In the weekend just gone, we find ourselves in Mexico City for a very fan-centred and emotional affair.
We start, as we always do, in Q1. At the beginning of the session, we saw Lance Stroll losing the back end of his Aston Martin, sending him into a spin and putting him into the barriers, which caused the red flag to be brought out before he had set a competitive lap, meaning he would start from P20. Once the session had been restarted, we saw the Haas’ of Nikita Mazepin and Mick Schumacher ending in P19 and P18 respectively. Latifi was just ahead, putting his Williams P17, and the shock of the session was Fernando Alonso unable to make it to Q2, only putting his Alpine in P16.
Moving into Q2, we saw the majority of teams put their drivers on the Medium compound tyres, in hoping that they can qualify on the more durable tyre. Alpine’s Esteban Ocon found himself in P15, further showcasing the teams poor pace all weekend. He was beaten by the Alpha Romero of Antonio Giovinazzi in P14, with teammate Kimi Raikkonen in P12. Between them, saw the William’s of George Russell in P13, who was forced to take a five place grid penalty following a gearbox change after issues during practice. The final driver to be knocked out was Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel, who ended P11.
In Q3, we saw the return to the soft compound tyre. After the first set of qualifying laps, Mercedes’ Valterri Bottas found himself on Provisional Pole, ahead of both his teammate, Lewis Hamilton, as well as Red Bull’s Max Verstappen. But before we talk about who starts at the front, we must run through those who start behind. Firstly, we saw McLaren’s Lando Norris down in P10 after not setting a representative time. This was because he was taking an engine penalty, pushing him to the back of the grid, with him only needed in Q3 in order to aid his teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, with a tow down the long main straight, who ended the session in P7.
Alpha Tauri’s Yuki Tsunoda found himself in a similar position, ending in P9, helping his teammate, Pierre Gasly up to P5. The Ferrari of Charles Leclerc found himself in P8, under a tenth of a second behind his teammate Carlos Sainz in P6. As we get to the final set of runs, those that are left, both Red Bull’s and both Mercedes.
Sergio Perez, the Mexican racing in his home race, in a car with the potential to compete for the race win, placed his car P4, two tenths of a second behind Verstappen in P3. Both unable to improve enough to topple the Mercedes, due to a mix up between Yuki, Perez, and Max where the Alpha Tauri went wide, attempting to allow the Red Bull’s past. Which kicked up some dust and dirt which distracted the Perez, making him drive onto the grass. These incidents impacted Verstappen’s lap, as he slowed down, expecting yellow flags. This means that Bottas retained his Pole Position, ahead of his teammate, setting up an exciting Sunday.
The theme of engine penalties continued this weekend, with Tsunoda and Norris already taking penalties, Stroll and Ocon opting to join them at the back of the grid. With these larger penalties, Russell only falls to P16.
As the five lights go out and the race begins, both Mercedes’ and Red Bull’s get away well, but with with such a long main straight, Verstappen is able to squeeze up along the left hand side of Bottas, who looked to be giving Hamilton plenty of space to his right into the first corner.
Along with this, Ricciardo was able to pass Gasly and Sainz off the start and was attempting to get up the inside of Perez into the right hander, however, he brakes too late and locks his tyres, making him slide forward and clip Valterri’s rear right tyre, making him spin around causing Daniel to lose his front wing. At the same corner, further back on the grid, Ocon found himself sandwiched between Schumacher and Tsunoda, both of whom find themselves in the air after having their tyres collide with Esteban’s.
As they came back to the surface of the track, both the Alpha Tauri, and Haas’ rear suspension snap, taking both drivers out of the race and bringing out the Safety Car, which Bottas and Ricciardo both pit under for fresh tyres, and a wing change for the McLaren.
As Verstappen finds himself in the lead, closely followed by Hamilton and Perez on the Safety Car restart on lap five, which sees Giovinazzi up in P6 due to the chaos of all the cars trying to avoid the spinning Mercedes, however had already lost a position to Sainz.
Further back, Lando was able to climb up to P14. By lap 9, Max had put in a gap of almost three seconds, while further back, Kimi was able to get past Russell for P9 at turn one, following the Williams being another beneficiary of the lap one chaos. Russell finds himself being overtaken at the same spot by Alonso.
On lap 13, Latifi enters the pits for a set of hard compound tyres, dropping him to P18 and the last car on track. Stroll is another to pit, coming out just ahead of his fellow Canadian. On Lap 17, both Russell and Giovinazzi pit onto the Hards, while Hamilton complains about his pace, and Perez sits just a few seconds behind, reporting his tyres were only improving. It only takes until lap 21 for Max to begin lapping the backmarkers of Mazepin and Latifi on the main straight.
The race quietens down here, as Max extends his already comfortable lead from Hamilton, while Perez is closing the gap to the Mercedes. Gasly finds himself, basically in his own race, with comfortable gaps between himself and Perez ahead, as well as between himself the Ferrari’s behind. It takes until lap 30 for one of the podium runners to pit, and that man is Lewis Hamilton, who stops onto hard compound tyres, returning to the track in P4, however while getting up to speed and getting some heat into the tyres, Leclerc is able to get past the Brit by going around the outside at turn one, meaning he would lose time to Perez, making it easier for the Red Bull man to potentially overcut the Mercedes. Leclerc pits on lap 31, allowing Hamilton to quickly make up the lost time to Perez.
As Hamilton catches Gasly on lap 33, the Frenchman pits, allowing Lewis to keep his pace consistent. Gasly returns in P7 while Hamilton continues his push towards Perez. Max pits the following lap, returning behind his teammate, letting Sergio take the lead of his home Grand Prix, making him the first ever Mexican to lead a lap at his home race. Ricciardo pits on lap 40, following a continuous battle with the persistent Bottas, putting on some Medium compound tyres. Perez pits a lap later and puts on the Hards, returning just 10 seconds behind Hamilton. Bottas pits on lap 42, suffers an 11 second pit stop due to his right front tyre stubbornly remaining on his car, bolting on the Mediums and returning into P15. Sainz pits the following lap from P4, dropping to just P6. This leaves the only man yet to pit being Norris, who finds himself up in P7.
Lando ends up pitting on lap 46, putting on the hards and returns into P10. Getting into lap 51/71, we find Ricciardo, despite having a much faster pitstop, once again fighting with Bottas for P12. Further ahead, Verstappen builds his lead to over 12 seconds.
By lap 55, Perez has reduced the gap down to under four seconds, a gap which is cut in half by lap 58. On the same lap, the Ferrari’s swap places, allowing Sainz to chase after Gasly. By lap 60, Hamilton has Lando in his sight, hoping to lap the McLaren in order to put something between himself and Perez, however is unable to get close enough in order for Norris to allow him past. This brings Perez into DRS (Drag Reduction System) range. Both drivers are able to pass the struggling McLaren on the small straight heading into turn 4.
By lap 64, Perez has dropped to over a second behind Hamilton, loosing his DRS, giving the Brit some breathing room. Bottas pits onto soft tyres in the following lap in an attempt to take the point for Fastest Lap away from Max, who has had a surprisingly easy race. During his Fastest lap attempt, Verstappen slows as Bottas catches the Dutchman in the final sector, ruining his attempt as the Red Bull forces the Fin to overtake him. On lap 69, Bottas pits for another set of softs.
As we enter lap 71, Perez has closed the gap to within one second, and makes a divebomb down the inside of Hamilton into turn six, but is unable to make the move stick, meaning he must resign to P3, making it a hattrick of podiums in a row.
Max Verstappen crosses the line to claim his ninth win of the season, with Hamilton to take his eighth P2 of the season. Gasly comes home in P4, a very important result for Alpha Tauri in their battle with Alpine for P5 in the Constructor’s Championship.
Sainz and Leclerc returned to their original position, with the former taking P6, and the latter coming home in P5. Sebastian Vettel put in a quiet performance, taking P7. Raikkonen was able to claim P8 for Alpha Romero’s fifth time in the points this season. Those that rounded off the points paying positions were Alonso in P9 and Norris in P10.
Overall, a race which had untold amounts of promise was quickly reduced to one in which seemed much more of a formality, with the only major source of intrigue surrounding the fight between Perez and Hamilton, with the only thing separating the weekend’s events from the USA being the crowd giving their constant support for Sergio “Checo” Perez.
My Driver of the Day goes to our race winner, Max Verstappen, as he was able to get the crucial move done early, and was able to put a 16 second gap between himself and Hamilton. A special mention goes to Checo following a strong and clean race in front of his home fans, making his podium just that little bit sweeter, with almost 140,000 there to watch him lift his trophy. Two more mentions will go to Gasly and Kimi following clean races which have been rewarded with good points for their respective teams.
The loser of the weekend must sadly go to Yuki Tsunoda, through no fault of his own, but with Pierre showing outstanding pace in the same car, this indicated that despite coming from the back, there was some serious potential to place himself into some point paying positions.
Featured Image Credit: Planet F1