Hamilton’s four-year reign as Formula 1 World Champion with an emphatic performance at the F1 Mexico City Grand Prix on Sunday.
It was a crushingly dominant drive by Verstappen for his ninth victory of the season at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, and his third win from his last four visits to the circuit.
Key to Verstappen’s victory was the start. Pole sitter Valtteri Bottas opted not to defend the racing line and instead held the middle, with Hamilton on the inside, allowing Verstappen to grab the optimum line on the outside. Verstappen was able to brake later than the Mercedes drivers and in one swoop rocketed from third to first.
From there, Verstappen only relinquished the lead during the pit stop cycle as he cruised home 16.555 seconds clear of championship rival Lewis Hamilton. Red Bull’s Sergio Perez completed the podium, 17.752 seconds back of the winner.
No other driver finished within 1 minute of the lead.
“I braked as late as I could for Turn 1, kept it on track, went from third to first as that was what made my race as I could just focus on myself,” said Verstappen. “We had incredible pace in the car.
“There’s still a long way to go [in the championship], so of course it is looking good, but also it can turn around very quickly. But I’m looking forward to Brazil.”
For Hamilton it was a salvage job well done as he at least kept himself in the title battle with second place. He needs to claw back a 19-point deficit with 107 up for grabs across the remaining four events in Brazil, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi.
“There’s still four races, 19 points is a lot of points, and I think his ninth win so he’s had a lot of wins this year,” said Hamilton. “I think today with their superior speed, if they were to carry that into the next ones then we may be in trouble… or we will be in trouble. But I hope we’re closer.”
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said that the team will continue to fight despite Verstappen’s second win on the bounce.
“None of us is ever going to leave this circuit here with the mentality of this is going away from us,” Wolff stressed. “When you look at the mathematical probability then I would rather be 19 points ahead than behind but it is what it is.”
The local spectators were left happy after witnessing one of their own claim a podium finish on home turf for the first time. Since last visiting the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in 2019, when Perez claimed his maiden victory, was almost left without a seat after being dumped by Racing Point, and then hooked up with Red Bull Racing.
The majority of the 140,000 who attended the race, including the 30,000 in the frenzied Foro Sol stadium that houses a portion of the circuit, gave Perez a hero’s welcome throughout the weekend. Perez used fresher tires to give chase to Hamilton as he tried to bag a 1-2 for Red Bull but while he fell short, taking third, it was a podium that enthralled the awaiting spectators. Perez’s son joyously greeted his father, while Perez’s own father jubilantly danced around waving the Mexican flag.
“At the end of the day we are such competitive people, if we finish third we don’t enjoy it, but today is one of those days where I must enjoy it, because the crowd… just seeing so many people so happy, and especially on the podium pretty much everyone who has been with me since day one was there so that was special for me,” said Perez.
In a soporific race there was little action or incident after the opening lap, with Bottas’ slender hopes dashed when he was tipped into a spin by McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo. A non-score for Bottas was good news for Red Bull in the Constructors’ Championship as it slashed Mercedes’ advantage from 23 to just a solitary point.
Pierre Gasly finished fourth for AlphaTauri, lifting them level on points with Alpine in the standings, while it was a prosperous day for Ferrari at the expense of McLaren. Fifth and sixth for Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz is little to shout in the context of Ferrari’s illustrious history but it moved the marque 13.5 points ahead of McLaren in the battle for third overall.
And spare a thought for Antonio Giovinazzi. Running seventh in the first stint Alfa Romeo made the bewildering call to stop him early, dropping him into traffic, which meant he wound up in the first non-points-paying position of 11th for the third successive race as rivals overcut him.
“Hey guys thanks for the great strategy,” said an understandably frustrated Giovinazzi on the cooldown lap. Given his uncertain future, with Alfa Romeo expected to replace him for 2022, it may have been his last shot at a strong result.
It was not a race that will live long in the memory for its entertainment factor – though the podium scenes saved the day – but in the title race it could yet prove a crucial day.
F1 Mexican Grand Prix Results
4 Races Remaining
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