VER­STAP­PEN WINS (SO DOES LEWIS)

Lewis Hamilton clinched the world cham­pi­onship re­gard­less of yet more Mercedes’ tyre woes, while Max Ver­stap­pen took a dominant win for Red Bull

F1 Racing (UK) - - RACE DEBRIEF MEXICAN GP -

Max Ver­stap­pen scored his fifth For­mula 1 vic­tory with a dominant drive in the Mex­i­can Grand Prix. But Se­bas­tian Vet­tel’s sec­ond place – and more sig­nif­i­cantly Lewis Hamilton’s fourth – was enough to bring the drivers’ cham­pi­onship to a con­clu­sion.

As they emerged from their cars in the Foro Sol sta­dium, Vet­tel cut his post-race in­ter­view short to ap­proach Hamilton and pay trib­ute to his great achieve­ment: equalling the great Juan Manuel Fan­gio’s five world cham­pi­onships.

“I con­grat­u­lated him as he’s been su­perb all year and the ti­tle was well-de­served,” said Vet­tel. “Num­ber five is some­thing un­be­liev­able and I told him to keep push­ing be­cause I need him to be at his best to fight against next year.” QUAL­I­FY­ING

A joy­ful Daniel Ric­cia­rdo ad­mit­ted he was “hold­ing a lot in” as he cel­e­brated his first pole po­si­tion since Monaco, and Red Bull’s first front-row lock-out since Austin 2013 – their first of the hy­brid turbo era.

Ric­cia­rdo eclipsed team-mate Ver­stap­pen by just 0.026s, up­set­ting the form book as Max had set the fastest time in all three prac­tice ses­sions.

On his fi­nal timed lap Dan was im­pe­ri­ous, not putting a wheel out of place to record only his third F1 pole. His team-mate was up­set he’d been de­nied, and as he parked his car at the end of qual­i­fy­ing, he eased his foot off the brake to knock the sec­ond-placed marker board over in dis­gust.

“The whole qual­i­fy­ing was crap,” was Max’s ver­dict. “The en­gine brak­ing was not how I wanted it, and I was get­ting a lot of rear lock­ing on down­shifts when I came off the throt­tle. I had to go for­ward with the brake bal­ance to sta­bilise the car.”

Of the cham­pi­onship pro­tag­o­nists, Hamilton took third – one place ahead of Vet­tel. Then came the two Finns, Valt­teri Bot­tas from Kimi Räikkö­nen, while the Re­naults and Saubers of Nico Hülken­berg, Car­los Sainz, Charles Le­clerc and Mar­cus Eric­s­son made up the top ten.

The run from the start to the Turn 1 brak­ing zone is the long­est of the year at 800 me­tres, with plenty of scope for slip­stream­ing for those be­hind the front row. On Sat­ur­day night, Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff said the grid had po­ten­tial for “carnage” down the straight and through the open­ing cor­ners.

RACE

In the event, the fears of chaos in the open­ing cor­ners were mis­guided as the first five rows man­aged to ne­go­ti­ate the first se­quence of bends un­harmed. Hamilton made the best start, in­stantly get­ting ahead of Ric­cia­rdo, who bogged down with too much wheel­spin off the line.

As Lewis split the two Red Bulls, he came along­side Ver­stap­pen, but the Dutch­man held the in­side line as they ap­proached the brak­ing zone for Turn 1 with the Fer­raris and Bot­tas boxed in be­hind them. Hamilton, mindful of his need to fin­ish, braked early and al­lowed Ver­stap­pen to take the lead.

Be­hind the front two, Bot­tas had made a strong start to get up to third, but he was out-ma­noeu­vred by Ric­cia­rdo, who was scrab­bling to ame­lio­rate the con­se­quences of his tardy get­away. As the field en­tered Turns 4 and 5, Vet­tel went wheel-to-wheel with Bot­tas and took fourth – but it wasn’t the clean­est of passes, and light con­tact be­tween the pair put Bot­tas briefly off track on the run to Turn 6.

Through­out the week­end, fears about the longevity of the tyres had been grow­ing. So while Hamilton seemed to be in a rel­a­tively com­fort­able po­si­tion in the open­ing laps, threat­en­ingly dark

“ON LAP 47, HAMILTON LOCKED UP WHILE DE­FEND­ING INTO TURN 1 AND SKIT­TERED OVER THE GRASS. IM­ME­DI­ATELY HE WAS ON THE RA­DIO TO THE TEAM: “TH­ESE TYRES ARE DEAD, GUYS”

bands be­gan to man­i­fest them­selves on his front tyres, par­tic­u­larly the front left – clear ev­i­dence of the dreaded ‘grain­ing’. By lap 11 Mercedes called both cars in for a change of boots. In con­trast the two Fer­raris were the last of the front-run­ners to pit, de­lay­ing their stops un­til lap 17.

It wasn’t enough to gain track po­si­tion via the un­der­cut, but it gave both Fer­rari drivers the ad­van­tage of fresher rub­ber in the cru­cial next phase of the race. After the pit­stops Ver­stap­pen held an 8s lead over Hamilton, fol­lowed by Ric­cia­rdo, Vet­tel, Bot­tas and Räikkö­nen. But Vet­tel’s strong pace meant that once he’d dis­patched Ric­cia­rdo, he was soon on the tail of his cham­pi­onship ri­val. On lap 38 he got a run on Hamilton into Turn 1, and although the Mercedes moved to cover the in­side line, once again dis­cre­tion guided Hamilton’s hands and Vet­tel slipped by. Hamilton’s con­cern now shifted to hold­ing off Ric­cia­rdo, for eight laps later the Red Bull had closed onto his gear­box.

On lap 47, Hamilton locked up while de­fend­ing into Turn 1 and skit­tered over the grass. Im­me­di­ately he was on the ra­dio to the team: “Th­ese tyres are dead, guys.” Mercedes called him in to fit the only use­ful tyres they had left: a set of used ul­tra­softs. Both Ver­stap­pen and Vet­tel took the op­por­tu­nity to stop for new Pirellis, but once Red Bull looked at the con­di­tion of the race leader’s tyres, they de­cided to keep Ric­cia­rdo out – since he’d in­her­ited sec­ond from Vet­tel.

In the clos­ing stages – on much older rub­ber – Ric­cia­rdo de­fended bril­liantly from Vet­tel and Red Bull looked set to achieve a one-two. But with nine laps re­main­ing, an puff of smoke emerged from the back of Ric­cia­rdo’s car and he was forced to re­tire with a sus­pected hy­draulic fail­ure.

Ver­stap­pen took the win, but the fan­fare was re­served for Hamilton, tak­ing fourth to wrap up his fifth cham­pi­onship. After the race, he was asked about the achieve­ment of match­ing Juan Manuel Fan­gio’s tally of world titles.

“Fan­gio is the god­fa­ther and al­ways will be,” said an emo­tional Hamilton. “But I’m hon­oured to have my name along­side him.”

Ver­stap­pen (left) made a great start and claimed the win, but it was an­other DNF for Ric­cia­rdo (right). Hamilton (be­low) laboured his way to the ti­tle

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