Race Weekend Central

Max Verstappen Takes Charge From the Start, Wins Mexico City GP for 16th Win

Max Verstappen, starting third, blew by both Ferraris at the start and cruised to an easy win in the Mexico City Grand Prix at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, his 16th win of the year.

Verstappen crossed the line over 13 seconds ahead of Lewis Hamilton, followed by the two Ferraris of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz. Lando Norris took an impressive fifth after starting 17th, followed by George Russell, Daniel Ricciardo, Oscar Piastri, Alexander Albon and Esteban Ocon.

“To be honest, we of course are experiencing an incredible season,” Verstappen said. “And today of course we had to start P3, but I think the pace of the car was very, very good.

“We tried to do a different strategy to everyone else, and unfortunately with the red flag we couldn’t really show it. Nevertheless, on those hard tires at the end, I think we were very, very strong.”

In the driver standings, Verstappen drew closer to 500 points and now stands at 491, with Perez way back with 240. Hamilton is within striking distance of second with 220.

In the constructor standings, Red Bull leads Mercedes 731 to 371, with Ferrari 22 points back in third with 349.

The Race

Verstappen got the jump on the Ferraris, splitting Leclerc and Sainz into the run-up to turn 1. Perez, with a great start, made a bold bid into turn 1 in an attempt for the lead, but the two made wheel contact, sending Perez off the ground. Leclerc suffered front wing damage, and Perez was forced to retire, a disastrous end to his home grand prix. 

Verstappen avoided the danger behind him and pulled away, opening up a healthy lead over the two Ferraris with Ricciardo in fourth ahead of Hamilton and Piastri. It was the best possible start for the Dutchman, with one Ferrari damaged and his teammate out of the race. 

The piece of Leclerc’s wing finally fell off on lap 5, leading to a virtual safety car. Race control noted Leclerc for driving in an unsafe position, but ultimately decided no penalty was forthcoming. 

Hamilton set a few fastest laps in his quest to get by Ricciardo’s Alpha Tauri for fourth, and finally zipped by into turn 1 on lap 11 before taking off to challenge Sainz.

Verstappen’s lead was nearly three seconds on lap 10, and with track temperatures hot, the world champion was in good position to conserve his medium tires and target a certain one-stop strategy.

Verstappen continued to build his lead, and the gap over Leclerc was over four seconds on lap 15.

Norris, who started on soft tires, pitted for hard tires on lap 16 in an effort to run an offset strategy, while praying for some luck to fall their way. Norris started 17th after missing Q2 on Saturday (October 28th), so a radical strategy was not unusual, but necessary.

With the pit window from lap 17 to 34, all but one car (Albon) ran on medium tires, and the first to opt for the a pit stop would likely cue the others. 

Verstappen radioed his team on lap 19 with the message that his tires were suffering. Verstappen pitted moments later for hard tires, with the goal to go to the end on those tires. Verstappen came out seventh, behind Russell, but most importantly, ahead of Hulkenberg.

Leclerc assumed the lead, well ahead of Sainz, with Hamilton right on Sainz’s tail. Sainz received word from his team that their one-stop strategy was still on.

Meanwhile, Verstappen had picked off Russell and Piastri, and was up to fifth on lap 23. Two laps later, Verstappen was past former teammate (and possibly future teammate) Ricciardo and into fourth. Sainz’s team reiterated their strategy to extend his stint on his soft tires, despite Hamilton’s move, and surprisingly, Sainz agreed.

Hamilton, just behind Sainz, pitted on lap 25 with the intention of pulling the undercut on the Ferrari. Hamilton returned to the track in fifth, and given Ferrari’s strategy, would have to wait to see if the undercut worked. 

Verstappen set a fastest lap on lap 28 and would soon be back in the lead with only the Ferraris, who had yet to pit, in front of him. The Red Bull eased past Leclerc into turn 1 for second with little resistance. Like Sainz, Leclerc agreed with his team in regards to their strategy and seemed quite happy. It may have been the first time all season that both Ferrari drivers were in unison with their team. 

Sainz pitted on lap 31 and emerged in fourth, six seconds behind Hamilton. Hamilton’s undercut had worked, but Sainz’s tires were six laps fresher. Leclerc was in a lap later and came out ahead of Hamilton but well behind Verstappen.

On lap 32, the order was Verstappen, Leclerc, Hamilton, Sainz, Ricciardo, Piastri, Russell, Norris, Albon and Tsunoda.

Kevin Magnussen crashed into turn 9 when his rear suspension broke, bringing out a safety car. Verstappen immediately pitted for a fresh set of hard tires and kept the lead, solidifying his chances of victory. 

The race was red flagged on lap 34 to give safety crews a chance to remove Magnussen’s Haas and repair the barriers. It was a lucky break for Leclerc, who would now be able to change his front wing. Another standing start was forthcoming, with many of the cars on hard tires. Hamilton, in third, was one of the few on mediums, joining Piastri (sixth) and Russell (seventh).

Verstappen started well, easily maintaining the top spot, and Leclerc held off Hamilton. Russell picked up two spots up to fifth. 

Verstappen resumed building his lead and was nearly two seconds ahead by lap 38. Hamilton was right on Leclerc’s back, desperately looking for a way past in order to keep Verstappen in sight. 

Hamilton put his right-side tires off the driving line into turn 1 on lap 40 and got by Leclerc, and Hamilton’s podium hopes were boosted. Winning the race would be much more difficult, as Verstappen was pulling away and Hamilton already worrying about his tires.

Meanwhile, the Ferraris of Leclerc and Sainz ran third and fourth, respectively, with Russell within DRS range of Sainz and Ricciardo not far behind. Ferrari encouraged their drivers over the radio, telling them that Hamilton’s medium tire performance would be falling off soon.

Russell was hounding Sainz for fourth as the Ferrari driver did his best to make his car as big as possible, and Russell, as expected, complained about it.

The battle between Tsunoda and Piastri came to a head on lap 49 when the two made contact, sending Tsunoda’s Alpha Tauri spinning off the track. Tsunoda’s expletive didn’t change the fact that he turned into Piastri in the corner. The incident was investigated by the stewards,  

Up front, Verstappen had extended his lead to nearly nine seconds by lap 51, and a win seemed a near certainty with 20 laps remaining. However, the battle for the final two podium spots would likely come down to the wire.    

With 20 laps to go, the order was Verstappen, Hamilton, Leclerc, Sainz, Russell, Ricciardo, Poastri, Norris, Labon and Hulkenberg.

On lap 56, McLaren asked Piastri to let the faster Norris by to allow Norris to attack Ricciardo for sixth. Piastri obliged, sending Norris in search of Ricciardo. 

Verstappen’s lead was nearing 12 second on lap 57, and was possibly on autopilot and looking for a backmarker to lap. 

The only close battle for position in the top 10 was Norris’ hunt of Ricciardi. Norris had his McLaren within DRS range on lap 60, and Ricciardo urged his team to leave him to defend on his own without radio chatter. Norris made his move into turn 1 as the two came within inches of tire contact. Norris had 10 laps to chase Russell, who was about five seconds ahead. Norris trimmed two seconds off the lead in two laps, and had closed to under two seconds by lap 64.

Barring some sort of disaster or dramatic turn of events, the podium spots were settled, with Verstappen, Hamilton and Leclerc all maintaining healthy leads in first, second, and third. 

Norris was within DRS range on lap 65, and Russell went to complete defend mode. Russell was a sitting duck, and Norris picked off the Mercedes for fifth place in turn 2 on lap 68.

Verstappen completed the dominating win, his record 16th of the season, crossing the line over seconds ahead of Hamilton, followed by the two Ferraris of Leclerc and Sainz. 

The Good

Verstappen has spent this entire season making it look easy. He made it look easier in Mexico City, taking the lead at the start and never really looking back. I mean, if you’re Verstappen, why even bother looking back, because you won’t see anything. 

Verstappen’s 16th win was just another record in a record-breaking season, and saying that, of course, sounds like a broken record. 

The Bad

With an all Ferrari front row, what could possibly go wrong? What could possibly go wrong did go wrong, as Ferrari left turn 1 with neither car in the lead and one of their cars damaged. To be fair, Ferrari really didn’t screw up on the start. Their problems were all due to Red Bull: Verstappen blazed his way to the front on the start, while Perez tried to do the same and got a little too overzealous in his quest to please the home crowd. 

Is it too much to ask Leclerc and Sainz to work together when they start 1-2 to at least maintain the lead leaving turn 1? Maybe just run side by side down the front straight to keep Verstappen behind them.

“But who would then be the Ferrari driver to take the lead?” you ask. That would be decided beforehand, by a coin flip, or a game of rock, paper, scissors. That manner of decision would, of course, be the result of a team order, and we all know Ferrari drivers never agree with team orders. So this whole hypothetical situation is rendered irrelevant.  

The Disappointing

Poor Sergio Perez. Sergio got a little too frisky into turn 1 and left Leclerc nowhere to go but into Perez’s Red Bull. Perez’s car went airborne and landed hard, thereby leading to Perez being “bounced” from the race, and possibly his seat at Red Bull. It wasn’t good for the current No. 2 driver for Red Bull to have his worst day of the year when your possible replacement had his best day of the year.  

The Driver

This isn’t the most exciting pick for driver, but the driver I’m picking is the one who takes all the excitement out of Formula 1. That’s Verstappen, who dominated on his way to his 16th win of the season, breaking his own record. That may be the future theme in F1, because if anyone is going to break Verstappen’s records, it’s going to be Verstappen himself.  

Honorable mention: Norris’ fifth-place finish was made all the more impressive in knowing that he failed to make Q2 on Saturday (Oct, 28th) and started 17th. He showed resiliency that made his team proud, and showed patience that would make Sergio Perez envious.

The Results (Mexico City Grand Prix, Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez)

11Max VerstappenRED BULL RACING HONDA RBPT7149:23.53125
244Lewis HamiltonMERCEDES71+13.875s19
316Charles LeclercFERRARI71+23.124s15
455Carlos SainzFERRARI71+27.154s12
54Lando NorrisMCLAREN MERCEDES71+33.266s10
663George RussellMERCEDES71+41.020s8
73Daniel RicciardoALPHATAURI HONDA RBPT71+41.570s6
881Oscar PiastriMCLAREN MERCEDES71+43.104s4
923Alexander AlbonWILLIAMS MERCEDES71+48.573s2
1031Esteban OconALPINE RENAULT71+62.879s1
1110Pierre GaslyALPINE RENAULT71+66.208s0
1222Yuki TsunodaALPHATAURI HONDA RBPT71+78.982s0
1327Nico HulkenbergHAAS FERRARI71+80.309s0
1477Valtteri BottasALFA ROMEO FERRARI71+80.597s0
1524Zhou GuanyuALFA ROMEO FERRARI71+81.676s0
NC20Kevin MagnussenHAAS FERRARI31DNF0
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