Max Verstappen atoned for being stripped of a podium finish at the United States Grand Prix a week ago by claiming a dominant Mexican Grand Prix victory, but the main celebrations were held in the Mercedes garage as Lewis Hamilton became Britain’s first four-time Formula 1 World Champion.
The Englishman moved further up the rankings among the sport’s greatest every drivers, although he is unlikely to look back fondly on the race itself after he and his sole title rival Sebastian Vettel made contact on the opening lap. The clash – quickly ruled by the FIA Stewards as a racing incident – sent both drivers to the back of the field with damage and all but killed Vettel’s slim hopes of keeping the title fight alive into the Brazilian Grand Prix.
Hamilton simply had to finish inside the top five to ensure a fourth Drivers’ Championship title, while Vettel effectively needed two wins and a second place over the remaining three races to stand a mathematical chance.
Both would recover from the back of the field – Vettel finishing fourth and Hamilton laboring to ninth – but the acclaim would go to Hamilton in the end.
Vettel started from pole position after a superb qualifying performance on Saturday but he was always going to be vulnerable to attack on the 890-metre run to Turn 1.
As the lights went out, Verstappen slotted his car into the Ferrari’s tow before making an audacious pass around the outside of the German which gave him the inside line for Turn 2. The pair briefly touched wheel-to-wheel before Verstappen slotted ahead, with Vettel clipping his front wing end plate on the back of the youngster’s car.
Their contact gave Hamilton a chance to dive for the inside of Turn 2, giving him the outside line for the Turn 3 right-hander. He swept around the outside of Vettel, but with cold front tyres and reduced front-end grip Vettel understeered into Hamilton’s right-rear tyre. The contact further damaged his front wing and punctured Hamilton’s right-rear tyre, forcing both to pit at the end of the lap.
Thanks to his slow return to the pits, Hamilton emerged plum last and well adrift of the rest of the field to give himself a long afternoon’s recovery drive if he was to claim the championship crown. Vettel’s path to a points’ recovery was somewhat easier, but his efforts would count for nothing if Hamilton was able to squeeze into the top-ten at the end of the 71-lap race.
Having somehow escaped any damage to his own car, Verstappen quickly pulled clear of Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas, who emerged from the fracas in second place ahead of Force India’s Esteban Ocon.
The top three ran in that order until the first cycle of pit stops, with Ocon making his scheduled pit stop – switching from Ultra Soft to Soft tyres – on Lap 20 to remove himself from third place.
By this stage Daniel Ricciardo’s luckless weekend came to an end, retiring his Red Bull Racing car with a Renault turbo failure on the fifth lap. This created worried faces among the Renault runners, who had borne the brunt of reliability problems as the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez’s high altitude played havoc with cooling.
Verstappen would not suffer the same fate as his teammate en route to collecting the third Grand Prix win of his career, but the same could not be said for the works Renaults of Nico Hülkenberg and Carlos Sainz Jr. or Toro Rosso rookie Brendon Hartley who all joined the list of retirees.
Hartley’s retirement with a smoky engine failure triggered a Virtual Safety Car period and prompted the remaining runners to the pits. Verstappen and Bottas would retain their positions at the front of the field, while Kimi Räikkönen was able to leapfrog the earlier-stopping Ocon to claim third place ahead of the Frenchman.
By this stage Vettel had worked his way up to seventh place and subsequently overtook Sergio Pérez, Lance Stroll and Ocon to move into fourth place. With Räikkönen effectively able to gift him third place if he could close the 25-second deficit to his teammate, Vettel knew the game was up.
Hamilton, meanwhile, was having a harder time working his way forward. It took until Lap 20 before he could get out of last place by overtaking Sainz Jr., who had similarly pitted early on with damage, and he was then steadily able to chip away towards the fringes of the top ten.
He finally moved into the points inside the last dozen laps of the race with a deft pass on Williams’ Felipe Massa before zeroing up to the back of the battle between Haas’ Kevin Magnussen and McLaren’s Fernando Alonso, who were disputing eighth place.
Alonso was not about to make life easy for his former teammate and used all of his experience to keep the Mercedes driver at bay. His Honda’s horsepower deficit would eventually prove too much and Hamilton would prevail in a thrilling side-by-side fight that lasted six corners.
Up front, Verstappen shrugged off reliability fears with a dominant display of driving to cross the line almost twenty seconds clear of Bottas and nearly a minute up the road from Räikkönen’s Ferrari.
Vettel managed to cut the gap to his teammate to 14 seconds but finished a resigned fourth ahead of Ocon, Stroll, Pérez, Magnussen, Hamilton and Alonso.
Massa finished out of the points in eleventh in the second Williams ahead of Stoffel Vandoorne, with Pierre Gasly finishing his second Grand Prix in thirteenth position. Sauber’s Pascal Wehrlein and Haas’ Romain Grosjean were the final finishers.
|FORMULA 1 GRAN PREMIO DE MÉXICO 2017 – FINAL CLASSIFICATION (71 LAPS)|
|Driver||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|1.||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Racing Tag Heuer RB13||71||1:36:26.552|
|2.||Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes AMG Petronas F1W08||71||+ 19.678|
|3.||Kimi Räikkönen||Scuderia Ferrari SF70H||71||+ 54.007|
|4.||Sebastian Vettel||Scuderia Ferrari SF70H||71||+ 1:10.078|
|5.||Esteban Ocon||Sahara Force India Mercedes VJM10||70||1 lap behind|
|6.||Lance Stroll||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW40||70||1 lap behind|
|7.||Sergio Pérez||Sahara Force India Mercedes VJM10||70||1 lap behind|
|8.||Kevin Magnussen||Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-17||70||1 lap behind|
|9.||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes AMG Petronas F1W08||70||1 lap behind|
|10.||Fernando Alonso||McLaren-Honda MCL32||70||1 lap behind|
|11.||Felipe Massa||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW40||70||1 lap behind|
|12.||Stoffel Vandoorne||McLaren-Honda MCL32||70||1 lap behind|
|13.||Pierre Gasly||Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault STR12||70||1 lap behind|
|14.||Pascal Wehrlein||Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C36||69||2 laps behind|
|15.||Romain Grosjean||Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-17||69||2 laps behind|
|Not Classified||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|DNF.||Carlos Sainz Jr||Renault Sport F1 Team RS17||59||Handling|
|DNF.||Marcus Ericsson||Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C36||55||Engine|
|DNF.||Brendon Hartley||Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault STR12||30||Engine|
|DNF.||Nico Hülkenberg||Renault Sport F1 Team RS17||30||ERS|
|DNF.||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull Racing Tag Heuer RB13||5||Turbo|
Image via LAT Images and Red Bull Content Pool