The F1 circus arrived in Central America for the Mexican Grand Prix with the 2019 Constructor’s Championship already decided. The Driver’s Championship was almost decided as well with Lewis Hamilton enjoying a significant points lead over Valtteri Bottas but the Finn still had a mathematical opportunity. For the last two years, Lewis has won his world title in Mexico by not even getting a podium finish.
The Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez Circuit is a relatively short circuit that offers multiple engineering challenges since it was located at a high altitude, 2200m above sea level. At that altitude, the air is less dense which means downforce isn’t as effective and the F1 cars can go a lot faster. However, it also means the turbos have to work harder and its harder to cool the bits that get really hot(like the brakes). The main straight of this 4.3km circuit is over a kilometre long allowing the cars to reach over 340kph with the DRS wing open. This circuit has been a strong one for Red Bull Racing and Max Verstappen has won in Mexico for the last two years in a row. This time, the Ferrari’s ridiculous straight-line speed advantage made them the favourites this year.
In qualifying, Max was the fastest one on track ahead of the Ferrari and Mercedes drivers as well. In Q2, all the front runners opted to set their best times on the medium compound to get the tyre advantage on Sunday. Verstappen was the only one to set a time under 1m15s followed by Charles Leclerc, Sebastian Vettel, Hamilton, Alex Albon and Bottas. However, on their last timed laps, Bottas had a nasty crash coming out of the final corner, planting his W11 in the barrier. This brought out the yellow flags for that part of the track which meant drivers had to slow down just before the finish line and abandon their quali lap. Vettel saw the flags and slowed down but Max didn’t even though he already had secured pole position. So, the Dutchman was handed a three-place grid penalty for ignoring the yellow flags which handed the front row to Ferrari with Leclerc on Pole for the 7th time this season.
McLaren were the best of the rest in qualifying with Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris setting the 7th and 8th fastest times respectively. Toro Rosso secured the fifth row on the grid with Daniil Kvyat outqualifying Pierre Gasly to start 9th and 10th respectively.
It was an action-packed start as all the front runners got off the line quite well. Leclerc held onto the lead while Vettel squeezed Hamilton for space, almost forcing him onto the grass which allowed Verstappen to catch up down the inside into Turn 1. The Red Bull went wide out of the corner, making contact with the Mercedes just before Turn 2 which caused both cars to lose composure. Lewis and Max opted to go through the grass instead of being caught up in the pack but still dropped a few places. Vettel also bumped into Leclerc going through Turn 3 as the Monegasque was slower getting out of the corner, the front wing hitting the rear right tyre but with no visible damage. By Turn 4, Albon had moved up to P3 (his F1 best so far) and as Hamilton rejoined the track ahead of Bottas, it allowed both the McLarens to get past the Finn.
Going into the next set of corners, Carlos on the softer compound tyres battled Lewis for position and moved up to P4. Norris was still ahead of Bottas who was in front of Verstappen. Near the end of Lap 4, Max made a very late move down the inside of Bottas as they were going through the stadium section at Turn 13. However, as the rear end of the Red Bull rotated around, it caught the front wing of the Mercedes which led to Max’s rear right tyre getting punctured. Worse still, the puncture announced itself down the start-finish straight, long past the pit entry, forcing Max to drop down the order as he limped the car around the thankfully short circuit. He rejoined the race in dead last but on the hard compound tyre which he’d have to nurse all the way till the chequered flag. An exciting first few laps at the 2019 Mexican GP.
By Lap 10, Bottas had made his way past the McLarens and was back in the lead pack, running P5. Considering he’d slammed the car into the wall just the day before, the Mercedes mechanics did a great job to put it back together and have it running in top form without needing to use any new components that would have induced grid penalties. Home hero Sergio Perez, who had started P11 on the grid, was making his way past Kvyat to move up to into P8. McLaren and Toro Rosso were the only teams that had started on the soft compound tyres while the rest had started on the medium compound tyres, allowing for a longer first stint without suffering much of a drop in pace. Daniel Ricciardo was the only one who started on the hard compound tyre from 13th on the grid.
McLaren were poised for an impressive result with both drivers running high enough in the order. But when Norris pitted on Lap 13 to change to the hard compound tyres, he was released before the front left tyre was properly mounted. While Lando had the sense to pull over before the white exit line of the pit lane which allowed his crew to roll him back into the box and fit the tyre probably, his race was ruined. McLaren did send him back on track but there was little point in having him running around in last place for the remaining 60 laps or so, and they retired him later on Lap 49.
Around the same time as Norris’ nightmare pitstop, Leclerc was leading the race but hadn’t been able to pull away from Vettel who was within two seconds of him. Alex was even closer to Seb and Lewis had made a great recovery to be right on the Red Bull’s tail. Alex was the first of the front runners to pit on Lap 15 and he went for a two-stop strategy, doing a second stint on the medium compound tyre. Ferrari responded by pitting race leader Charles the very next lap and also put him on the same two-stop strategy. Vettel was now leading the race, just ahead of Lewis with Bottas in third.
Mercedes decided to gamble on the hard compound tyre, pitting Hamilton after 23 laps and hoping the tyres would last the remaining 47 laps. They were probably going by Pirelli’s assessment that the hard tyres would last 50 laps and also based on how Ricciardo and Verstappen were performing on the same compound. Hamilton rejoined the race in P4 behind Leclerc, and the top-three were due a pit stop still.
Bottas pitted on Lap 37 and put on a set of hard compound tyres too. Ferrari responded by finally pitting Vettel on Lap 38 to switch to the hard compound on a single-stop strategy. The German rejoined the race in P4, ahead of the Finn. Leclerc was leading the race once again but needed to make his second pit stop as did Albon in P3 with Hamilton between them. It seemed the two-stop strategy had cost Leclerc a chance at victory in Mexico. But things got a lot worse than just bad strategy. When the No.16 Ferrari pitted on Lap 44 for the hard tyres, there was a problem mounting the right rear which cost Leclerc an extra 4 SECONDS in the pit box. He rejoined the race in P5 and then Alex pitted the next lap which moved Charles up into P4 with no chance at a podium finish.
At the front, Hamilton was whining away to his team that they pitted him too early and that the tyres wouldn’t last till the end of the race. Daniel Ricciardo’s 50-lap stint on the same compound, starting with a full load of fuel, suggested otherwise. Eventually, Lewis turned his focus on nursing his tyres as best as he could till the chequered flag. Ferrari meanwhile were hoping that the lead Mercedes’ tyres would “drop off” in the final 5 laps or so which would allow Vettel to attack for the lead on his much fresher tyres. But things didn’t go as Ferrari had hoped, especially with the problem of overheating tyres and brakes from running in dirty air, especially at the higher altitude.
Charles was also driving hard to try and catch up to the top three but he made a mistake at one point by locking up and flat-spotting one of his front tyres and was forced to abandon his charge. In the final few laps, Vettel was within two seconds of Hamilton but could never get within DRS range while also defending from Bottas.
Lewis won the race with Seb and Valtteri filling the podium spots and Leclerc bagging the extra point for the fastest lap in P4. The Red Bulls of Alex and Max finished P5 and P6 respectively. It was an especially impressive result for Bottas and Verstappen, the Finn driving a hurriedly rebuilt car and the Dutchman making a recovery from a bad start (66 laps on the Hard compound).
The Mexican podium celebrations were very different from the usual parc ferme setup. They had the winner’s car brought up to podium level with the winner standing atop it and as much as I’m sick of watching Lewis win, it was an impressive sight nonetheless. The Mexican “Stig” mascot and the trophies looked especially lacklustre in contrast to the podium celebrations and the cheering crowds in the stadium.
Those cheers were (probably) mostly in celebration of Sergio Perez who finished P7 (best of the rest) after a short battle with Ricciardo in the last few laps. Renault got a double points finish again, one they’ll get to keep by the looks of it — Daniel in P7 and Nico Hulkenberg in P10. Nico would have finished P9 but Daniil Kvyat nudged the Renault into a tailspin in the final corner of the final lap. Hulkenberg managed to get his car across the finish line, missing a rear wing, and Kvyat earned a 10-second time penalty and pushed down to P11, out of the points. Toro Rosso did still get some points thanks to Kvyat’s incident which allowed Pierre Gasly to claim P9.
Perez’s teammate didn’t have the same kind of race pace as Lance Stroll finished P12 after starting 16th on the grid. Sainz who was once in P4 during the race ended up finishing P13. The McLaren struggled for grip on the hard compound forcing a second pit stop to switch to the medium compound tyre. The poor form continues for Alfa Romeo since the summer break as Antonio Giovinazzi finished P14 and Kimi Raikkonen had retired the car after 59 laps. Kimi was among the victims of the pit-stop curse this weekend, his car was off the jack and the right rear wasn’t fitted on properly. It was a long time before the crew lifted the car again to put the tyre on properly and out of contention for any points. Giovinazzi and Raikkonen started 15th and 14th respectively.
Bringing in the rear were Haas and Williams Racing as usual. Kevin Magnussen ahead of George Russell, followed by Romain Grosjean and Robert Kubica in last.
The racing action resumes not far from Mexico next weekend in Austin, Texas USA at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA). Hamilton is poised to seal his 6th world title, his third-in-a-row, while Bottas’ is more than 70 points behind.
Neither Ferrari drivers are expected to end the 2019 season with more than 300 points in the driver’s championship. That’s how big the gap is thanks to Mercedes’ dominance in the first half of 2019. In the same standings, the gap between fifth-place Verstappen and sixth-place Pierre Gasly currently stands at 143 points. The rules and regulations for Formula 1 from 2021 onwards will be announced just before the race weekend, aiming to close the gap, improve the racing and turn it into an actual ‘motorsport’ instead of just an R&D exercise for the OEMs. Stay tuned for more updates and don’t forget to subscribe to The Auto Loons blog and follow us on Twitter too (@autoloons).
Final race standings
- L. Hamilton Mercedes — 1:36:48.904
- S. Vettel Ferrari +1.766
- V. Bottas Mercedes + 3.553
- C. Leclerc Ferrari +6.368
- A. Albon Aston Martin Red Bull Racing Honda +21.399
- M. Verstappen Aston Martin Red Bull Racing Honda +68.807
- S. Perez Racing Point BWT Mercedes +73.819
- D. Ricciardo Renault +74.924
- P. Gasly Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda +1 Lap
- N. Hulkenberg Renault +1 Lap
- D. Kvyat Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda +1 Lap
- L. Stroll Racing Point BWT Mercedes +1 Lap
- C. Sainz McLaren Renault +1 Lap
- A. Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo Sauber Ferrari +1 Lap
- K. Magnussen Haas Ferrari +2 Laps
- G. Russell Williams Racing Mercedes +2 Laps
- R. Grosjean Haas Ferrari +2 Laps
- R. Kubica Williams Racing Mercedes +2 Laps
- K. Raikkonen Alfa Romeo Racing Ferrari DNF
- L. Norris McLaren Renault DNF