Red Bull’s Max Verstappen ran rings around the rest as the F1 roadshow hit Mexico City, while Lewis Hamilton’s worst race of the year secured his fourth world title.
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Lewis Hamilton: qualified 3rd, finished 9th, won world championship. Valtteri Bottas: qualified 4th, finished 2nd.
Given Hamilton came to Mexico needing only a fifth place in the final three races of the year to secure the title, few were surprised when the Briton joined Alain Prost and Sebastian Vettel as a four-time world champion – but plenty were surprised as to how he achieved it. From third on the grid, Hamilton tried to take advantage of the contact between Vettel and Verstappen in the opening two corners, but came off second-best when his right rear tyre was punctured by Vettel’s front wing in a move he felt may have been intentional. A pit stop sent Hamilton to the unusual position of the back of the pack, and his Mercedes, so often at the other end of the field, strangely struggled to work its way back through to the points, finally getting back into the top 10 when he passed Massa’s Williams on lap 57. From there, it was all about bringing the car home and keeping an eye on Vettel, who needed to finish in the top two to take the title fight to Brazil in a fortnight’s time. The German couldn’t, and a third title in four seasons was Hamilton’s. “It was a horrible way to do it, to be honest,” he admitted after his worst result of the season, a ninth-place finish seeing him become the first driver since James Hunt in 1976 to secure the crown in a race where he was lapped. Only Michael Schumacher (seven world championships) and Juan Manuel Fangio (five) have won more than the Hamilton-Vettel-Prost triumvirate.
On the other side of the Mercedes garage, Bottas’ second was his best result in five races, and one that went by almost unnoticed given Hamilton’s dramas, Vettel’s own comeback drive and Verstappen sailing on serenely out front. One story to watch now Mercedes has won both the drivers’ and teams’ titles for a fourth straight year; Bottas is now just 15 points behind Vettel for second in the drivers’ standings, which will surely be Mercedes’ focus for the final two Grands Prix.
Red Bull Racing
Daniel Ricciardo: qualified 7th, did not finish. Max Verstappen: qualified 2nd, finished 1st.
On any other day, Verstappen’s drive to his second race win of the year and third for his career would have hogged 95 per cent of the headlines, but Hamilton’s fourth world title took some of the spotlight away from the young Dutchman. It arguably shouldn’t have, as Verstappen was in a class of his own from Saturday onwards in Mexico, even when Vettel edged him by 0.086secs to steal pole position. The long run to the first corner at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez always shaped as a chance for Verstappen to muscle past Vettel, and the pair briefly touched before Verstappen entered Turn 3 ahead, and that was that. Despite being told several times by his team that he didn’t need to push as hard as he was, Verstappen set fastest laps for fun in the early stages, and such was his dominance that he finished 54 seconds clear of Raikkonen’s third-placed Ferrari. For the ease of his victory, Verstappen admitted to some nerves when he saw one Renault-powered car after another out of the race with reliability problems, his mind undoubtedly drifting back to earlier in the year when he retired from multiple races through no fault of his own. “I had my bad luck at the beginning of the year so I am very happy that this time nothing happened to me,” he said. Speaking of luck, teammate Ricciardo’s ran out after he encouragingly topped the timesheets after Friday practice, giving a glimpse of the Red Bull pace Verstappen would show from then on. The Australian’s qualifying was a disaster, admitting he was “confused, annoyed, helpless” after finding no grip and starting seventh, and the team elected to take a 20-place grid penalty for a new engine on race day to give him a fighting chance of a good result. Ricciardo roared through to seventh from 16th on the grid in just six laps, but meekly returned to the pits with a turbo problem, retiring from a strong position for the second time in a week after his DNF in Austin. It was the first time Ricciardo has retired from consecutive races since his days at Toro Rosso in 2013. “The weekend turned to crap,” he lamented.
Sebastian Vettel: qualified 1st, finished 4th. Kimi Raikkonen: qualified 5th, finished 3rd.
With the championship mathematically possible but realistically improbable, Vettel drove like a man with nothing to lose in qualifying on Saturday, securing his first pole in five races with a lap that stunned Verstappen, who looked unbackable for top spot. But from the perfect place to start the race, the German’s Sunday unravelled after the contact with Verstappen and Hamilton in the clumsy opening exchanges, and he had to pit after one lap for a new front wing. He made better progress through the field than Hamilton did, but couldn’t get close enough to Raikkonen for Ferrari to flip its drivers for the sake of his championship chances. Vettel was understandably flat after the race, but praised the way Hamilton was able to join him as a four-time world champion. “Overall he was the better man and did the better job, simple as that,” he said. Raikkonen did what Raikkonen does, which is qualify nowhere near Vettel (he was three-quarters of a second slower), race consistently in a superior car after a poor start where he got elbowed back down the field, and take advantage of Ricciardo’s absence from the top six and Hamilton and Vettel being compromised to finish third, his sixth podium of the year.
Sergio Perez: qualified 10th, finished 7th. Esteban Ocon: qualified 6th, finished 5th.
Force India secured fourth place in the constructors’ standings for a second consecutive year with another solid haul of points in Mexico, but it was Ocon, rather than home hero Perez, who flew the flag for the team on race day. The Frenchman, who admitted before the event that he’d received death threats from Mexican fans via social media after his various run-ins with Perez this year, out-qualified Ricciardo to slot into sixth, and took third early on after the first-lap mess ahead of him, with a maiden podium looking a chance. The recovering Ferrari duo of Raikkonen and Vettel demoted him to fifth, which equalled his best F1 result and saw him draw to within nine points of his teammate in the drivers’ standings. Seventh for Perez, who pitted on lap 51 to fit ultrasoft tyres for a late charge to the flag, meant the Mexican has never beaten a teammate at home, and while he harried the Williams of Stroll in the final laps, the Canadian was able to keep him at bay. An appearance on the podium after the official ceremonies had finished to thank his home fans for their passionate support over the weekend was a moment Perez will surely never forget.
Felipe Massa: qualified 11th, finished 11th. Lance Stroll: qualified 12th, finished 6th.
Stroll’s last two races as an 18-year-old in Japan and Austin produced no points and plenty of pain, so race day in Mexico – on his 19th birthday – made for a welcome change, taking his second-best result of the year behind his podium finish in Azerbaijan back in June. It was a result that owed itself to consistent pace and a smattering of luck, as he was able to pit under virtual safety car conditions on lap 32 when Hartley’s Toro Rosso caught fire and ground to a halt, fitting supersoft tyres and going to the end despite plenty of pressure from Perez’s Force India. Massa’s chances of joining the birthday boy in the points came unstuck when a slow puncture saw him have to pit on lap three, and Stroll has now jumped the veteran Brazilian in the standings (40 points to 36). With Interlagos coming up next, will the out-of-contract Massa know his F1 future before his home race? On the more immediate horizon, eight points for Stroll saw Williams take a 23-point lead over Toro Rosso for fifth in the constructors’ standings with two races remaining.
Fernando Alonso: qualified 14th, finished 10th. Stoffel Vandoorne: qualified 15th, finished 12th.
Mexico was Alonso at his feisty best after the Spaniard and teammate Vandoorne – again – were consigned to the back of the grid because of engine replacement penalties. Both Alonso and Vandoorne were more than 30km/h slower – that’s no misprint – than the Mercedes-powered cars down Mexico’s mammoth start-finish straight, and Alonso feared he wouldn’t be able to do much starting so far back despite calling his chassis “the best in Mexico” after qualifying. He was wrong, a fighting drive to 10th featuring a wheel-to-wheel dice with the recovering Hamilton late that evoked memories of the good old days when Alonso was competing for something more meaningful than a single point. Twelfth for Vandoorne made it three races in a row for the Belgian without points after his back-to-back seventh places in Singapore and Malaysia.
Pierre Gasly: qualified 20th, finished 13th. Brendon Hartley: qualified 13th, did not finish.
That Gasly was still running at the chequered flag was something of a surprise, the young Frenchman struggling with one engine gremlin after another in practice and qualifying, so much so that he’d managed all of 12 timed laps before the race at a track he’d never driven at before. On the other side of the garage, Hartley had engine issues on Friday, made Q2 on Saturday before a puff of engine smoke saw him have to park up, took an engine penalty for the race, and then blew up again just before half-distance. “I’m not the happiest man today, but I’m still smiling because I’ve made progress compared to last week in Austin,” the New Zealander said. With Daniil Kvyat officially out of the mix at STR, it appears the unlikely pairing of Gasly and Hartley will be the team’s drivers for 2018 after they were confirmed for Brazil and Abu Dhabi to round out this season.
Romain Grosjean: qualified 19th, finished 15th. Kevin Magnussen: qualified 18th, finished 8th.
Nobody at Haas would have dreamed of points after qualifying, where the American team’s cars were slowest of all in what Grosjean called “a slap in the face” after being beaten by Sauber. So for Magnussen to finish eighth, especially after he laboured with a stomach bug on Friday, was something akin to a miracle, even after he gained through the pain of others after the various incidents on the first lap. “That was like a victory, it was incredible,” the Dane said. “It was a perfect race. It couldn’t have gone better.” Grosjean may well have joined his teammate in the points, but came off second-best in a clash with Alonso at the first corner on lap 10 that both damaged his car and saw him slapped with a five-second time penalty for exceeding track limits. Two laps down, the Frenchman was the final driver classified.
Nico Hulkenberg: qualified 8th, did not finish. Carlos Sainz: qualified 9th, did not finish.
A miserable Sunday in Mexico for Renault, with Hulkenberg not seeing the flag for the fourth time in five races because of a mid-race retirement with an energy recovery system issue, and Sainz pulling into the pits with less than 10 laps to go after reporting his car was pulling sideways on the straights. After both cars made the top 10 in qualifying, it was a disappointing end to a weekend where Toro Rosso, five points ahead in the constructors’ championship for sixth but looking increasingly vulnerable, looked there for the passing.
Marcus Ericsson: qualified 16th, did not finish. Pascal Wehrlein: qualified 17th, finished 14th.
Ericsson looked odds-on to snare his first points for the season when he ran convincingly inside the top 10 in the early stages, but had a brake-by-wire failure 14 laps from the end and returned to the pits with flames licking at the back of his gearbox for a seventh retirement in 18 races. Teammate Wehrlein was a chance to get a Sauber into Q2 for the first time since Azerbaijan 10 races ago before being edged by Vandoorne and Ericsson late in the first part of qualifying, but had a rougher race, finishing two laps down and ahead only of Grosjean’s heavily-damaged Haas.