Mon. Apr 22nd, 2024
Home hero Perez crashed at the first corner

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen took a dominant victory in the Mexico City Grand Prix to break his own record for wins in a single Formula 1 season.

Set up by passing the front-row Ferraris at the start, Verstappen’s victory was his 16th in 2023 in what is becoming one of the most dominant seasons in history.

Verstappen had to negotiate a safety car and a red flag but was untroubled once into the lead at Turn One.

Lewis Hamilton moved up from sixth on the grid in his Mercedes to beat Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc in a battle for the remaining podium positions.

Behind them, Carlos Sainz fended off George Russell to win another Ferrari-Mercedes battle over fourth place, before Lando Norris passed his fellow Briton for fifth with four laps to go.

It was a lovely move, set up by a cut back through Turns Four and Five, and befitting the climax to a starring drive from 19th on the grid, and 14th at the restart following a red flag at half distance.

Seventh place for Daniel Ricciardo, not quite able to pass the fading Russell on the last lap, was a drop from his remarkable fourth place on the grid but still a strong result for the Alpha Tauri driver in only his second race since returning from an absence caused by a broken hand.

The Mexico City Grand Prix coincides with the country’s Day of the Dead festival

Verstappen untouchable, whatever the challenge

Verstappen had said after qualifying that his confidence for the race was “good”, despite lining up third on the grid behind Leclerc and Sainz.

And he was true to his word as he blasted off the line, straight away past the tardy Sainz and soon alongside Leclerc and in a strong position on the inside as they reached the braking zone.

They headed three-wide into the first corner, with Sergio Perez moving up on the outside to put Leclerc in a Red Bull sandwich, only for the Mexican to wreck his home race and the hopes of his fervent fans by turning into Leclerc and putting himself out of the race.

Perez made it around to the pits to retire with a hole in the side of his car, but Leclerc, although he had a damaged front wing, was able to continue in second place, behind Verstappen and ahead of Sainz.

The gaps between the top three progressively opened through the first stint, Verstappen quicker than Leclerc as Leclerc was compared to Sainz, despite his damaged car.

Meanwhile, Hamilton began to hunt down Sainz.

First, the seven-time champion passed Ricciardo on lap 11, and then he closed in on Sainz, tracking right behind him until the Mercedes dived in for a pit stop on lap 24.

The plan was to ‘undercut’ past Sainz, gain track position and then defend later in the race as the Ferrari likely came back at him in the closing laps.

But that battle, and a potentially intriguing one between Verstappen and Leclerc, was wrecked by a crash by Kevin Magnussen’s Haas at half distance.

Verstappen had stopped early for fresh tyres on lap 19 and was planning a two-stop strategy, compared to the one of all the other leading cars.

He had passed Sainz for second and was six seconds behind Leclerc when the Ferrari finally pitted on lap 31.

That put Leclerc 16 seconds behind Verstappen but with the Red Bull having to make a second pit stop.

There was never likely to be any serious threat to Verstappen’s win – he would surely have had the pace to either extend enough of a gap before his stop to keep the lead, or quickly catch and pass Leclerc if he came out behind.

But when Magnussen suffered suspension failure and smashed into the barriers at high speed in the Esses on lap 32, it allowed the world champion a ‘free’ pit stop for his third set of tyres.

Magnussen was uninjured, and the race was soon red-flagged for repairs to be made to the barriers, with Verstappen leading from Leclerc, Hamilton, Sainz, Russell and Ricciardo.

And although a second standing start posed a potential threat to Verstappen, he was again the best off the line and was untroubled into the first corner, from where he simply drove off into the distance.

How did Hamilton get second?

The tension was now all behind him, as Hamilton, having chosen the medium tyres for the restart, was soon challenging Leclerc on the hard tyre.

Five laps after the restart, Hamilton dived for the inside at Turn One. Leclerc squeezed him tight up against the grass but Hamilton braved it out and emerged with second place.

The question was whether Hamilton’s medium tyres would last long enough for him to stay ahead of Leclerc to the end.

But when Leclerc was warned very soon after losing position that he needed to do more ‘lift and coast’ at the end of the straight to manage temperatures, his race was looking difficult.

And sure enough Leclerc was never able to offer any kind of threat to Hamilton, who continued untroubled to the end, extending his lead throughout, and giving himself a boost in his fight with Perez for second in the drivers’ championship.

Hamilton is now 20 points behind with three grands prix and a sprint race remaining.

Russell was less successful on his mediums, and Sainz was comfortably able to hold him off to take fourth.

Impressive stuff from Norris

Lando Norris had a difficult qualifying, ending up 19th on the grid after failing to set a lap time at any point in the first session.

But the Briton drove a majestic race, starting on the soft tyres to make ground early on, moving on to the hard, and then switching to mediums at the red flag.

Taking the restart in 14th place, Norris picked through the field in impressive style, passing Valtteri Bottas’ Alfa Romeo, the Alpines of Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon, Haas driver Nico Hulkenberg, and Alex Albon’s Williams, before McLaren used team orders to move him past team-mate Oscar Piastri.

That released Norris to challenge Ricciardo, who he passed impressively around the outside of Turn Four on lap 60, with 11 to go.

He then set off after Russell and passed him down the inside of Turn Six, after going tight into Turn Four, which allowed him to cut back through Turn Five and grab the inside despite the very short run to Six, the end of a complex of slow-speed corners.

Behind Ricciardo, Piastri took eighth, with Williams driver Alex Albon taking ninth and Ocon the final point for Alpine.

Norris said he was “very” satisfied with his recovery, especially after losing some places at the restart as gaps closed around him and he had to back off.

“I had to avoid some not-very-aware drivers,” he said, “managed to avoid causing a very big crash and just stayed out of trouble.

“Sacrificed four, five positions at the beginning, but I got comfortable and got in a good rhythm, got the tyres into a good window and could push and had one of the best stints I’ve had almost ever and got from 14th to fifth. Pace was amazing, very enjoyable, good overtakes, hard racing and good fun.”

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