LEWIS ON TOP AS TEM­PERS OVER­HEAT IN MEX­ICO

HAMIL­TON KEEPS UP HIS WIN­NING STREAK

Motor Sport News - - Front Page - BY STU­ART CODLING

Lewis Hamil­ton kept his world cham­pi­onship hopes alive with vic­tory from pole po­si­tion in Mex­ico, con­trol­ling the race beau­ti­fully af­ter an open­ing-lap scare, but the race ended in con­tro­versy as the bat­tle for third place be­hind Hamil­ton and Nico Ros­berg was de­cided by a suc­ces­sion of time penal­ties.

Max Ver­stap­pen crossed the line third on the road for Red Bull, only to be demoted im­me­di­ately be­fore he had the chance to get his hands on the tro­phy.

Se­bas­tian Vet­tel duly stood on the podium for the first time since the Ital­ian Grand Prix, but he didn’t get to en­joy it for long, since he was then given a penalty that handed third place to Ver­stap­pen’s team-mate, Daniel Ric­cia­rdo.

The 25 points for vic­tory brought Hamil­ton seven points closer to Ros­berg, who still leads the cham­pi­onship race by 349 points to 330 with two rounds to run.

Qual­i­fy­ing

Pick­ing the right mo­ment was the key to nail­ing an ef­fec­tive qual­i­fy­ing lap, since the lay­out of the Au­to­dromo Her­manos Ro­driguez fea­tures three very tech­ni­cal sec­tions in which it’s easy to lose time when go­ing through traf­fic. Through­out prac­tice the driv­ers had com­plained about the ef­fects of traf­fic and so it con­tin­ued dur­ing qual­i­fy­ing.

There was one fewer car to con­tend with on track from Q1 on­wards, since Jolyon Palmer had to skip the ses­sion en­tirely af­ter an im­pact with a kerb in prac­tice – mea­sured at 12g – cracked the chas­sis of his Re­nault. To add to Palmer’s frus­tra­tion, his team-mate Kevin Mag­nussen com­pleted Q1 well clear of the drop zone.

Both Haas driv­ers strug­gled in prac­tice and nei­ther pro­gressed to Q2. Romain Gros­jean was the slow­est of the run­ners, say­ing he had gone as fast as his car could go, while team-mate Este­ban Gu­tier­rez took too much kerb at the exit of the esses on his fi­nal fly­ing lap and was demoted to 17th by Manor’s Pas­cal Wehrlein.

Daniil Kvyat was 18th, fail­ing to make the cut af­ter his Toro Rosso suf­fered a power loss early in the ses­sion af­ter his first quick lap. Sauber’s Felipe Nasr and Manor’s Este­ban Ocon didn’t im­prove enough to join their team-mates in Q2, end­ing the ses­sion 19th and 20th be­hind Kvyat.

Since driv­ers in the top 10 have to start the race on the tyres on which they set their fastest laps in Q2, the top teams’ race strate­gies then started to come in to fo­cus. Both Mercedes set their fast laps in Q2 on the soft Pirellis, the­o­ret­i­cally the best choice for the first stint of the race, while both Red Bulls went for su­per-softs. Fer­rari seemed in­tent on a split strat­egy, run­ning both Vet­tel and Kimi Raikko­nen on soft tyres at first and then send­ing Raikko­nen out on su­per-softs, but the Finn had to back out of his fast lap on su­per-softs af­ter en­coun­ter­ing traf­fic. Others – in­clud­ing the Force In­dia and Wil­liams driv­ers – couldn’t make the soft tyres work and had to run su­per-softs in a bid to get through to Q3.

If the early bath for Gu­tier­rez wasn’t dis­ap­point­ing enough for the home crowd, Ser­gio Perez missed Q3 by just over a tenth over a sec­ond. Per­haps less sur­pris­ing, given this cir­cuit’s de­mands on en­gine power, nei­ther Mclaren went fur­ther, al­though it was a con­sid­er­able im­prove­ment on last year’s show­ing. Fer­nando Alonso was 11th and Jen­son But­ton 13th, sand­wich­ing Perez, while the re­main­der of the driv­ers elim­i­nated in Q2 were those most ac­cus­tomed to de­part­ing in Q1 this sea­son: Mag­nussen, Mar­cus Eric­s­son and Wehrlein.

Traf­fic still played a role in Q3 as Hamil­ton set pro­vi­sional pole with a clear track ahead of him, then just failed to im­prove on his time af­ter meet­ing other cars on his warm-up lap for his sec­ond run. But he had still done enough to re­main ahead of Ros­berg, who im­proved to sec­ond on the grid af­ter a scrappy first run put him a pro­vi­sional fourth be­hind the two Red Bulls.

Ver­stap­pen and Ric­cia­rdo also went quicker on their sec­ond runs, just not by enough, lin­ing up on the sec­ond row, and once again Fer­rari fell short of ex­pec­ta­tions: Raikko­nen and Vet­tel were edged into sixth and sev­enth places by Nico Hulken­berg’s Force In­dia. The bat­tle for fourth place in the con­struc­tors’ cham­pi­onship be­tween that team and Wil­liams – rep­re­sented by Valt­teri Bot­tas and Felipe Massa in eighth and ninth, ahead of Car­los Sainz in the Toro Rosso – was as del­i­cately poised as that be­tween Hamil­ton and Ros­berg for the driv­ers’ ti­tle.

Ev­i­dence of the pres­sure at the top ar­rived in the form of Hamil­ton’s down­beat de­meanour af­ter qual­i­fy­ing, in spite of qual­i­fy­ing on pole. He de­scribed Q3 as “the worst ses­sion of my week­end.” Lewis had come to crush Ros­berg, not to edge ahead of him…

Race

With just half of the top 10 start­ing the race on the pre­ferred soft-com­pound Pirelli tyre, the 900-me­tre run to the first cor­ner at the Au­to­dromo Her­manos Ro­driguez was al­most in­evitably go­ing to pro­vide drama.

And so it did, as Hamil­ton went too deep into the cor­ner, locked his fron­tright wheel and skit­tled off, over the grass, re­sum­ing in the lead at Turn 3. He later put the lock-up down to a brake disc which had glazed on the for­ma­tion lap, and then sud­denly gripped hard at the crit­i­cal mo­ment.

Hamil­ton’s cause was aided by Ros­berg and Ver­stap­pen bang­ing wheels be­tween Turns 1 and 2, which sent Ros­berg on a small off-track jour­ney of his own. He too re­joined with his po­si­tion in­tact, and he was al­lowed to keep it af­ter the stew­ards ex­am­ined the in­ci­dent.

As the field fun­nelled through Turn 2 there was more bump­ing and bang­ing, and Gu­tier­rez tagged the back of Wehrlein, send­ing him spin­ning into Eric­s­son’s Sauber. Eric­s­son also spun but he was able to get his less-dam­aged car go­ing again, while Wehrlein was out on the spot.

Just a few me­tres fur­ther on, Sainz was de­fend­ing his po­si­tion from Alonso by edg­ing the Mclaren onto the grass at the exit of Turn 3 as they were both flat on the gas, which sent a fu­ri­ous Alonso into a tankslap­per he only just held. Once the stew­ards got on to that in­ci­dent, hav­ing judged the WehrleinEric­s­son shunt not wor­thy of fur­ther ac­tion, they hit Sainz with a five-sec­ond penalty.

The safety car was de­ployed to en­able the mar­shals to sweep up sundry pieces of Sauber and Manor, and dur­ing this three-lap pe­riod Red Bull brought Ric­cia­rdo in spec­u­la­tively from fourth place for a change to medi­um­com­pound Pirellis. Re­nault also looked to take ad­van­tage of the neu­tralised course to bring Palmer in for medi­ums, and his con­sis­tent pace over a long stint on these would en­able him to bag a 14th-place fin­ish from last on the grid.

As Hamil­ton pulled clear, Ros­berg spent sev­eral laps with Ver­stap­pen hov­er­ing within DRS range be­fore break­ing away. As this bat­tle sta­bilised, others de­vel­oped be­hind as the Fer­raris (led by Raikko­nen in fifth place) looked to leapfrog fourth-placed Hulken­berg, Massa and Bot­tas had to fend off a de­ter­mined Perez while run­ning on the less ad­van­ta­geous su­per-softs, and Ric­cia­rdo pushed hard to break back in to the top 10.

By lap 12 Ric­cia­rdo had el­e­vated him­self to 10th at the ex­pense of Alonso, and he gained an­other po­si­tion as Ver­stap­pen pit­ted for medi­ums, emerg­ing be­hind Alonso. But Ric­cia­rdo’s fur­ther progress looked like it was about to hit an ob­sta­cle in the form of the four-car bat­tle for sixth be­tween Massa, Vet­tel, Bot­tas and Perez. Hulken­berg and Massa pit­ted on lap 14, en­abling Raikko­nen and Vet­tel to push on, but Bot­tas was able to make his su­per-softs – which Pirelli sug­gested had at most 18 laps in them – last un­til lap 19, by which time Ric­cia­rdo was right on the tail of him and Perez. Next time around Perez pit­ted for medi­ums as well, and the way was fi­nally clear for Ric­cia­rdo to push on.

The main loser in this pit stop se­quence was Hulken­berg, who lost track po­si­tion to both Fer­raris but stayed ahead of Massa and Bot­tas, while Perez failed to jump the Wil­liams cars in the pits and took to com­plain­ing over the team ra­dio about the tim­ing of his stop. The lead­ing duo pit­ted on laps 17 and 19 for medi­ums, leav­ing Vet­tel in the lead, and re­joined in what would be­come a net first and sec­ond place once Vet­tel fi­nally pit­ted.

But Vet­tel con­tin­ued to lap at a com­pet­i­tive pace un­til long past the rec­om­mended life of his soft Pirellis (22 laps). He didn’t break for the pit lane un­til the end of lap 31, by which time his tyres had been around the Au­to­dromo 36 times. Cru­cially, this en­abled him to exit the pits ahead of Hulken­berg, now run­ning in sev­enth place.

Be­hind Hamil­ton and Ros­berg, Red Bull had or­dered Ric­cia­rdo to let Ver­stap­pen by into third place since they were run­ning on very dif­fer­ent strate­gies, while a fur­ther six sec­onds down the road Raikko­nen had a twosec­ond cush­ion over team-mate Vet­tel. The leapfrogged Hulken­berg spent much of this mid­dle stint run­ning on his own in sev­enth, with a mar­gin of over 10 sec­onds to the pur­su­ing Wil­liams duo and Perez, un­til Bot­tas

passed Massa and tried to shut down the gap.

Fer­rari gave Raikko­nen some ex­tra work to do by pit­ting him for an­other set of medi­ums on lap 45, a call which de­posited him into the gap be­tween Hulken­berg and Bot­tas. Four laps later the race up front sparked into life as Sainz baulked Ros­berg at Turn 1 while be­ing lapped, en­abling Ver­stap­pen to launch an op­por­tunist move up the in­side at Turn 4, but he failed to get his car stopped in time and sailed straight on as Ros­berg took the cor­ner.

Ric­cia­rdo stopped for a new set of soft tyres on lap 50, emerg­ing be­tween Hulken­berg and Raikko­nen, but he made short work of the Force In­dia and set about catch­ing the cars ahead at a rate of around 1.5s a lap. Raikko­nen took a fur­ther 16 laps to find a way by Hulken­berg but when he did, he did it in style, go­ing around the out­side into Turn 4, pinch­ing the Force In­dia into a spin.

As the Mercedes pulled clear and Ver­stap­pen’s tyres faded, Vet­tel made use of his fresher rub­ber to reel in the Red Bull – while Ric­cia­rdo be­gan to loom large in his own mir­rors. The crunch point came on lap 67 as Ver­stap­pen over­shot Turn 1, ran over the grass and shot back on to the track, still ahead of Vet­tel. Both cars lost mo­men­tum, en­abling Ric­cia­rdo into DRS range and open­ing the door for him to launch an as­sault on Vet­tel at Turn 4 two laps later.

Ric­cia­rdo ar­rived with his wheels locked but both cars made it through un­scathed, with Vet­tel still ahead of Ric­cia­rdo but be­hind Ver­stap­pen, who ig­nored a sug­ges­tion from the pit­wall that he should “prob­a­bly” move over for the Fer­rari, hav­ing gained an ad­van­tage by short-cut­ting the course. And that was the or­der in which they crossed the line be­hind Hamil­ton and Ros­berg two laps later, with Vet­tel ful­mi­nat­ing over the team ra­dio about Ver­stap­pen be­ing al­lowed to stay ahead.

Ver­stap­pen was given a penalty for gain­ing an ad­van­tage when he went off-track, but af­ter Vet­tel col­lected the sil­ver­ware he was sum­moned to the stew­ards’ of­fice to an­swer a charge of swerv­ing in the brak­ing area dur­ing Ric­cia­rdo’s Turn 4 lunge. A 10-sec­ond penalty gave third place to Ric­cia­rdo and put Vet­tel down to fifth, be­hind Ver­stap­pen but ahead of Raikko­nen, Hulken­berg, Bot­tas, Massa and Perez.

Hamil­ton’s one flaw was this lock-up at the start

Vet­tel had a frus­trat­ing race, and then lost podium af­ter penalty

Pho­tos: LAT

Win has kept Lewis in the ti­tle chase

Wil­liams’ Bot­tas topped the speed traps with an im­pres­sive 231.5mph

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