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Left in the Dust
2021 Mexican Grand Prix
translation | Thomas Lam
EDIT | Henry Lau
text | Richard Kelley

Max Verstappen converted Red Bull’s botched Saturday qualifying session into a Sunday runaway victory from Lewis Hamilton in the 2021 Mexican Grand Prix.


 

Overview

When Max Verstappen needed it most, he produced a launch for the ages from his third starting spot on the grid.

The Dutchman streaked past both Hamilton and pole-sitter Valtteri Bottas around the outside at 220mph a half-mile later before stamping on the brakes at the last imaginable second for dusty Turn 1.

By the exit of that opening corner, he had a five-car length lead. It would be the closest either Mercedes driver would be to the Dutchman for the remaining 71 laps.

Pride of Mexico

Indeed, with just four rounds and 107 points remaining, Hamilton, who barely rebuffed Red Bull’s Sergio Perez in the closing stages to finish second, is now 19 points behind. Perez, now the hero of all Mexico, took third, the first time a Mexican driver has finished on the podium in Mexico.

Facts

With an altitude of 2,238m, the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez is Formula 1’s highest race track by over a measured mile.

Up in this thin air, two strong performance envelopes are affected. Firstly, with an air density of approximately 78 per cent at sea level, the cars’ turbochargers are having to work tremendously harder in Mexico than they do anywhere else to compress the air passing through the intake to create power.

Secondly, the thin air affects the cars’ aerodynamics in that it dramatically reduces the amount of drag (downforce) produced by the chassis.

Thin Air

As a result, in the thin air, the cars employ enormous wings set at angles that can only produce downforce equal to the tiny flat wings seen at Monza.

Meanwhile, the Red Bull car’s high rake design sees it naturally produce more downforce than Mercedes.

Qualifying

Red Bull’s Saturday form was a mess when they needed perfection, though it wasn’t entirely their fault. Having shown strong form through Q1 and Q2, pole position for Verstappen seemed a given.

However, with Verstappen expecting to use teammate Perez’s tow on the straight on the final run, the Dutchman was startled by first seeing Yuki Tsunoda’s AlphaTauri off the track, through the high-speed esses followed instantly by Perez.

Verstappen then lifted heavily, expecting to see a yellow flag. No flag was shown, but that killed Verstappen’s pole lap.

Bottas pipped Hamilton for pole. Verstappen and Perez filled the second row.

2021 Mexico Grand Prix

Starting second on the grid, Hamilton’s reaction time might have been three-thousandths of a second quicker than Verstappen’s, but pole-sitter Bottas gave the Dutchman loads of room on the outside, the racing line. Verstappen grabbed the opportunity.

Instantly it was Verstappen on the left, Bottas in the middle, and Hamilton, on the right. Arriving for the first corner, the Dutchman held his braking until the last millisecond. He tossed his Red Bull into the right-hander apex before supremely hanging on through the exit. His reward – a five-car length lead.

Bottas’ Nightmare

Hamilton slotted into second, with Bottas’ nightmare start continuing when Ricciardo went deep on the brakes in Turn 1, locked up and hit Bottas’s rear to send him around.

Behind, Yuki Tsunoda and Mick Schumacher crashed out as they attempted to avoid Bottas. The Mercedes driver and Ricciardo stopped for repairs, with the safety car deployed for four laps.

Verstappen blasted his Red Bull out of the stadium section at the restart to cross the line nine tenths clear of Hamilton.

“He’s Quick!”

By Lap 7 of 71, Hamilton is calling Mercedes: “He’s quick.”

He sounds a little out of breath. Hamilton is now 2.7s behind.

By Lap 15, Verstappen’s advantage had doubled to five.

“These guys are obviously too fast for us,” said Hamilton, with Perez now starting to close in on the back of his Mercedes’ gearbox.

Class of One

Starting Lap 21, Verstappen’s pace was in a class of one.

Hamilton’s race looks to be with Perez here and not his championship rival. Still, 50 laps to go, though. A lot can change and quickly.

Hamilton stopped for hard tyres on Lap 30 and 10 sec adrift of Verstappen, with Verstappen following suit three laps later.

When Perez pitted on Lap 40, Verstappen regained the lead – his 10-second advantage over Hamilton restored.

“Let me know where they are quicker, man, where Verstappen is quicker,” said a desperate Hamilton.

“Exit of Turn 11 and Exit 13,” responded Hamilton’s race engineer, Peter Bonnington.

No Answer

But Hamilton had no answer to Verstappen as his Mercedes’ mirrors now occupied by the surging Red Bull of Sergio Perez.

Starting Lap 41, Perez pits and rejoined P3. Verstappen retook the lead, and the gap is 9.5s to Hamilton.

With 22 laps to go, the lead of the Manufacturer’s Championship was up for grabs. Both Perez and Hamilton run in clean air, with the Mexican looking quicker and with fresher tyres. Bottas has almost no chance of scoring any meaningful points aside from a possible fastest lap so that Red Bull can gain considerable ground.

The Roar

On Lap 61, Perez closed to just half a second behind Hamilton, with the 140,000-strong partisan crowd roaring their hero through all 17 corners, lap after lap.

On the final lap, Perez is told to drain the battery. He gets DRS on the second straight but is not close enough. Hamilton then gets a bit squirrelly as they enter the esses. Perez has a look to dart inside Hamilton’s line but doesn’t have enough room and knows that’s not worth losing a podium over.

Hamilton held his nerve to take the runner-up spot at the flag – a crushing 16.5 sec behind Verstappen – with Perez just a second behind in third.

Pierre Gasly finished fourth for AlphaTauri ahead of Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc. Sebastian Vettel brings the Aston Martin home in seventh, followed by Kimi Raikkonen’s Alfa Romeo and Fernando Alonso’s Alpine. Lando Norris takes the last point for McLaren. Bottas places 15th.

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