The Formula One Mexican Grand Prix proved an interesting mix of tight racing and strategy. Max Verstappen dominated his way to the second win of the season for the young Dutch driver. It was the fifth win of his career. But while Verstappen won the battle, it’s Lewis Hamilton who won the war. Hamilton finished fourth, comfortably clinching his fifth F1 World Drivers Championship. That ties him with Juan Manuel Fangio as the Englishman moves up the all-time list.
Sebastian Vettel, who missed out yet again in his F1 title bid, finished second in the race. Vettel lucked out from a DNF by Daniel Ricciardo to move into the runner-up spot. Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen came home third, followed by Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas.
Nico Hulkenberg led the best of the rest in sixth while Charles Leclerc had another strong run in the points to finish seventh. Stoffel Vandoorne got his fourth points-paying finish of the year, running eighth. Marcus Ericsson tied his season-best finish in ninth. Finally, Pierre Gasly survived an early-race problem to round out the top 10.
The start, as always in F1, proved to be a difference maker. Pole sitter Ricciardo got a bad start and was quickly overtaken by Verstappen and Hamilton. Vettel could not keep up with Hamilton and had to scrap with Bottas, eventually keeping his starting position of fourth. Contact in the middle forced Esteban Ocon in the Force India car and Gasly to pit on the first lap. The contact sent debris flying all over the track, which was run over quickly by Fernando Alonso. Alonso suffered damage from the debris and was forced to retire on the second lap.
One of the favorites for the weekend, Verstappen, then raced off into the distance from Hamilton. But Hamilton only needed to finish seventh to win the title so he was never pushing too hard for the lead. Through the first 12 laps, the Mercedes teammates of Hamilton and Bottas struggled on their ultra soft tires. That meant they were forced to double stack cars in the pits to pit for super soft rubber. The Red Bull teammates then followed the Mercedes drivers in, making it a rare two-stop race.
Vettel looked to stretch his first stint to only need to make one stop, increasing his chances of a win. That would potentially push the title fight another race to Brazil. However, the Red Bull cars were much faster on the Mexican circuit. Verstappen quickly chased the Ferrari of Raikkonen down to take second place and eventually took the lead back when pitting on lap 18.
Tires became a strong concern for all teams after their first start. Verstappen had pushed his lead to just about 10 seconds on Hamilton but was given a warning there would be more stops left.
Vettel then began chasing Ricciardo down through lapped traffic. But on lap 31, Carlos Sainz retired near the track, bringing out a virtual safety car. Vettel was able to stay on the rear wing of Ricciardo through the VSC and, on lap 34, he pulled to the inside in Turn 1. Vettel was able to get past the Aussie and move into podium position, replicating that same move on Hamilton for second a few laps later on five-lap fresher tires. He really seemed to be driving much better than Hamilton on the super soft tires but had a way to go to catch Verstappen. The leader was 15 seconds ahead of Vettel once he passed Hamilton.
There was heartbreak for hometown driver Sergio Perez. After his pit stop during the VSC, the brakes on the Force India car broke, forcing him to retire. For the first time at his home circuit in Mexico, Perez did not score points. His Force India teammate of Ocon later joined Perez in the garage on lap 60 with a similar issue.
Hamilton, meanwhile was struggling big time on his super soft tires. That caused Ricciardo to challenge him in Turn 1 on lap 47. His tires locked up, costing him the spot and valuable track position. Hamilton then overdrove Turn 1 and lost podium position, pushing him into the pits for tires along with Vettel and Bottas.
Those used ultra soft tires were all Vettel and Bottas had left to use. Verstappen pitted a few laps after his competitors. But, unlike the other cars, he had a fresh set of super soft tires for increased durability. That left only Vettel in third as a serious challenger who had a fresh set of faster ultra soft tires. Red Bull kept Ricciardo out on the track longer in second place in order to keep Vettel from gaining ground. That made sure the Ferrari driver used up his softer, faster, but less durable tire as the race came to a close.
With nine laps to go, the bad luck that has struck Ricciardo all season long reared its head yet again. Another engine problem forced him to retire from the race, his eighth DNF of the season. That brought out the Virtual Safety Car one final time and left onlookers worried about Ricciardo’s teammate. But Verstappen’s motor survived to the finish, securing the second Mexican Grand Prix victory of his career. It’s his second win of the 2018 season.
Hamilton, who was driving extremely carefully on worn tires, moved up to fourth with the DNF of Ricciardo. That was more than enough to seal the deal and crown him a five-time Formula 1 World Champion.
With the title decided, F1 moves to Brazil in two weeks for their next event on Sunday, Nov. 11.
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