Hamilton’s Gamble
Mexican Grand Prix 2019
text & photo | Richard Kelley
edit | Henry Lau

Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton offset damage suffered from a first-lap come together with Max Verstappen with his brilliant tyre management to claim victory at the 2019 Mexican Grand Prix. Recovering from fifth place, the Brit gambled he could take his tyres beyond a distance ever imagined. His triumph left both Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas in his wake.


Team Mercedes, on their back foot throughout practice and qualifying, rolled the dice during the Grand Prix by pitting then fifth place Hamilton on Lap 24, significantly earlier than Ferrari or Red Bull which had also locked in one-stop strategies.

The move forced Hamilton to temper his aggressiveness with astute tyre care over an outrageously long 47-lap stint, but the result delivered the Brit’s 10th win of the season and the 83rd of his career.

With just 78 points available from the three remaining Grands Prix rounds, Hamilton only needs four points to secure his sixth World Championship.

Both Charles Leclerc, Ferrari’s poleman and early race leader and Sebastian Vettel were unable to counterattack Hamilton after losing track position through Mercedes’ surprising strategy call. Leclerc dropped to fourth after a two-stop strategy (with the heartbreakingly slow second stop costing him any chance of catching and passing Bottas for third.


Max Verstappen delivered on his promise of taking his third successive Mexican Grand Prix by putting his Red Bull on the preliminary pole with his first Q3 run. He was bettering that time with his second run when Valtteri Bottas slammed into the wall of the final turn. Despite the immediately activated caution flags and lights, the following Verstappen kept his foot planted and bettered his time, only to receive a penalty for ignoring a waving yellow. He would drop to fourth on the grid, giving Ferrari a front-row lockout with Leclerc and Vettel.

The Mexican Grand Prix

With an 811-metre run down to the first braking point at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodríguez, there was bound to be a melee of some sort on the first lap of the Mexican Grand Prix, and it did not disappoint.

The Ferraris of Leclerc and Vettel made it through unscathed, but Hamilton and Verstappen came together after the Brit ran wide and had a big snap of oversteer on the outside kerb. His car jumped to the right and put him and the closing Verstappen on the grass between Turns 2 and 3. They banged wheels, with Verstappen removing a sizeable piece of Hamilton’s aero floor.

Hamilton dropped behind Alex Albon’s Red Bull and the McLaren of Carlos Sainz Jr, while Verstappen fell to eighth, behind Lando Norris and Valteri Bottas.

Up ahead, Hamilton’s incident at the start helped the Ferrari pair of Charles Leclerc and Vettel to pull away at the front. Despite their advantage, the Ferrari duo couldn’t help slowing each other with contact. Leclerc received a light punt by Vettel after running wide under braking for the Turn 4 left-hander and slowing right down through the tight right-hand turn that followed on the first lap.

Hamilton re-passed Sainz going into Turn 1 on Lap 4 of 71 – he then ran fourth through the remainder of his opening stint, which he significantly extended to Lap 23 – eight more than race leader Leclerc and nine more than Red Bull’s Alex Albon.

Early Ferrari Control

Leclerc appeared to be controlling the early stages but was called in for another set of medium tyres on Lap 16, ensuring he would be on a two-stop strategy. However, Vettel – the race leader when Leclerc pitted – did the opposite, staying out for 15 laps longer than Hamilton before making his stop for a set of hard tyres for the second stint of the race.

The bottom line – Hamilton’s early stop and hard tyres put him ahead of Vettel on track. The consensus said Hamilton would have to pit a second time to remain competitive – not to mention remaining race leader. As it had never succeeded before, Ferrari decided to wait for Hamilton’s tyres to eventually call it quits.

Mercedes and the gradually believing Hamilton had other ideas – Hamilton would stick with his hard tyres for the remainder of the race.

Hamilton’s Gamble

By the time Leclerc and Albon had made their second stops it became alarmingly clear to all that Hamilton, and his 27 lap old tyres would gamble keeping Vettel more than two seconds behind for the remaining 20 laps.

While waiting, Vettel would still have company. Bottas closed right up onto the German’s tail, while Leclerc was throwing everything into using his fresher tyres after his second stop to slice away the gap to the one-stopping trio ahead. It was especially painful for Leclerc as he had lost more than four seconds during his second stop due to slow to mount the right-rear wheel.

Nonetheless, with 12 laps to go, Leclerc (like a modern Gilles Villeneuve) had miraculously hauled himself within DRS range of Bottas. Unfortunately, he locked his front-left tyre into Turn 4 and ran wide, doubling his distance behind the Finn.

While at first, the race seemed to be preparing for a grandstand finish with various drivers set to go to the chequered flag on differing strategies, the challenges and attacks in the final stages never materialised.

Hamilton was miraculously able to keep his tyres performing until the end, while Bottas had a few flying laps within Drag Reduction System range of Vettel. Still, ultimately without the Ferrari’s straight-line speed, Bottas had no chance of getting past.

Verstappen’s Recovery

And behind, what happened to Verstappen? While the bump with Hamilton pushed the Dutchman further back, the real damage occurred when he suffered a right-rear puncture after challenging and hitting Bottas for seventh as they ran into the stadium section.

He hobbled back to the pits and dropped to last, but sliced through the field to recover sixth place, behind Red Bull teammate Alex Albon.

Sergio Perez wowed his home crowd with a seventh-place for Racing Point ahead of Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo, who gave the flailing French team something to smile about with a supreme drive which included a monster 51-lap stint on his hard tyres. Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly finished ninth, ahead of teammate Daniil Kvyat on the road. However, Kvyat dropped to 11th for what happened at the final corner.

Nico Hulkenberg finished the race without a rear wing, having been knocked into the wall by Kvyat’s optimistic lunge at the end of the race. Kvyat received a 10-second penalty after the race which relegated him to 11th. Lance Stroll was 12th ahead of Carlos Sainz, who was part of a McLaren team which saw its race unravel dramatically. Lando Norris’ run fell apart during his pit-stop where the team incorrectly fit his front-left tyre to the car.

Norris’ car was brought into the pits to retire in the latter stages. Kimi Raikkonen was the other DNF, with Alfa Romeo bringing the Finn into the pits to withdraw similarly.

Next up is the United States Grand Prix in Austin. Hamilton needs only four points to clinch his sixth championship, but he’ll be challenged by Verstappen, Leclerc and Bottas all the way.