Verstappen cruises to Mexico win

07/11/2021
NEWS STORY

Having already made clear that he does not want to see the title decided in a gravel trap, following yesterday's qualifying session Christian Horner admitted that he didn't want a repeat of the 2019 start here either.

"You've got to be careful around here because you can't follow for too long, because the temperatures will start to get out of control," he said.

"But I think the first opportunity is down into Turn 1. You've only got to look at the replays from 2019 here to see it can get a bit juicy down there.

Though he took pole, Verstappen started the race from fourth after being handed a penalty for failing to slow after yellows were waved in the aftermath of a crash involving Bottas.

Consequently, Leclerc and Vettel had a front-row lock-out for Ferrari, with Hamilton third and Verstappen fourth.

Leclerc made a great start, as did Hamilton who began to draw alongside Vettel. However, as the German tucked in behind his Ferrari teammate for the tow, the Briton was squeezed out.

Dropping back, Hamilton found himself alongside Verstappen who had the line into Turn 1. In Turn 2 however, Hamilton had the line, they almost touched and in their efforts to avoid contact both drivers ran wide and over the grass.

Rejoining behind Albon and ahead of Sainz, still side-by-side, with Hamilton slightly ahead, Verstappen, still struggling for traction lost places to Sainz, Norris and Bottas, with the Spaniard also managing to pass the world champion in the process.

The Ferraris touched in T4 after Leclerc made a mistake, while Verstappen ran wide again in Turn 5.

A few laps later Verstappen passed Bottas, but in the process the two touched and the Dutchman picked up a puncture and had to pit. When the flag fell he was eighth.

You can see why Horner is fearful of a repeat, indeed following yesterday's qualifying session which resulted in his drivers filling the second row, the Red Bull boss is likely to have had a sleepless night.

While they say that those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it, this is F1, and how many times over the years have we seen drivers repeat the same mistake over and over and over again.

Furthermore, this time Verstappen is fighting Hamilton for the title.

While it is unlikely he'll get ahead of both Mercedes at the start, he needs to pass at least one, indeed, with an eye on strategy, so does Perez.

But then, other than their own little battle, the Mercedes pair, especially Hamilton will be worrying about who is benefitting from the tow.

As if that wasn't enough, at a track which always seems to attract trouble, just behind this little quartet we have Gasly, Sainz, Ricciardo and Leclerc, while at the very back of the pack, and no doubt pushing from the outset, we have Tsunoda, Norris, Ocon and Stroll.

Doing our best to avoid clichés like 'to finish first, first you have to finish', Hamilton and Verstappen, in particular, must heed the fact that the race cannot be won at the first corner or indeed the first lap.

The Dutchman has a 12-point comfort cushion, consequently the onus is on his rival.

Other than the over enthusiasm of drivers, another factor to be considered today is reliability, with cooling always an issue here. Which means the dirty air problems faced at most tracks take on another dimension here.

We have seen countless engine changes this weekend, while others have encountered problems with their gearboxes and of course there's the mysterious rear wing issue which appeared to compromise the Bulls yesterday afternoon.

In terms of strategy, the fastest way to approach the 71-lap race is definitely a one-stopper, as there's quite a high time loss in the pit lane (around 22 seconds on top of the actual stop) and it's hard to overtake on this circuit.

Mediums followed by hard is the optimal tactic, which is why so many drivers wanted to get through Q2 on the yellow tyre. This also allows for quite a wide pit stop window.

Softs C4 followed by the hard is also feasible (although slower) but there's not so much flexibility, as the soft tyre will need to be managed over a shorter first stint compared to the medium runners.

The best two-stopper would actually be medium-hard-medium but this is slower than a one-stopper. As always, track temperature will be a key factor. With more rubber now laid down on the circuit, there should be less sliding than was seen on Friday.

The pitlane opens, and as he heads out Hamilton reports a loss of power. However, moments later he heads out on to the track.

In a late directive, Michael Masi advises drivers: "I would like to provide the following clarification regarding the policing of the Turn 1/2/3 requirements for the Race Start or any subsequent Standing Start Restart ONLY:

Any driver who leaves the track at Turn 1/2 will be required to ensure that they re-join the track safely and do not gain a lasting advantage. In practical terms this will mean giving up any positions that were gained.

The instruction to go around the bollard at Turn 3 in this circumstance ONLY will not be a requirement.

However, he points drivers to Appendix L Chapter IV Circuit Article 2b to the FIA International Sporting Code, which states that...

"However, manoeuvres liable to hinder other drivers, such as deliberate crowding of a car beyond the edge of the track or any other abnormal change of direction, are strictly prohibited. Any driver who appears guilty of any of the above offences will be reported to the Stewards."

Hamilton is told that surface temperatures are lower than expected after he complains of low grip.

Air temperature is 20 degrees C, while the track temperature is 47 degrees. It is bright and sunny. Risk of rain is 0%.

"We are aware they might go very aggressive with a two stop for example," admits Toto Wolff in the moments before the start. "We'll figure it out once it gets going."

As they head off on the formation lap, other than the leading ten, all bar Tsunoda and Ocon are on mediums, the Japanese and Frenchman opting for softs.

They head off on the formation lap, all getting away cleanly.

The grid forms as Mercedes complains at how slowly drivers at the back are getting into position.

An absolutely brilliant start from Verstappen, who out drags the Mercedes pair, who leave his a more than generous amount of room on the left-side of the track, and subsequently out-brakes them into Turn 1. However, into Turn 1, Ricciardo locks up and hits Bottas spinning the Mercedes, while Perez cuts the corner in an avoiding action.

Stranded in the middle of the track and facing the wrong way, Bottas is helpless as the field passes by.

Further back, as the field is funnelled as it attempts to pass Bottas' Mercedes, Ocon is sandwiched between Tsunoda and Schumacher, the result is inevitable as both drivers hit one of the Alpine's front tyres. Amazingly, while the AlphaTauri and Haas are out, Ocon is able to continue.

The safety car is deployed, as Verstappen leads Hamilton, Perez, Gasly, Leclerc, Giovinazzi, Sainz, Vettel, Russell and Raikkonen.

Schumacher and Tsunoda climb from their cars as Ricciardo pits, as does Bottas.

The safety car is withdrawn at the end of lap 4 and Verstappen pulls the trigger.

Check out our Sunday gallery from Mexico City, here.

They get away cleanly as Giovinazzi makes a bold, but unsuccessful move on Sainz.

As Ricciardo, in 17th, posts fastest lap, Bottas is 17s down on the race leader.

With a 1.5s lead, Verstappen posts a 21.615, as Perez maintains a 1.5s gap to second-placed Hamilton.

The stewards are to investigate an incident involving Ricciardo and Stroll, while declaring that the original Turn 1/Turn 2 incident needs no further investigation.

"He's quick," says Hamilton as Verstappen builds a 3.4s lead.

As Verstappen posts 21.520, the Dutchman is effectively advised to manage his tyres.

A nice move sees Raikkonen go around the outside of Russell in Turn 1 to take 9th. Teammate Giovinazzi is currently 7th.

Next to pass Russell is another world champion, Alonso.

"In this train there not much I can do except mind my tyres," admits Bottas.

Vettel, followed by fellow champion Raikkonen and Alonso, closes on Giovinazzi, who is 2s down on Sainz. The Spaniard feels he is faster than his teammate ahead, as Leclerc is given a hurry-up.

A nice move sees Ocon pass Mazepin for 13th, the Russian not making it easy for the Alpine driver.

Perez is told he's losing out to Hamilton in 7, 8, 9 and 10, the fast esses section.

Stroll pits at the end of lap 13, rejoining in 17th as Latifi also pits. Both switch to hards.

As Verstappen extends his lead to 4.7s, Perez is just 2.7s down on the Mercedes.

Norris is all over Russell as they battle for 11th, as Hamilton complains his tyres are overheating.

As Ocon pits, at the end of lap 14, Norris passes Russell on the run to Turn 1. The Williams driver subsequently calling for an adjustment to his right-hand mirror during his pit stop. Indeed, the Briton subsequently pits, rejoining in 14th.

Giovinazzi pits at the end of lap 16, rejoining in 13th, behind the Ricciardo/Bottas battle.

Bottas complains of understeer as he follows Ricciardo.

"We're looking at Plan B," Perez is advised. Whatever Plan B might be. The undercut?

19 laps in and Verstappen is lapping Mazepin and Latifi.

Asked about his tyres, Verstappen replies: "Not too bad".

"Plan A confirmed," Leclerc is told, "we are racing Gasly." The Monegasque is currently 5th while the Frenchman is the car ahead.

"These guys are just too fast for us," sighs Hamilton. His engineer can only agree.

"Stay on Hamilton, close this gap up," Perez is told.

Bottas makes a move on Ricciardo and almost catches the McLaren driver, but not quite.

"Checo, let's close it up," the Mexican is told, again. 2.1s down on the world champion, the Mexican needs to get within DRS range, but that's a lot easier said than done.

"Lewis, we're looking at Target plus 6," the world champion is told.

At the end of lap 29, Hamilton pits, and while it looked like Perez was also going to stop the Mexican remained out. However, Hamilton rejoins in fifth behind Leclerc. The Monegasque is subsequently told to pit.

As the Ferrari pulls off, Hamilton sets about closing the 3.4s gap to Sainz, posting the fastest timer in S1 in the process. Leclerc rejoins in 9th.

As Hamilton posts the fastest lap (19.953), Gasly pits. The AlphaTauri driver rejoins in 7th as Leclerc passes Alonso for 8th.

"4.4s safe to Perez," Hamilton is told as Raikkonen pits.

At the end of lap 33, the race leader pits. 2.2s later he's heading down the pitlane, rejoining in second, 8.6s down on his teammate. Vettel also stops.

The stadium erupts as the temporary race leader arrives.

"Plan A plus 5," Perez is told, Red Bull looking to extend his first stint thereby ensuring he'll have fresher rubber for the final stages of the race.

On lap 35, Stroll makes his second stop of the afternoon. It's a slow stop for the Canadian who rejoins in 17th.

"Tyres are getting good," says Perez after 36 laps.

Other than Perez, Sainz, Alonso and Norris have yet to stop.

"This pace is good," Perez is told.

Further back down the field, Bottas remains unable to make a move on Ricciardo.

"Box this lap, box this lap," Ricciardo is told, which will come as welcome relief to a certain Finn. The Australian pits and rejoins in 13th. Alonso also pits, the Apins driver rejoining in 10th following a slow stop.

Perez pits at the end of lap 40, rejoining in third, 9.7s down on Hamilton who is 9.4s down on Verstappen.

Hamilton is told that he's losing out to the leader at the exits to Turns 11 and 13.

Bottas pits at the end of lap 41, but it's a poor stop, due to a wheel nut issue. He rejoins in 15th.

Sainz pits at the end of lap 42, the Spaniard rejoining in 6th.

Everyone has not pitted, bar Norris, with all on hards bar Norris, Ricciardo, Bottas and Stroll who are on mediums.

Verstappen leads, ahead of Hamilton, Perez, Gasly, Leclerc, Sainz, Norris, Vettel, Raikkonen and Alonso.

"Keep an eye on my front-left tyre compared to other people," says Verstappen. The camera picks up on some graining, though this will almost certainly clear over the next laps.

Norris finally pits at the end of lap 44, the Briton rejoining in 10th.

Bottas sweeps past Ocon to claim 13th, next up is a certain Australian in a McLaren.

"How far is Checo behind Lewis," asks Verstappen. "6.5," comes the reply.

Stuck behind his Ferrari teammate, Sainz warns: "If we want to catch Gasly we need to be pushing more."

The crowd continues to applaud Perez who closes to within 6s of Hamilton as he posts a new fastest lap (19.468).

The good news is passed on to the Mexican.

Latifi makes his second stop of the afternoon.

Check out our Sunday gallery from Mexico City, here.

Told the (12.8s) gap to Hamilton, Verstappen replies: "I'm just managing". "Look after the car," he is told. In response he posts a new fastest lap (18.999).

"Looks like the catch is going to be towards the last lap," Hamilton is told.

"We should try to swap positions with Sainz, who will try and attack Gasly," Leclerc is told.

Quickest in S2, Perez is now 3.4s down on his prey.

A nice move sees Stroll relieve Russell of 15th. "Great job," he is told, "push on, you can get Ocon now."

"Charles is doing a lot of mistakes to keep me behind," says Sainz, as Perez closes to within 1.6s of Hamilton.

"Tyres are going," warns Hamilton as he falls 16.7s behind his title rival.

"It's crazy, I can't get close," sighs Hamilton as he runs in the dirty air of Norris. Unfortunately for the world champion he isn't close enough to the McLaren for Norris to warrant a blue flag.

Finally, Norris gets the blue flag warning, as Perez closes to within 0.6s of Hamilton.

Every time Hamilton leads Perez into the stadium the crowd roars.

"Car's getting so hot, it's ridiculous," warns Hamilton who is told to "lift and coast".

Meanwhile, Bottas pits at the end of lap 64, the Finn rejoining in 14th, 2 laps down on his teammate. Not the afternoon the Finn was expecting. He switches to softs but he won't get the point for fastest lap.

Sadly, for the crowd, Perez appears to run out of opportunity and steam, and drops 2s behind Hamilton.

Another attack from Perez? The Mexican is suddenly 1.3s behind Hamilton.

Told to let Bottas go and un-lap himself, Verstappen replies: "He's in my way".

His effort ruined, Bottas pits for another set of softs. But what's the point?

Perez is suddenly 0.7s down on the Mercedes as they begin the penultimate lap.

"Final lap, this is it," Perez is told, "drain the battery."

He makes a move, but it isn't enough.

Meanwhile, Verstappen takes the flag and another step towards the title.

Hamilton is second, ahead of Perez, Gasly, Leclerc, Sainz, Vettel, Raikkonen, Alonso and Norris.

Giovinazzi is eleventh, ahead of Ricciardo, Ocon, Stroll, Bottas, Russell, Latifi and Mazepin.

Wild scenes in the stadium ahead of the podium ceremony, the crowd cheering the Red Bull pair - and especially a certain Mexican - to the rafters.

Not a great race in the traditional sense, but certainly a tense one.

While we started by saying that the race could not be won in the first corner, in fact it was, for having out-dragged the Mercedes pair - who left him an extraordinary amount of room, Verstappen was able to out-brake his rival into Turn 1 and never look back.

A 12 point lead becomes a 19 point lead, while Red Bull now trails Mercedes in the Constructors' Championship by just one point.

A great result for Gasly, while McLaren will be licking its wounds after losing out to Ferrari.

And then there's that triumvirate of champions, Vettel, Raikkonen and Alonso claiming seventh, eighth and ninth.

"Today I wanted to get the 1-2 for the team, it was really close," says Perez, hos words almost drowned out by crowd.

"The support here..." he continues, only to be cut off as his son runs up for a hug.

"Congratulations to Max," says Hamilton, "their car was fastest this weekend and there wasn't a lot I could do about it.

"I gave it everything," he adds, "a great fight with Sergio at the end.

"It just shows how fast their car was, he was applying that pressure and just kept going."

"The fans here, they've been incredible," grins Verstappen. "The start was all about trying to brake as late as you can, and it made my race as I could just focus on myself.

"Still a long way to go, but of course it's looking good."

Indeed it is Max, indeed it is.

As the crowd continues to roar its approval, and Hamilton and Perez take their places on the podium, Verstappen and his car gently ascend from below in a cloud of dry ice in one of the coolest moments of the season.

On to Brazil.

Check out our Sunday gallery from Mexico City, here.

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

Published: 07/11/2021
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