In the second running of the return of Formula One to Mexico, this fast-paced circuit provided us with plenty of action this weekend with Lewis Hamilton getting a consecutive win and catching up to Nico Rosberg in the championship, whose lead is down to 19 points.
The F1 Gran Premio de México is a really fast track, in part thanks to it being at such a high altitude, combined with a really long start-finish straight which would give the advantage to the Mercedes anyway, since they were one-two on the starting grid after qualifying. Hamilton and Rosberg maintained a fairly uneventful race staying in first and second position respectively, with a variation only during the pit stops.
Right at the start, at turn one, Hamilton locked up and skidded off track and cut across turns two and three, with Rosberg behind him getting pushed off track by Verstappen and being forced to cut through turn two. In all the bumping around only Wehrlein came out the worst affected with a broken front suspension that ended the race for the rookie on the first lap itself, which brought out the safety car for the first few laps of the race. Since neither man was able to gain any advantage nor caused a collision, the race stewards took no further action against the Hamilton, Rosberg or Verstappen.
During the safety car, Ricciardo went into the pits to put on a set of medium compound tires, a strategy that would put him way down the order but would allow him to stay out on track much longer than the leaders. With the safety car back in the pits, Hamilton had his foot down to pull away from Rosberg, with Verstappen in third and Hulkenberg in fourth, ahead of both Ferrari and Williams cars with teammate Sergio Perez behind them, Carlos Sainz in tenth.
While it may have been a 71 lap race, most teams were running a single stop strategy as the medium would be enough for over half of the race. Lap 13 saw Verstappen coming into the pits for his only stop for a set of medium compounds while Vettel is still trying to get past Massa for fifth. Hamilton came in for his stop on lap 17 and came out in fourth behind Vettel. After the series of stops across the teams, Bottas and Perez are fighting for fifth, followed by Ricciardo and Verstappen. While Ricciardo is stuck behind Perez, Rosberg pits on lap 20 and comes out ahead of the Australian, in third. Verstappen, on fresher tyres, gets a free pass to get ahead of Daniel to chase down the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg.
Vettel is in the lead, not having made any pit stop yet, with Hamilton in second, Rosberg in third being chased by the Red Bull of Max Verstappen. Behind them, Massa and Perez are having a duel for 9th place lap after lap with barely any openings, with both having very similar performing cars, giving the crowds plenty of excitement from the Mexican racer. Vettel finally comes in for his pit stop on lap 33, putting Hamilton back in the lead and Rosberg in second, rejoining the track, behind teammate Kimi Raikkonen.
Hamilton pretty much drove fast, clean laps from that point on to secure himself in first with a decent lead over Nico, who was getting chased down by Verstappen. Only at halfway through the race, Max is told to keep it clean behind Rosberg as there is still plenty of laps to be run. By lap 42 the leaders had to start making their way through the traffic of the back-markers, allowing the two Red Bulls to really close the gap to Rosberg, with Hamilton who was also being slowed, still having an ample lead ahead in first place.
Verstappen was now breathing down Nico’s neck. On lap 49, the young racer tried to get past on the inside at a very tight corner, locking up and sliding off track, a bold move which sadly didn’t stick, but was still appreciated by his team. This also woke up Rosberg who now had gained some breathing room and started to pull away from Max. Surprisingly, Ricciardo had to come into the pits for a third set of tyres, this time opting for the soft compound that would give him more speed with just twenty laps remaining. He came back on track just behind Hulkenberg, whom he soon overtook and was about twenty seconds behind Vettel in fourth.
The next ten laps were mostly uneventful, with Perez still trying to get past Massa for 9th place, and Daniel Ricciardo pushing very hard to close the gap to Vettel who himself was catching up with Max Verstappen. On lap 63, we heard Verstappen over the team radio, “I can see him coming”, referring to the Ferrari of Sebastien Vettel, a fitting tone for the battle that followed. Behind this pack, Raikkonen and Hulkenberg are fighting for sixth, followed by Bottas, Massa and Perez in the point scoring positions. Raikkonen spins the Force India to take sixth, meanwhile, Hulkenberg recovers without incident to stay in seventh, still ahead of Bottas.
On lap 67 of 71, Vettel is right behind Verstappen coming down to turn one, Max locks up and cuts across the turns to keep position. Vettel clearly communicating to the team that Max has to rescind his position, but with Max showing no intention of giving his place to the Ferrari, Vettel has some choice words for the youngster over the team radio. While some may call it unprofessional, I think it’s bloody entertaining to see that kind of fire and spirit in formula one racing still.
On Lap 70, Sebastien is still fuming at Verstappen, with their incident being reviewed by the race stewards. Meanwhile, Ricciardo too has caught up with the battle for third place and makes a move on Vettel, who does a brilliant job of defending his position, and both show great skill to come out of that exchange without any damage to their cars. This little scuffle though allows Verstappen to pull away.
Up ahead, Lewis Hamilton is coming up on the finish line, almost ten seconds ahead of Rosberg who finished second. Verstappen crosses the line in third, followed by Vettel and teammate Ricciardo, Vettel clearly furious with the conduct of the young racer, pulling up beside him to wag his finger scoldingly at the Dutchman. The race may be over, but the drama continues as the stewards are yet to give an official word on the incident involving Verstappen cutting corners to stay ahead of Vettel. Max was already in the break room with Lewis and Nico, when the official word came through that he would be getting a five second penalty, putting him down in fifth, and giving Vettel the podium at the 2016 Mexico GP.
Vettel may have got to stand on the podium, but this fight was not over yet as the stewards who were still investigating Vettel for erratic driving and changing direction under braking when he defended his postion against Daniel Ricciardo on lap 70, slapped a 10 second penalty, putting him down in fifth in the official race results, with Ricciardo getting third. Vettel also had two penalty points added to his license.
With just two races to go, the race for the championship gets tighter and tighter, as any mistake from either driver could cost them their chance at becoming champion. Fans are also looking forward to any further drama between Vettel and Verstappen, hoping that their rivalry will make for some spectacular racing. We’ll have to see what happens at the Brazilian GP in two weeks time, till then, take care and drive safe.
The final results of the Formula One Gran Premio de México 2016 :