It was a race that saw a champion crowned, heartbreak yet again for a driver, and a demonstration of strength and fragility for racing rubber.
Lewis Hamilton overcame tire wear issues, lapped traffic, and dicing with Red Bull cars, to finally place his hand on the 2018 Formula 1 crown. Although not a podium place getter, Hamilton finally had the gap between he and Sebastian Vettel open enough to win the championship for the fifth time. This places him alongside Juan Manuel Fangio and two behind the great Michael Schumacher.
Daniel Ricciardo’s unenviable record of DNFs went up by one with the chequered flag in sight. With just nine laps and 41 kilometres of race distance to complete, wisps of smoke were seen coming from the rear of the Red Bull. Ricciardo had been in second in the second half of the race, holding out Sebastian Vettel, and building the gap between Vettel in third and on rapidly wearing ultrasofts , and Verstappen in first.
Within seconds the Western Australian’s race was over, and again the sagging body language told the story. If there was a positive here it was the speed he’d shown on the supersofts and a testament to their durability with something like fifty laps being run with those tires on Ricciardo’s car.
Veteran Fernando Alonso was forced to retire once again with what initially looked like a puncture from a puncture thanks to debris from other cars in yet another first lap collision. At race end investigation showed an engine coolant line was found to be severed from that debris. Carlos Sainz suffered a battery failure issue and also retired early.
Pole sitter Daniel Ricciardo fell to fifth quickly from the start after launching a little too hard, Max Verstappen had the lead for most of the race thanks to his blinder of a start, both Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton went off at the same corner mid race after their supersoft tires wore past reasonable grip levels. Within a lap both Hamilton and Bottas had to pit with Hamilton complaining both of vibration and lack of speed. Ricciardo was in second position on lap 57 of the 71 as a result of the Mercedes cars pitting however had been on his supersofts for 45 laps at that point.
Local hero Sergio Perez wasn’t able to bring a finishing smile to his home crowd either. A tangle with Brendon Hartley initially looked like body damage but when the car was garaged it was his brake system that had failed. Hartley’s car had minor left side barge board damage but he was able to complete the race. Hartley was later deemed to be at fault and given a five second penalty.
Crucial to the positions of Vettel, Hamilton, and Ricciardo in the period between lap 30 and 50 was the positioning of what normally be back markers, or drivers at the opposite end of the finishing list. Such had been the pace of the top five cars that drivers in positions eight and nine, for example, were becoming traffic jams thanks to the pace of the top echelon teams.
Eventual race winner Max Verstappen continued to create a form of history by winning his fifth F1 GP in 2018 and has yet to start from pole position. With the faint threat of his team mate neutralized, Verstappen’s gap to second was in the order of sixteen seconds and that was enough for him to ease off the pace and take the flag ahead of the Ferraris of Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen.
Hamilton’s fourth place, ahead of Bottas, Nico Hulkenburg, Charles Leclerc, Stoffel Vandoorne in a stunning comeback, Marcus Ericcson, and Pierre Gasly, was also notable for the pace normally shown by Hamilton and his Silver Arrow not as evident in this. What was evident was the frightening speed on Vettel’s car at certain parts of the Mexico City track. On board vision showed more that once just how quick the Ferrari was in acceleration.
Where this leaves the season is simple. The pressure is off Hamilton, leaving Vettel and Raikkonen to consolidate second and third, Ricciardo to muse as to which lap his car will fail, and drivers like Charles Leclerc to look forward to the chequered flag at Abu Dhabi, the final race, before making the move up the ladder to new teams.
The next race is in Brazil on November 11th, Armistice Day’s centenary.