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As in 2017, Verstappen wins the race, Hamilton the title

NEWS STORY
28/10/2018

Once again, yesterday's thrilling Q3 session managed to put title talk firmly on the back burner.

Indeed, today, the talk isn't so much about whether Lewis "will do it", but whether, just days after Kimi Raikkonen took a hugely popular in Austin, another very popular driver, Daniel Ricciardo, could follow suit and stand atop the podium here in Mexico.

Truth is, other than the fact that Daniel is already highly popular, one cannot help but feel that many would like to see the Australian claim victory simply to rub his team's nose in it.

Be it Red Bull's, and Max Verstappen's, constant put downs of Renault for everything including the weather and lack of salted caramel ice cream, it is the constant unnecessary sniping. Even after yesterday's mega-lap, Helmut Marko suggested that it would be the Australian's last pole for some time - the clear inference being that once at Renault Daniel will find things a lot harder.

Of course, all this is assuming that Honda is able to provide Red Bull with a race winning and title challenging engine after four seasons of trying, not to mention Daniel discovering that not all those recent retirements were purely down to the engine and its manufacturer.

Much of the talk overnight concerned the first lap and the expected "carnage" at T1, what with the very, very fast title hopefuls starting behind the Red Bulls. While the Ferrari and Mercedes might be quicker off the line, as the grid order sort of confirms, once up to speed the Bulls will take some catching.

Nonetheless, as witnessed here last year, the track layout does lend itself to 'incidents', and with Sebastian Vettel in the mix - not to mention the infamous 'black holes' - anything can, and probably will, happen.

Indeed, wasn't it Lewis who tagged Sebastian at T3 last year?

Of course, should carnage ensue, there will be a couple of eager Finns only too happy to pick up the pieces so to speak, what odds Kimi taking back-to-back wins anyone?

Whatever happens, Vettel must keep out of trouble, either by holding off for the first couple of corners, or perhaps the first couple of laps, and if he feels he must attack, by heeding his own advice and going around the outside.

Populist winners, black holes and titles aside, once again it is the midfield battle that promises to provide the main entertainment, certainly once we're through the first couple of laps.

Much to Red Bull's dismay, Renault has looked strong all weekend, while Sauber has the edge over Force India. That said, the Silverstone-based outfit opted to play the long game in qualifying, both drivers failing to make it to Q3 in order that they could have free tyre choice today. Neither driver was happy about the tactic, but their attitudes could change should it pay off today. Indeed, it was thought that a few other teams might adopt a similar strategy.

Interestingly, despite the strength of the Ferrari and Renault-powered teams, McLaren doesn't appear to be benefiting from its French power unit, much like the Ferrari-powered Haas pair who are having a nightmare weekend. Monsieur Moany even suggesting that races shouldn't be held at high altitude circuits. Sigh.

Throw in a man who simply refuses to give in to defeat (Fernando) and a clearly riled-up kiwi, and that midfield scrap could become even more interesting.

Friday's very warm weather caused all manner of problems for the teams when it came to tyres, while yesterday's cooler conditions made things a little easier. Today's conditions are similar to yesterday, but nonetheless there will be concern at how long the hypersofts will last whatever the temperature.

As a result we are likely to see most drivers opt for a two stop strategy, though some, including Vettel, are expected to try for a one-stopper.

The quickest strategy is a two-stopper; either one stint on ultrasofts for 9 laps then two 31-lap stints on supersofts, or one stint on hypersofts for 5 laps then two 33-lap stints on supersofts. On the other hand, a one-stopper, which would require excellent tyre management, would involve a stint on ultrasofts for 15-18 laps, then supersofts to the flag.

However, while there was sunshine yesterday afternoon, there is a lot of cloud cover this afternoon, which will affect temperatures. Furthermore, the storms that have been forecast all weekend but seem to only arrive at night, might yet play a part.

Whatever happens on the first lap, it's worth noting that since returning to the calendar since 2015 there has been a safety car every year. Should it happen early enough in the race, what better time to shed those hypers.

Of course it would be dumb to totally ignore the title fight, especially when Lewis is on the verge of a historic fifth crown. While the natural racer in Hamilton will want to take the title with a win, unlike last year when ninth was enough, in all honesty he will be best served today by playing the long game. The title is all but won, in reality he can only lose it.

Of course, the Briton, having witnessed his teammate's technical issues this weekend, will have nagging doubt about reliability, however, let's not forget that going into this race he has only failed to complete 9 of the season's 1,067 laps thus far.

On the other hand, Verstappen hasn't had a trouble-free weekend, the high altitude benefiting Red Bell in terms of aero and the reduced grunt of the Renault, but at the same time putting enormous strain on all the engines.

The pitlane opens and one by one the drivers head out. Ominously, Ricciardo runs wide at T1 and takes a trip across the grass.

Ahead of the warm-up lap the air temperature is 18.7 degrees C, while the track temperature is 31.9 degrees. The cloud cover has dissipated somewhat, allowing the sun to break through.

Ricciardo, Verstappen, Hamilton, Vettel, Bottas, Raikkonen, Alonso, Vandoorne, Stroll and Sirotkin all start on ultrasofts, while Hulkenberg, Sainz, Leclerc, Ericsson and Gasly start on hypers, and Ocon, Perez, Hartley, Magnussen and Grosjean on supersofts.

They head off on the warm-up lap, all get away cleanly.

The grid forms... very slowly.

They're away.

While Verstappen gets away well, Ricciardo appears slow, allowing Hamilton to come through down the middle. As the Briton draws alongside Verstappen on the run to T1, Ricciardo finds himself wedged between Bottas and Vettel.

Into T1, Verstappen has the inside, and ensures he covers off the Mercedes into T2, however, Bottas appears to have the edge over Ricciardo. The Australian holds off the Finn who is under attack from Vettel, indeed, they touch wheels but without damage.

Further behind Alonso runs wide and in the process collects some of Ocon's front wing in his bargeboard.

"I have some damage," claims Ocon, who appeared to collide with Hulkenberg. "You will be pitting, you have the front wing missing," he is told.

Indeed, replay suggests Alonso saw the Ocon clash, went wide to avoid getting involved but still collected the debris.

Moments later, despite the damage, Ocon is mixing it with Leclerc.

Despite carrying Ocon's wing, Alonso continues, attempting to go through on the inside of Perez. However, the Spaniard is struggling to control the car and actually loses a couple of positions.

Elsewhere, Raikkonen is momentarily passed by Sainz but soon retakes the position

At the end of the first lap it's: Verstappen, Hamilton, Ricciardo, Vettel, Bottas, Raikkonen, Sainz, Hulkenberg, Leclerc, Ericsson.

Hartley pits following his contact with Alonso, taking on a new nose, while Hartley also pits. They rejoin at the back of the field.

After just three laps the field is spread out very evenly, drivers not wishing to get too close to one another due to the problems of overheating engines in the thin air.

Stroll makes a great move on Magnussen for 13th, while Gasly locks-up behind and runs wide.

Alonso parks by the side of the track at T11, smoke billowing from the rear of his car, which brings out the VSC.

Check out our Sunday gallery from Mexico City, here.

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READERS COMMENTS

 

1. Posted by Egalitarian, 29/10/2018 21:32

"@SD - the 'oh wait' is an indication of sarcasm... sometimes difficult to get across in writing"

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2. Posted by Spindoctor, 29/10/2018 9:17

"@egalitarian - it appears that Renault were not guilty this time. Ricciardo said it was a hydraulics problem.
It's strange that RBR suffer more PU failures than Renault, possibly to do with packagaing?"

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3. Posted by Egalitarian, 29/10/2018 3:33

"I wish Renault would stop undermining Ricciardo's chances - oh wait..."

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