Verstappen wins in Mexico, Hamilton becomes five-time F1 champion

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen took his fifth Formula One victory at the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez ahead of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen, whilst a fourth place for Lewis Hamilton was enough to confirm the Mercedes man as a five-time world champion.

Fired up from his qualifying defeat against team-mate Daniel Ricciardo, Verstappen got the jump on his colleague at the start and drove a measured race to take his second victory of the season, and his second at the Mexican Grand Prix.

This fact alone was enough to secure Hamilton his fifth world title – a feat only previously completed by Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher – as Vettel’s only hope of continuing the contest was to win in Mexico.

Instead, the championship runner-up could only take second place as the Ferraris profited from much better tyre wear than their Mercedes rivals.

Ricciardo was on course for a podium after going against the grain and trying a one-stop race, but mechanical issues forced him into late race retirement from second place.

Kimi Raikkonen completed the podium, whilst Hamilton and team-mate Valtteri Bottas took a distant fourth and fifth after nursing their tyres in the later stages of the race.

“It’s a very strange feeling right now,” said Hamilton after the race.

“Firstly, I want to say thank you to all the fans here for really making Mexico a special Grand Prix. Secondly, I want to say a big thank you to my team.

“What I said on the radio was that it wasn’t won here, it was won through a lot of hard work throughout a lot of races. I’m so grateful for all the hard work back home, for all our partners, for everyone that’s been a part of it, and ultimately Mercedes.

“I’ve been with Mercedes since I was thirteen, so to complete this… it’s an incredible feeling. Very, very surreal at the moment.”

At lights out, Hamilton was the man to get a mighty start, passing the slow-starting Ricciardo straightaway and challenging Verstappen into turn one.

With the Red Bull on the inside line, Hamilton didn’t attack too hard and slotted into second place. Bottas initially gained a place on Vettel and was challenging Ricciardo for third, but fell back to fifth after losing out to Vettel on the exit of turn five.

Further back, Esteban Ocon made contact with one of the Renaults and damaged his front wing, with the dislodged piece finding it’s way onto Fernando Alonso’s car, which retired only five laps into the race, bringing out a virtual safety car.

With Hamilton reporting high tyre wear – and Ricciardo running close behind – he was the first of the front-runners to pit on lap eleven, discarding his ultrasofts for supersofts, with Mercedes choosing to double-pit and bring Bottas in on the same lap.

Red Bull responded by bringing Ricciardo and then Verstappen in for supersofts in the following laps, preventing any change in positions. The Ferraris stayed out for a few laps more in a bid to alter their strategy, with Vettel and Raikkonen temporarily running first and second. However, when their rear-gunner was passed by Verstappen, Hamilton and Ricciardo, the pair pitted (lap seventeen).

Verstappen had gradually extended his advantage to eleven seconds over Hamilton by lap thirty, who was again reporting that he was uncomfortable on his tyres and only three seconds ahead of Ricciardo and Vettel.

With Vettel on his fresher tyres now posing more of a threat, he was putting the pressure on Ricciardo. His progress was hampered by a virtual safety car, deployed for the stricken Carlos Sainz.

No front-runners felt the need to pit under the VSC, but both Force Indias did; Perez made his first stop (swapping supersofts for ultrasofts) under the VSC to return to the track in ninth behind Hulkenberg and Leclerc, who had already stopped after starting on the hypersofts.

After the VSC, Vettel resumed piling the pressure on Ricciardo, and the Australian encountered traffic on multiple laps at the stadium section, which eventually gave Vettel a chance to pass.

In the slipstream of the Red Bull, Vettel passed Ricciardo on the inside of turn one and assertively held his position into turn two to take third place.

Not finished there, Vettel’s attentions turned to championship leader Hamilton – who was struggling with the wear of his tyres – and began reeling in the Mercedes man.

He quickly started applying the pressure and, with his first attempt, he activated his DRS and powered past Hamilton down the start-finish straight for second place, with Hamilton choosing not to defend excessively.

With the race just past the halfway point, home favourite Perez was forced to retire from the race with mechanical problems, his first home DNF. He had only recently passed Leclerc for eighth place and was eyeing up Hulkenberg’s seventh place.

With Ricciardo looking to find a way past the Mercedes on the main straight, Hamilton locked up and ran across the grass at turn one, conceded the position to the Red Bull, and prompted Mercedes to bring the Briton in for fresh (albeit already used) ultrasoft tyres at the end of the same lap. Vettel and Verstappen also pitted for new ultrasofts and new supersofts respectively.

A carbon copy mistake for Bottas when defending from Raikkonen encouraged Mercedes to bring their second car in just one lap later, leaving just Ricciardo and Raikkonen as the drivers yet to make a second stop.

The running order at the end of lap 55 was; Verstappen, Ricciardo, Vettel, Raikkonen, Hamilton and Bottas.

If Vettel was to have any hope of winning the race and keeping the championship race alive, he needed to pass Ricciardo, but his former team-mate was doing a valiant job of eking out leftover performance from the very old supersofts.

However, Ricciardo’s hopes of playing his part in what could’ve been Red Bull’s last one-two before his departure to Renault were ended when his car met a smokey end. He pulled over at turn one, gifting second to Vettel, third to Raikkonen and fourth to Hamilton. Fifth-placed Valtteri Bottas pitted harmlessly for hypersoft tyres under the resulting VSC.

Despite Red Bull accepting Verstappen’s wishes to turn the car down, he was untroubled in the closing laps and cruised across the line to take the Mexico win.

Vettel took his first podium at the venue, ahead of Kimi Raikkonen and Hamilton, who was even further into cruise mode as he finished in fourth.

Bottas was one lap down in fifth, with Hulkenberg finishing in sixth to add eight valuable points to Renault’s fourth place in the constructors’ championship.

Charles Leclerc took seventh for Sauber, whilst Stoffel Vandoorne took his first points since the Azerbaijan Grand Prix in eighth, ahead of Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson and Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly

1 Max Verstappen Red Bull/Renault
2 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 17.316s
3 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 49.914s
4 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 78.738s
5 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1 Lap
6 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 2 Laps
7 Charles Leclerc Sauber/Ferrari 2 Laps
8 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren/Renault 2 Laps
9 Marcus Ericsson Sauber/Ferrari 2 Laps
10 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso/Honda 2 Laps
11 Esteban Ocon Force India/Mercedes 2 Laps
12 Lance Stroll Williams/Mercedes 2 Laps
13 Sergey Sirotkin Williams/Mercedes 2 Laps
14 Brendon Hartley Toro Rosso/Honda 2 Laps
15 Kevin Magnussen Haas/Ferrari 2 Laps
16 Romain Grosjean Haas/Ferrari 2 Laps
17 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull/Renault DNF
18 Sergio Perez Force India/Mercedes DNF
19 Carlos Sainz Renault DNF
20 Fernando Alonso McLaren/Renault DNF

By: Luke Murphy

All images: Motorsport Images

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