Max Verstappen’s perfectly controlled fifth career victory in the Grand Prix of Mexico allows Lewis Hamilton to capture his fifth World Driver’s Championship
Max Verstappen scored his second straight victory in the Mexican Grand Prix by an impressive 17.316 seconds over Scuderia Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel. The win was the fifth of Verstappen’s Formula One career and his second this season. The Red Bull driver is the first repeat winner at Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez since Formula One’s return to the track in 2015.
With Mercedes suffering its worst race pace in the hybrid era, Lewis Hamilton’s fourth-place finish was still enough to clinch his fifth Formula One title against Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel with two races remaining. Vettel had to win in Mexico with Hamilton finishing lower than seventh to carry the battle on to Brazil. The championship runner-up could only take second place as the Ferraris profited from much better tyre wear than their Mercedes rivals. Kimi Raikkonen completed the podium line-up in third.
Pole-sitter Daniel Ricciardo was on course for a podium after attempting a risky one-stop race, but mechanical issues forced him into late-race retirement from second place. Hamilton and team-mate Valtteri Bottas took a distant fourth and fifth after nursing their tyres in the later stages of the race.
Hamilton is now tied for second in all-time championships with the legendary Juan Manuel Fangio. Only Michael Schumacher, with seven championships, has more.
This is Hamilton’s second straight championship, with last year’s crown also being clinched in Mexico City. It marks the fifth time the Formula One title has decided in Mexico City. In addition to Hamilton’s title last year, where a ninth-place finish secured his spot at the top of the standings, John Surtees took his sole title in Mexico in 1964 with Ferrari, Brabham’s Denny Hulme took his only championship in Mexico in 1967, and Graham Hill won his second Formula One crown in Mexico with Lotus in 1968.
Max Verstappen dominated every practice session and seemed a shoe-in to take the record for the youngest ever pole position winner, but teammate Daniel Ricciardo found enough space and enough last-gasp pace to grab the pole from the Dutchman by just 0.026-seconds. Just as Q3 began, Verstappen’ Renault power unit began exhibiting the same problems Verstappen had struggled with in FP2 – the engine braking was locking the rear wheels of his car. Still, his was a stellar lap despite the glitch. Championship leader Hamilton would start in third place directly next to Sebastian Vettel in fourth. Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Raikkonen completed the top six.
The run from pole position to Turn 1 in Mexico is the longest of the season at 890m. With both Red Bulls having the least straight line speed in front of the faster Mercedes which were then in front of the even quicker Ferraris, there was the distinct smell of possible Turn 1 carnage in the air. Should any of the rapid front six touch another car, their accident could trigger a major conflagration.
The other major concern was personalised when Valtteri Bottas failed to make it to the end of FP3 on Saturday with a hydraulics failure. At over 2,200 metres above sea level, the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez has less oxygen density at such altitude, making it difficult to set the correct ratio of compressed air into the power unit for the combustion process, and to pull in enough air to cool the engine, brakes and fluids. The only good news was that race day would be much cooler.
At lights out, any advantage of Ricciardo’s pole position went up in wheel-spinning smoke as Hamilton leapt past the slow-starting Ricciardo and forcefully challenged Verstappen into Turn 1. The Dutchman’s Red Bull held firm on the inside-middle line, giving Hamilton no choice but to slip into second place. Bottas initially passed Vettel and was challenging Ricciardo for third, but fell back to fifth after Vettel re-passed the Finn on the exit of Turn 5.
Further back, Esteban Ocon made contact with one of the Renaults and damaged his front wing, with the dislodged piece finding it’s way onto Fernando Alonso’s car, which retired only five laps into the race, bringing out a virtual safety car.
Hamilton began reporting high tyre wear as early as Lap 8 – and with Ricciardo pushing him from behind – he was the first of the front-runners to pit on Lap 11, switching his ultrasofts for supersofts, with Mercedes choosing to double-pit and bring Bottas in on the same lap.
Red Bull acted decisively by bringing Ricciardo and then Verstappen in for supersofts in the following laps, preventing any change in positions. The Ferraris remained on track for a few more laps with Vettel and Raikkonen temporarily running first and second but the increased pace of Verstappen, Hamilton and Ricciardo, had the pair taking on new tyres on Lap 17.
By Lap 30, Verstappen had gingerly extended his lead to eleven seconds over Hamilton, who was again reporting his tyres were starting to blister and was now only three seconds ahead of Ricciardo and Vettel.
Vettel, on his newer tyres, was on the move and desperate to get to the front. In the slipstream of the Red Bull, Vettel passed Ricciardo on the inside of Turn 1 and then took off after championship leader Hamilton – now struggling with blistered tyres. Vettel powered past Hamilton down the start-finish straight for second place, with Hamilton unable to defend.
Soon Hamilton was under pressure from Ricciardo and locked up at Turn 1, running across the grass as the Red Bull flew past. Mercedes brought Hamilton in for fresh but used ultrasoft tyres at the end of the same lap. Vettel soon pitted for new ultrasofts while Verstappen took on new faster supersofts (his was the only new set remaining for any driver after qualifying).
The running order at the end of Lap 55 was; Verstappen, Ricciardo, Vettel, Raikkonen, Hamilton and Bottas.
If Vettel was to have any hope of winning the race and keeping the championship race alive, he needed to pass Ricciardo, who was fighting with all his ability to try for a Red Bull one-two finish.
However, Ricciardo’s hopes went for nought when his car started emitting white smoke. He pulled off at Turn 1, ceding second to Vettel, third to Raikkonen and fourth place to Hamilton.
Seeing Ricciardo’s demise, Verstappen was on his radio begging the Red Bull team to lower his car’s power for insurance, but he had little need to worry. His closing laps were drama-free but still rapid, cruising across the line a dominant 17.316 seconds ahead of Sebastian Vettel for his second Mexico win in a row.
Vettel took his first podium at the venue, ahead of Raikkonen and Hamilton, who was deep into lift-and-coast cruise mode in fourth. Bottas was one lap down in fifth, with Hulkenberg finishing in sixth to add eight valuable points to Renault’s fourth place in the constructors’ championship.
Charles Leclerc took seventh for Sauber, while Stoffel Vandoorne took his first points since the Azerbaijan Grand Prix in eighth, ahead of Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson and Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly.