The Mexican Formula 1 Grand Prix was a tense fight between the sport’s two powerhouse teams, Mercedes-AMG and Scuderia Ferrari, with their four cars split by just 6.3 seconds at the end of an entertaining 71-lap race at the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez.
The Ferraris had locked out the front row after Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen was stripped of pole position, but the Scuderia once again dropped the ball in their race tyre strategy which allowed Lewis Hamilton to sneak through and claim a rather unexpected victory on a circuit unsuited to the Silver Arrows.
The outcome of the race hinged on how often, and when, to stop. Ferrari mistakenly committed pole-sitter Charles Leclerc to a two-stop strategy (Medium/Medium/Hard) while putting teammate Sebastian Vettel on a one-stopper (Medium/Hard).
Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas mirrored Vettel’s mid-race tyre switch strategy, while Hamilton was brought in early to align with Leclerc’s first stop but given Hard tyres and a mammoth 48-lap stint to get them to the end of the race.
Few, including Hamilton, believed that his strategy could work. But the Englishman grimly hung on and drove a race worthy of a driver on the cusp of claiming his sixth World Championship title to win against the odds. The strategy was called to perfection from the pit wall – his usual race engineer Peter Bonnington was absent for medical reasons, and so the calls were handled by his replacement Marcus Dudley with assistance from trackside performance engineer Dom Riefstahl. Their combined success highlighted the depth of talent within the Mercedes-AMG camp, not that it needed further evidence.
Vettel, Bottas and Leclerc completed the top four finishers, but with his teammate claiming the final step of the podium, Hamilton will need to wait until next weekend’s United States Grand Prix to wrap up the championship fight. He leads the Finn by 74 points in the Drivers’ Championship standings, with a maximum of 78 available over the remaining races in Austin, São Paulo and Abu Dhabi. If he finishes in the top eight at the Circuit of the Americas, a he will become a six-time World Champion.
Moreover, Hamilton’s win came despite first-lap contact with Verstappen that caused damage to his car when he had to take a trip over the grass at the Turn 1/2/3 chicane.
Leclerc held his lead from pole on the long drag race to Turn 1, with Hamilton finding himself momentarily squeezed onto the grass by Vettel who tried to tuck into Leclerc’s slipstream. That allowed Verstappen a run at Hamilton on the inside approach to the right-hander. The two drivers were wheel-to-wheel at Turn 2, both helplessly sliding on cold tyres. They touched briefly and both lost places after sliding onto the grass and cutting Turn 3. Hamilton sustained damage to his car’s floor, robbing him of downforce and stability.
Leclerc stayed out front in the clean air. As the first cycle of pit stops approached, Ferrari called him in to cover the early-stopping Red Bull Racing Honda of Alexander Albon. They fitted a second set of Medium tyres, committing him to a two-stop race.
Hamilton stayed out longer, pitting on Lap 24 and switching to Hard rubber. It was going to be a massive gamble for Mercedes. Vettel now led from Bottas, with both opting to stay out until mid-distance – the latter pitted on Lap 36, with Vettel following suit on the next tour.
Hamilton was back in front of Vettel and Bottas, but voiced his doubts that he could make his tyres last for nearly 50 laps. It took some convincing from the pit wall, but he put his head down.
Leclerc and Albon (now third) both needed to pit for a second time, and with their final pit stops complete Hamilton reclaimed the race lead ahead of Vettel, Bottas and Leclerc. It promised to be a fascinating second half of the race, with Hamilton on much older tyres needing to keep the fresher-shod Vettel, Bottas and Leclerc at bay.
The six-second margin covering the four drivers remained static over the race’s final 15 laps as Hamilton exerted control to keep Vettel out of range. His tyre management, coupled with Mercedes’ brave strategy, was flawless.
Red Bull Racing finished fifth and sixth at a circuit where they failed to capitalise on their cars’ inherent pace. A two-stop strategy for Albon was a poor call, leaving the Anglo-Thai driver trapped behind Carlos Sainz’s slippery McLaren after his first stop which put him out of contention for a maiden podium finish.
Teammate Verstappen continued his ill-disciplined driving and bad luck into Sunday’s race. He had opening-lap contact with Hamilton and then suffered a right-rear puncture after being clipped by Bottas when making an ambitious pass on the Finn in the baseball stadium. That early stop compromised the rest of his race and consigned him to a sixth place finish, 47 seconds behind Albon.
The battle among the midfielders was as entertaining as ever, with crowd favourite Sergio Pérez delighting the thousands of fans in the grandstands to finish ‘best of the rest’ in seventh. The Racing Point driver made a brilliant pass on Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly and later on had to fend off a hard-charging Renault of Daniel Ricciardo in the closing laps.
Ricciardo tried a late dive on Pérez at Turn 1 but left his braking far too late, locking up and sliding through the grass run-off. With a flat-spotted right front tyre, the Australian couldn’t counter-attack and had to settle for eighth.
Gasly’s teammate Daniil Kvyat crossed the finish line in ninth, but the Russian found himself rightly dumped out of the points for a silly passing attempt on Nico Hülkenberg’s Renault at the penultimate corner. That sent the German spinning backwards into the barriers, damaging his rear wing and forcing him to limp home on the last lap where he was passed by Gasly.
Kvyat was handed a 10-second time penalty, which bumped him from ninth and promoted his teammate to the position, with Hülkenberg getting a consolation point for tenth.
McLaren should have had both its drivers finish in the points, but shot themselves in the foot. Sainz finished a poor thirteenth, while teammate Lando Norris was – as happened at the Italian Grand Prix – released from his pit bay without all the wheelnuts being tightened.
|FORMULA 1 GRAN PREMIO DE MÉXICO 2019 – FINAL CLASSIFICATION (71 LAPS)|
|Driver||Team / Entry||Laps||Result||Pts|
|1.||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes-AMG Motorsport W10||71||1:36:48.904||25|
|2.||Sebastian Vettel||Scuderia Ferrari SF90||71||+ 1.766||18|
|3.||Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes-AMG Motorsport W10||71||+ 3.553||15|
|4.||Charles Leclerc||Scuderia Ferrari SF90||71||+ 6.368||13|
|5.||Alexander Albon||Red Bull Racing RB15||71||+ 21.399||10|
|6.||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Racing RB15||71||+ 1:08.807||8|
|7.||Sergio Pérez||Racing Point F1 Team RP19||71||+ 1:13.819||6|
|8.||Daniel Ricciardo||Renault F1 Team RS19||71||+ 1:14.924||4|
|9.||Pierre Gasly||Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda STR14||70||1 lap behind||2|
|10.||Nico Hülkenberg||Renault F1 Team RS19||70||1 lap behind||1|
|11.||Daniil Kvyat||Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda STR14||70||1 lap behind|
|12.||Lance Stroll||Racing Point F1 Team RP19||70||1 lap behind|
|13.||Carlos Sainz Jr.||McLaren F1 Team MCL34||70||1 lap behind|
|14.||Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo Racing C38||70||1 lap behind|
|15.||Kevin Magnussen||Haas F1 Team VF-19||69||2 laps behind|
|16.||George Russell||ROKiT Williams Racing FW42||69||2 laps behind|
|17.||Romain Grosjean||Haas F1 Team VF-19||69||2 laps behind|
|18.||Robert Kubica||ROKiT Williams Racing FW42||69||2 laps behind|
|Not Classified||Team / Entry||Laps||Reason|
|DNF.||Kimi Räikkönen||Alfa Romeo Racing C38||58||Overheating|
|DNF.||Lando Norris||McLaren F1 Team MCL34||48||Withdrew|
Points are awarded to the top 10 classified finishers on a 25-18-15-12-10-8-6-4-2-1 scale.
Charles Leclerc is awarded an additional 1 championship point for posting the fastest lap of the race by a points’ finisher.
- Daniil Kvyat – provisionally classified P9 – was issued a 10-second post-race time penalty for causing a collision with Nico Hülkenberg.
Image via Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport