Events

Silver And Red Dominate Mexico F1 Grand Prix.

Under crystal clear blue skies, and at 2000 metres, or 6,561 feet, above sea level, the Mexican Grand Prix started. It’s an important start for one man specifically. Lewis Hamilton needs to win to either take out the drivers’ championship or place one hand firmly on its handle. He needs to beat his team mate Valtteri Bottas by 14 points to ensure that championship.

Charles Leclerc launched off the line to get away cleanly. Behind him and quickly catching him was Sebastian Vettel. Vettel had to brake at the first turn but slotted in behind Leclerc easily. Behind them it was Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton getting up close and personal, with Verstappen squeezing the championship leader into the first turn, only to have both cars go off the tarmac and onto the slippery grass.

Further back there was contact between Kimi Raikkonen and George Russell, with the latter losing carbon fiber from the left of his car. Somehow Raikkonen managed not to puncture his front left. Carlos Sainz and Alexander Albon avoided the issues ahead of them and saw positions 4 and 3 against their names inside two laps. But it was bad news straight away for Romain Grosjean with a first lap issue seeing him down to P20 very quickly.

Verstappen and Valtteri Bottas then tangled, with the two swapping positions before a touch saw the right rear of Verstappen delaminate then detach from the wheel. The remnants swept across the track and Daniel Ricciardo in 12th was lucky to miss the rubber.

On lap 8 Hamilton was in P4, and still caught in traffic. Brakes were getting hot for the Mercedes of Bottas and he was lucky to find clear space to get airflow through and closing on a very racy looking Albon.

Renault were looking good too, with Ricciardo up to 10th by lap ten, and Hulkenberg in 11th. Local hero Sergio Perez made a clean move on lap 11 to the delight of the crowd, and they applauded the driver that moved across to allow Perez to do so. Then there was pit lane drama for Lando Norris, with a tire swap not having his front left bolted on correctly. He knew it almost as soon as he was cleared to leave, and was pushed back to the garage to have it correctly bolted. Albon also pitted and came out behind Carlos Sainz. This forced Ferrari to pit Leclerc, handing the lead to Vettel.

Hamilton was on his start tires and 2.5 seconds behind Vettel. Bottas was a further 6.8 seconds behind in 3rd, ahead of Leclerc, Albon, and Perez. Renault improved to see Ricciardo and Hulkenberg within handshake distance for 7th and 8th with Lance Stroll bettering his qualifying performance to sit in 8th. Antonio Giovinazzi and Kevin Magnussen locked out the top ten. Grosjean still was out of speed, down in 19th.

Similar pit issues befell Giovinazzi on lap 23. Here it was a right rear and somehow the system failed the driver. There is a torque setting on the gun used to tighten the bolt and it registered full torque yet the wheel was not close to being secured. Giovinazzi moved off, the rear dropped, and vital seconds were lost as the team frantically fought to get the car up and secure the wheel properly. Hamilton was brought in while this was happening and rejoined in 4th. Vettel had the lead and was told to “box”, but he refused, correctly pointing out his track position was not suitable to do so.

Lap 29 and Verstappen has been picking off driver after driver to be up to 11th. He’s slotted himself between Hulkenberg and Sainz. Vettel and Bottas had the lead but still had yet to pit. Leclerc was looking firm in 3rd but Hamilton was bemoaning his hard rubber, saying that they had no grip. This is usually a good sign that the car is driving well…Also going well was Ricciardo. Everything has come together for the Australian and he’s on lap 34, in 6th, with his original hard rubber. It’s a typical Renault long run strategy but will he be pitted too late to stay in the top ten?

P12 and P13 and it’s Sainz and Gasly going side by side. It’s great driving from Gasly as he’s still recovering from a stomach illness that affected a number of paddock personnel. Then Vettel, a lap ahead of these two, is suddenly forced to brake, hard, as his nose is buried in the rear of Sainz, with Gasly barely a car length ahead.

Bottas comes in as does Sainz. Then Vettel comes in and it’s a one stop strategy for Ferrari and the German. Lap 43 and Verstappen’s determined drive has him pass Perez, much to the annoyance of the crowd. Then it’s yet another pit issue and incredibly it’s against Leclerc. It’s another recalcitrant wheel, another green light on the gun that’s not telling the true story, and again vital seconds are lost, forcing the Monagesque down the ladder to come out in 5th. Stroll has pitted at the same time and his stop is quick. Verstappen continues his charge, he’s up to 7th.

Lap 45 and Daniil Kvyat is in for his second stop. Somehow, somehow, Ricciardo is challenging for 5th and he’s still yet to get fresh rubber. It’s lap 51 of 71 and finally Renault call him in. Amazingly he’s back out in 8th. Unfortunately for Lando Norris, things go awry and he retires. Hamilton’s lead is three second ahead of Vettel and it’s game on between the Finn in 3rd and Vettel. Leclerc is in 4th and Albon is doing a creditable job in 5th. Grosjean’s weekend is one to forget and a run wide on lap 55 does nothing to ease his pain down in 19th.

Bottas closes in on Vettel and this aids Hamilton as Vettel now has to go defensive, not offensive to have a charge on Hamilton. It’s also now that the disparity between the cars and drivers becomes vividly obvious, as the front runners and getting mixed up with cars in mid pack but are a lap down. Leclerc is starting to close on Bottas as his brakes are heating up because of following Vettel and getting no “clean air”.

Lap 60 and the veteran Raikonnen is pulled in, and for an unspecified reason he’s retired from the race. There’s action for P7 and P8 and Ricciardo is challenging Perez. Time and again he’s looked for a pass, and on lap 62 he’s locked up, passes Perez, but hands the position back as he’s gained an unfair advantage. Bottas is in 3rd and in a points position he’s 74 behind Hamilton, Hamilton needs 78 to be crowned winner for 2019…

Mercedes tell Hamilton he’s at Max Power. This should keep the Briton in the lead. It’s the final lap and Daniil Kvyat and Nico Hulkenberg have the lightest of taps, with Hulkenberg’s Renault turned around. He nudges the wall with the rear, breaking the wing but he’s able to continue and greet the flag. But it’s all over ahead of them, with an ecstatic Hamilton taking the win ahead of Vettel, Bottas, Leclerc, and Albon. Verstappen brings home his Red Bull for 6th, whilst a gallant Perez has held out Ricciardo, for 7th and 8th respectively. Kvyat was given a ten second penalty and this moves Gasly up to 9th with Hulkenberg then classified as 10th.

Kvyat finished Mexico in 11th ahead of Stroll, Sainz, Giovinazzi, Magnussen, Russell, Grosjean, and an untroubled Kubica who is well over two laps behind Hamilton. The win for Hamilton also gives Mercedes their 100th win as a constructor.

Hamilton now needs just four points to lock down his championship win. Someone not there at Mexico to help Hamilton celebrate was his engineer, Pete “Bono” Bonnington, who was back home in the U.K. having surgery. “Of course I wanted to dedicate this win to Bono because he’s going through – it’s not been the easiest of times. I love the dude. We’ve come a long way together, and I wanted to make him proud this weekend.” said Hamilton. Vettel acknowledged the pace of Hamilton and was gracious afterwards by inviting Bottas to stand next to him in the post-race pit lane interviews. The next race, and where Hamilton can nail down the drivers’ championship, is next weekend in the USA F1 GP at Austin, Texas.

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David Conole

Dave Conole is the former long-term circuit commentator for Sydney Motorsport Park, has worked trackside at the Australian F1 Grand Prix in Melbourne and is self-employed as an automotive content producer.

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