Mexican Grand Prix – Max Verstappen won in Mexico after taking the lead at the first corner while contact saw Sergio Perez out on lap 1.
Qualifying yesterday didn’t go as expected but will today’s Grand Prix follow the season’s trend with Max Verstappen winning, will the Mexican fan’s dream of a Sergio Perez win come true or will we see a Ferrari driver, or even Daniel Ricciardo, come out on top in the end?
There was a lot of work for the Stewards following qualifying but in the end there were no penalties handed out for cars stopping in the pit lane as it was deemed safer to have a backed up pit exit than having large speed differences on track with cars going full speed and others trying to get a gap.
Logan Sargeant and Williams did get penalised, Sergeant for overtaking Yuki Tsunoda under Yellow Flags so he was give a ten place grid penalty, while Williams were fined €20,000, though half was suspended, for leaving a jack unattended in the pit lane where it got hit by Tsunoda.
After changing setup after qualifying, Lance Stroll has to start from the pitlane so there will be nineteen cars on the grid. Pretty much all cars will be starting on the medium compound tyre though Alex Albon P14 and Esteban Ocon P15 will be on the hards, while Lando Norris P17 will be the sole soft tyre runner at the start.
As the lights went out it was all looking good for Red Bull on the long run to the first corner, Verstappen and Perez challenging Charles Leclerc for the lead though they went three-abreast and it ended with the Ferrari being squashed between the two Bulls and there was contact between him and Perez. It ended with the Mexican spinning off while the Monegasque’s front wing was damaged.
Perez rejoined at the back of the field but was called into the pits where he retired due to damage from the contact.
Back on track Verstappen had taken the lead and started to pull a gap while the two Ferraris were in the other two podium positions. The Virtual Safety Car was briefly activated on lap 5 to clean up debris from the first corner incident and Leclerc’s front wing endplate which had been damaged and fell off after flapping around for a few laps.
The Monegasque will have to see the Stewards after the race for driving the car in an unsafe condition, the endplate hanging off. Though the black and orange circle flag, which means a car is in an unsafe condition and must pit for repairs, wasn’t shown to him before the damaged part fell off.
While the top three cars all had a second or more of clear air on either side of them, Ricciardo, who was still holding P4, had Lewis Hamilton right on his rear wing and was looking to get ahead. As a result of being so close behind his rival, the Mercedes driver reported that his car wawa running hot. On lap 11 though the Brit finally managed to demote the AlphaTauri racer.
It was nearly a double overtake for Mercedes as directly behind them Oscar Piastri was under pressure from George Russell though in that case, the Australian managed to stay ahead of the Brit and over the next few laps was able to drop the Mercedes out of DRS range.
On lap 12 Norris, who’d made it up to P14, ducked into the pits to swap his softs for hards and he rejoined back in P18 with all the work to do again.
Verstappen was the first of the front runners to head to the pits, the Dutch driver stopping on lap 19 to swap to hard tyres and emerge in P7. Leclerc took over the lead while Hamilton had closed up to Carlos Sainz and was looking for any opportunity to get through.
It didn’t take Verstappen long to close the three seconds between himself and Russell and on lap 22 he had dispatched the Mercedes driver and the following lap he was up to P5 ahead of Piastri.
The end of lap 24 saw Hamilton abandon the fight with Sainz and head to the pits for hard tyres. He rejoined in P7, eleven seconds behind his teammate.
Ferrari meanwhile had decided to one-stop and informed Leclerc and Sainz of the plan. While they did, Verstappen had moved back to P3 and was less than four seconds behind Sainz, the reigning champion lapping at least a second quicker on his hards than the Ferraris on old mediums.
Ricciardo pitted on lap 28, also swapping mediums for hards before emerging in P6, a couple of seconds ahead of his countrymate, Piastri. Russell meanwhile was not happy with when Mercedes pitted him as he got stuck in traffic when he rejoined, the reason he was given was that they were worried about Norris’ pace.
Verstappen breezed past Sainz on lap 29. Two laps later the Spaniard pitted for the hard compounds and came out in P4, behind Hamilton. Leclerc made his stop the following lap and rejoined in P2, three seconds ahead of the Brit.
Lap 33 saw the Safety Car called out after a big crash for Kevin Magnussen at T9. The Dane was able to climb out of the car himself and sat on the Tecpro barriers while some flames were seen at the back of his Haas. Replays suggest that suspension failure was the cause of that incident.
Verstappen took the time to pit for fresh hards, remaining in the lead while Norris and Albon in P8 and P9 followed suit, emerging in P10 and P12 but it was wasted effort as the race was Red Flagged soon after as the barriers needed to be repaired.
It was a short enough Red Flag with the race set to resume with a standing restart just over twenty minutes after being suspended. Leclerc wasn’t optimistic about it though telling his engineer that “a standing start with hards is going to be a huge mess”.
There was a pretty even spread of hards and mediums – Hamilton P3, Piastri P6, Russell P7, Hulkenberg P9, Norris P10, Albon P12, Ocon P14, and Sergeant P15 putting their hopes on the mediums with the others all on hards.
As the lights went out for the restart it was an ideal start for Russell as he dispatched both of the Australians to move from P7 to P5. It was less ideal for Norris as he was slow to get away and lost four spots.
There wasn’t any DRS for the first few laps but both Ferraris were in danger as they each had a Mercedes right behind them. On lap 40 Hamilton went down the inside, kicking up dust as he put a wheel on the grass, to take P2 away from Leclerc.
Things weren’t as simple for Russell as he remained behind Sainz, reporting in on the Spaniard’s weaving. Behind them though Norris was on the move and by lap 47 had made up the places he’d lost.
The biggest battle in the top ten though was for P7 with Piastri defending from Tsunoda, the McLaren driver almost spinning after contact but on lap 49 it was the AlphaTauri driver who got out of shape from contact and he spun into the run off. The Japanese driver fell to the back while that incident, and an overtake on Albon, saw Norris up to P8.
On lap 56 McLaren orchestrated a swap between their drivers as Norris had more pace than his teammate. The Brit then set out to close the gap to his previous teammate, Ricciardo, in P6. The gap was closed and overtake completed on lap 60 when the McLaren racer went around the outside at T4 and the two went side-by-side before Norris took the place.
By lap 66 Norris was into DRS range of Russell. While Norris was racking up overtakes, Nico Hulkenberg had been putting up a fantastic defence against the Alpines for the final point. Unfortunately for him though, he couldn’t hold them off forever as first Ocon and then Pierre Gasly slipped past the German in his 200th race.
Russell was ticked off Norris’ overtake list on lap 67 while Stroll retired after contact between himself and Bottas left the Canadian spinning off as he tried to overtake the Alfa Romeo driver in the stadium section.
Verstappen took the chequered flag nearly fourteen seconds ahead of Hamilton while Leclerc ended the race in the final podium spot. Sainz was P4 ahead of Norris while Russell had to hold off Ricciardo in the final few laps to keep P6.
Piastri was P8 while Albon and Ocon took the final points places. Hamilton took the point for fastest lap with a 1:21.334 set on the final lap. Sargeant had been running P12 but had a fuel pump issue so Williams had to retire him on the last lap.