Hamilton wins feisty Mexican Grand Prix

30/10/2016
NEWS STORY

As far as Lewis Hamilton is concerned, perhaps the only thing that could make this afternoon any mare tense would be if he looked in his mirrors at the start to see Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen still sporting their Dia de los Muertos make up.

Other than the concern he will naturally have regarding his start - the Briton finally getting it pitch perfect in Austin - he has his teammate, and championship rival, right alongside, and the two Red Bull drivers behind on their supersoft tyres.

Ricciardo will be aiming to repeat what he did at COTA and nail at least one Mercedes at the start, though, unlike Austin, his teammate is on the same strategy.

In America, Ricciardo's strategy was compromised by the Virtual Safety Car and that could the case again here, then again, good starts, or poor ones from the Mercedes drivers could see the Bulls take this race by the horns.

Fact is, Hamilton would be more than happy to see Ricciardo repeat his Austin start and, along with Verstappen, nail Rosberg at the start, thereby allowing the Briton the opportunity to close that all-important title gap. But should he fluff his getaway, as in Japan and countless occasions before, it could be game over.

As if this wasn't enough, we have the prospect of almost a hundred thousand Mexicans all hoping that whatever strategy the Mercedes and Red Bulls are on it all plays into the hands of Sergio Perez, who surely has to dig deep today following his nightmare performance in qualifying.

And having been there or thereabouts all weekend what happened to Ferrari when it really happened? At one point we were wondering if the Scuderia might finally be on the verge of taking its first win of the season only to see Sebastian and Kimi eclipsed by Nico Hulkenberg.

And if Perez needs to dig deep this afternoon to please the partisan crowd, what of countryman Esteban Gutierrez in the ever struggling Haas. Talking of whom, Romain Grosjean is to start from the pitlane after the team opted to change the floor on his car overnight.

Working through the grid, it's Mercedes versus Red Bull, with both teams going in different directions in terms of tyre strategy, a strategy that will make or break the race for those involved.

Other than making a clean getaway, Hamilton cannot afford to be involved in any squabbles, from the outset he must put daylight between himself and Rosberg. While the German can settle for second - and again in Abu Dhabi and Brazil - this is not how he wants to win the title, a title some already still insist on saying he lucked into.

Mad Max will be keen to get his feet further under the Red Bull table with another win, while Ricciardo would dearly love to follow up on his Malaysia win.

Following some of his previous nightmares, Hulkenberg will be glad just to get the first lap out of the way, the German sure to use his canny tyre management to his advantage. Though starting from twelfth, teammate Perez could yet give the crowd something to cheer about, though he has a difficult weekend ahead.

Ferrari will be glad to get the race out of the way and then the next two, hoping upon hope that 2017 is going to be better. Both drivers are desperate to do well, and giving all they can, but their equipment is not delivering.

As the epic battle for fourth continues, the Williams duo will be seeking to add another decent point haul to the kitty, if only for Sir Frank as he recovers from pneumonia. On Thursday, Bottas is expected to be confirmed at Grove for another season, what better way to prove to his team that it has made the right decision.

Kvyat's electrical issue means the Russian will not be involved in the battle with McLaren, at least in the early stages, leaving on-form Sainz to continue what is an increasingly tense midfield fight.

Behind them we have the ever struggling Renault's, Saubers, Haas' and Manors which, if nothing else, should keep us entertained as the frustrations of the drivers gradually get the better of them.

A number of these drivers have yet to secure seats for next season, and to add to their existing frustration the equipment at their disposal is hardly allowing them to put on the best show for prospective employers.

Without mentioning names, I recent years there have been a number of additions to the calendar, which, other than their contribution to CVC's coffers, have added little to the sport. Mexico is not one of them.

Mexico is one of those events, like Melbourne, Suzuka, Silverstone, Monza, Canada, Brazil and Austin where the fans are determined to have a good time and where the best of the sport is on show.

Let's hope the sport can deliver them something to really shout about today.

As for those all-important tyres, two stops look set to be the most likely scenario for most competitors, but with times closely matched there are a number of different strategy permutations on the table: which will depend also on the weather conditions, as in temperatures as opposed to rain.

Some drivers could aim for a single stop strategy, and while rapid track evolution continued to be a hallmark of the track yesterday, this will remain a factor this afternoon, again affecting strategies.

Much will depend however, on that long (900m / 0.497 miles) run to T1, the longest of the season. It is claimed that the supersofts could be worth between six and twelve metres over the slightly harder softs.

"It is 900 metres down to the first corner, so everything you usually see between the different compounds is exaggerated," Rob Smedley tells Motorsport.com. "So, depending on if you make a good start with a supersoft and your rival is at the lower end of the range with the soft - we see up to 12 metres, which is an easy pass. You are past cars before you get to the braking zone."

The pitlane opens and Hamilton is first out followed by Vettel and Magnussen. The Briton clearly can't wait to get on with it.

As the drivers gather for the national anthem, race officials warn there is a 20% chance of rain. Air temperature is 19 degrees C, and the track temperature is 47 degrees. It is bright, sunny and slightly warmer than we have become used to this weekend.

As they prepare to head off on the warm-up lap, Most are on softs bar Verstappen, Ricciardo, Hulkenberg, Bottas, Massa, Sainz and Palmer who are all on the supersofts. Nasr is on the medium rubber.

They head off, a few puffs of white smoke from Rosberg's car as Verstappen storms ahead.

In the Stadium, the crowd only really comes to life once Perez enters.

The grid forms, and as has been the case of late, it takes quite some time for the 21 drivers to get into position.

They're away, and Hamilton and Rosberg both make strong starts, as does Hulkenberg. The Briton maintains his lead as Rosberg and Verstappen are side by side heading towards T1. Lots of jostling for position throughout the rest of the field.

Hamilton locks up his right-front and runs wide and takes a detour across the grass as behind Verstappen and Rosberg appear to touch, the German also running slightly wide in the process. Further back Ericsson appears to spin and is hit by Wehrlein.

As they continue, Alonso gets out of shape and kicks up a cloud of dust as he almost loses it on the run to T5, the field still three or four cars a breast.

Ericsson is still going but clearly has an issue following that clash with Wehrlein, he locks-up.

Replay shows Rosberg getting a gentle kiss from Verstappen in T1. Meanwhile, another replay shows it was Gutierrez who set the Ericsson/Wehrlein incident in action, the Haas driver clipping the rear of the Manor.

Check out our Sunday gallery from Mexico City, here.

The VSC is deployed as Vettel warns "I have a puncture".

At the end of lap 1, Ricciardo pits, ironic when you consider what happened last week. He switches to mediums and rejoins in 17yth. Palmer and Ericsson also pit.

Hamilton leads, ahead of Rosberg, Verstappen, Hulkenberg, Raikkonen, Massa, Vettel, Bottas, Perez and Sainz.

The Safety Car is deployed as Wehrlein's car is removed from the track.

The incident at the start involving Rosberg and Verstappen is to be investigated.

Strangely, despite his claim that he had puncture Vettel hasn't pitted, clearly a false alarm.

The Safety Car is withdrawn at the end of lap 3, Hamilton maintains his lead.

Hamilton sets a blistering pace posting a fastest lap (23.397) as be builds a 1.265s lead.

As Hamilton complains of a vibration, Sainz warns that his gearbox is failing.

Ricciardo is up to 15th but has a lot more work to do this afternoon.

Magnussen makes a great move on Alonso to take 11th, the Dane battling the world champion for a number of corners before finally making it stick.

Verstappen is all over the back of Rosberg, the two still under investigation.

The stewards reveal that no further action I to be taken following that first corner incident.

"Verstappen has to make supersoft count now," says Pirelli, "another supersoft runner right behind him, Hulkenberg."

Ricciardo dives down the inside of Button as they enter the Stadium, the Red Bull driver now up to 13th.

After 9 laps, Hamilton enjoys a 3.003s lead, Hulkenberg remains a convincing fourth.

Ricciardo passes Magnussen and sets his sights on Alonso.

The first lap incident involving Gutierrez, Ericsson and Wehrlein is now under investigation. As is the incident involving Alonso and Sainz.

"I'm a bit stuck," says Vettel, the German feeling he is losing time behind Massa.

Meanwhile, just behind, the other Williams is frustrating the efforts of Perez.

Grosjean pits at the end of lap 11, switching to the medium rubber.

Next time around Verstappen pits, and unlike Austin they are ready for him. Sainz, Magnussen and Gutierrez also pit, all switch to the medium.

As Raikkonen closes on Hulkenberg, Vettel gets ever more frustrated with Massa. "He's stupid, he's slowing himself down by fighting so hard" says the Ferrari driver as a train of four cars lines up behind the Williams.

No further action regarding the Gutierrez, Wehrlein and Ericsson incident, however Sainz is given a 5s penalty for forcing Alonso off track.

At the end of lap 14, Massa and Hulkenberg pit. They rejoin in 13th and 10th, respectively.

"Let's push now," Alonso is told. "I am pushing," he replies, "I've been pushing since lap one. You do your job and I'll do mine." Next time around he pits, switches to the softs and rejoins in 16th.

Hamilton pits at the end of lap 17, rejoining in fourth on mediums, 15.6s down on the leader, teammate Rosberg.

In clear air, Vettel posts a PB, as Ricciardo is advised that it looks as though he is effectively ahead of Rosberg who has yet to stop.

The Bottas/Perez battle continues, the Finn thwarting the Mexican's every effort.

On fresh rubber Hamilton posts a new fastest lap (22.993).

Ricciardo is told he's doing a good job but must get through the traffic. Rosberg is given a similar gee-up.

Bottas pits at the end of lap 19.

"Everything you've got," Perez is told, "everything you've got."

Rosberg pits at the end of lap 20, as does Raikkonen. Perez also stops.

Rosberg rejoins in third ahead of both Red Bulls, like the rest on mediums.

After 20 laps, Vettel now leads (softs) but he has yet to stop. Behind the German it's: Hamilton, Rosberg, Ricciardo, Raikkonen, Hulkenberg, Massa, Bottas and Perez.

Check out our Sunday gallery from Mexico City, here.

"What do we do," askes Verstappen, the youngster clearly quicker than his teammate ahead. "I mean, I'm stuck."

Verstappen subsequently passes his teammate who has clearly received the call. The Dutch teenager is 3.945s down on Rosberg.

Perez is now battling both Williams who have changed position, Massa allowing his quicker teammate by into 8th.

"Great job Valtteri," the Finn is told, "great job if we can stick with the Plan A."

Yet to stop, Vettel goes quickest in S2, though his lead over Hamilton is down to 3.959a.

Perez nails Massa in T1 - the crowd erupts - but he has overdone it like Hamilton on lap 1, he runs wide and Massa retakes the position.

"Be aware," Rosberg is told, "Verstappen is pushing hard, he's trying to put you under pressure."

"These tyres don't really feel that great," says Hamilton as he maintains a 5.068s advantage over his teammate.

"We won't use this engine again, so consider using tricks on the straights," Alonso is told as Perez queries why he was pitted so late. "Thinks of something man," he adds as he finds himself stuck behind a Williams again.

At the end of lap 29, the crew are in the pitlane for Vettel but he stays out. Indeed, he stays out next time around also.

"Vettel flirting with the pit lane but no action yet," says Pirelli. "Only he and Nasr are yet to stop."

"Box now," Vettel is told, the German finally obliging at the end of lap 32. He rejoins in 6th on mediums behind his teammate.

"The grip from these tyres is really poor," complains Raikkonen.

In traffic, Verstappen closes to within 1.4s of Rosberg who is 4.8s adrift of the leader.

With the title to fight for, could we sees Hamilton slow and cause his teammate to fall into the clutches of the Red Bulls. Every little helps as they say.

After 35 laps, effectively half-distance, it's: Hamilton, Rosberg, Verstappen, Ricciardo, Raikkonen, Vettel, Hulkenberg, Bottas, Masa and Perez.

Verstappen is told to "keep it clean" behind Rosberg. "You never know what might happen later," he is advised.

A mistake by Massa in T1 allows Perez to close in, but the Mexican is unable to take advantage.

Hamilton is told that the track temperature is dropping which will see increased pace from everyone.

Again Perez makes a move, again the crowd cheers, again Massa is having none of it. All this is for ninth.

Ricciardo gets a similar message to Hamilton. "It has clouded over a little bit," he is told. "The tyres are looking good at the moment but we don't want them to get too cool. The best way to do that is to keep up the pace."

After 41 laps, Hamilton leads his pursuers as they wind their way through the backmarkers. Despite that Rosberg posts a new fastest lap (22.792) as he maintains 3.999s gap to the leader.

Further back, much further back, the McLaren duo are fighting for 15th.

Raikkonen pits at the end of lap 45, the Finn sticking with the mediums. He rejoins in 7th behind Hulkenberg.

Next time around Alonso pits, suggesting that we are going to see a few more stops over the remaining 25 laps.

"You can use overtake to get past these backmarkers," Hamilton is told. "Just be careful because they are racing."

A new fastest lap from Vettel - for the third race in a row - the German stopping the clock at 22.659.

Vettel asks if his team is sure his rivals are intending to go to the end on their tyres.

A new fastest lap from Raikkonen (22.512) as Grosjean warns: "The front brake doesn't brake anymore, what do I do?" Pray?

Down in 20th, Kvyat pits and switches to the supers.

"The right-rear looks like it's taken a hit," warns Ricciardo.

Having failed at T1, Verstappen makes another move on Rosberg in T4 but overdoes it and runs wide, in the process he is embroiled in the Button/Sainz duel. "Nice try," the youngster is told, "now regroup."

Check out our Sunday gallery from Mexico City, here.

Ricciardo pits at the end of lap 50, as does Gutierrez, he rejoining in 6th on softs.

Kvyat and Grosjean both run wide as they battle for 18th.

On fresh rubber Ricciardo passes Hulkenberg for 5th and sets about closing the 17s gap to Vettel.

"I hit some debris with my floor," warns Verstappen as teammate Ricciardo posts a new fastest lap (22.252).

Grosjean and Kvyat are under investigation for their incident.

Kvyat is given a 5s advantage for leaving the trach and gaining an advantage - for the second consecutive race.

"What's wrong," get out of the way, easy," says Vettel, Ocon the latest object of his wrath.

Meanwhile, teammate Raikkonen has closed on Hulkenberg.

After 60 laps (of 71), Ricciardo is 9.3s down on Vettel on his fresher supersofts, as opposed to the German's older mediums. That said, the Ferrari is only 3.3s behind Verstappen... and closing.

Button passes Palmer in T1 to take 12th, the Renault driver on the same set of tyres he fitted on only the second lap.

Verstappen, given details of Vettel's progress replies: "I see him coming".

Now Alonso closes on the helpless, struggling Palmer.

In his efforts to get out of the way of the Verstappen/Vettel duel, Ocon all but stops his car.

"Let's keep pushing," Ricciardo is told, "you will catch those two cars." Those two cars being Verstappen and Vettel.

Raikkonen makes a move on Hulkenberg, the German spins and loses a heap of time.

Moments later, Vettel attacks Verstappen, the Red Bull driver out-brakes himself and runs wide, rejoining still ahead of the German. He is subsequently told to give the position back to the Ferrari driver.

"He has to let me go, he has to let me go," urges Vettel as the youngster backs him up into the clutches of his Red Bull teammate.

As the stewards announce that they are t investigate, Vettel exclaims "He's a ****, that's what he is."

"Am I alone, am I the only one seeing this," he continues, "he's almost backing me up to Ricciardo." As Vettel continues to complain he almost loses out to the Australian as the Dutch driver slows right down, almost brake-testing the German, and the pair behind appear to clash in T4. Replay shows the German and Australian did indeed touch.

Having flat-spotted his tyre, Ricciardo backs off, but Verstappen looks certain to get a penalty.

Hamilton takes the flag, ahead of Rosberg, Verstappen, Vettel, Ricciardo, Raikkonen, Hulkenberg, Bottas, Massa and Perez.

"Charlie said..." a crew member tells Vettel, "You know what, well here's a message for Charlie, **** off, honestly *** off" he replies.

As the stewards announce that they are to investigate the Vettel/Ricciardo incident, Vettel is still raging, shaking a finger at Verstappen. "I'm going to hit someone," warns Vettel.

As Hamilton climbs from his car and runs to his crew, the TV director is torn between the Briton and the erupting volcano that is Vettel.

Moments later however, the stewards hand Verstappen a 5s penalty for leaving the track and gaining an advantage, meaning Vettel will take his place on the podium.

The Red Bull driver is already in the ante room, he looks at the timing screen and then to the camera, timing screen, camera, it slowly begins to dawn on him.

As he is subsequently escorted out, throwing down his towel Nico-style, Vettel arrives to take his place, the German accompanied by a number of Ferrari team members.

Before he leaves, Max protests to the two Mercedes drivers who appear more talkative than they've been for some time. Indeed, it's almost like they don't want to be involved. You know how it is.

Herbie Blash arrives in the ante room, such a pity that it isn't Charlie Whiting.

However, this is a row that will continue, Ricciardo claiming that he is the victim, that Vettel moved under braking.

You'd think that Ferrari had won the title, such are the celebrations, though officials are sure to be having words with the German, and not only about that incident.

Presenting the trophies is a man who will fully sympathise with Vettel's frustration, Juan Pablo 'you break my head' Montoya.

While Hamilton and Rosberg mouth the usual platitudes about great country and great crowd, Vettel tells it like it is.

"The adrenaline was pumping, you can understand why I was annoyed, but what a turnaround," he says. "All of a sudden I was told to come up here."

Whether Vettel will be celebrating for long remains to be seen, as Red Bull is unhappy, very unhappy.

And in the midst of all that, almost unnoticed, Hamilton has closed the gap still further to his teammate.

And now its 19.

Check out our Sunday gallery from Mexico City, here.

Article from Pitpass (http://www.pitpass.com):

Published: 30/10/2016
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