Few races pose a challenge to Formula 1 as unique as the Mexican GP at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez. The circuit itself is quite flat but it is situated at a high altitude where the air is less dense. As a sport that is heavily dependent on air, this race poses a strategic complication for the engineers to achieve a balanced car setup. The thinner air affects engine performance and makes it harder to maintain optimal temperatures without extra cooling. There is also the demand for higher downforce settings to be effective at this altitude. So, the trick is to find a balanced solution to counter the elements for a fast and reliable racecar.
The sport has returned after a year’s gap which on its own is a good reason for the venue to be full of excited and energetic fans. On top of that, they had their local hero Sergio Perez driving for a race-winning team with the chance of becoming the first Mexican driver to be on the podium of a Mexican Formula 1 Grand Prix. While we’ve seen great crowds at Zandvoort and Austin, the atmosphere in Mexico City was on another level all weekend. The part of the track that makes its way through the main stadium may be a bit awkward for drivers, but the cheers from that section are worth it. The crowd of attendees at the Mexico GP makes it stands out from any other on the F1 calendar.
Mercedes and Red Bull were recording similarly quick lap times through practice with Valtteri Bottas always outpacing teammate Lewis Hamilton. The Red Bulls seemed poised to jump their championship rivals in qualifying with Max Verstappen on target for another Pole position start. But in the final session, the two Bulls were behind Yuki Tsunoda’s AlphaTauri with the two Mercedes drivers at the top of the timing tables. As Sergio Perez came to pass Tsunoda through the twisty section, the Japanese driver went off track to get out of the way, kicking up some dust in the process. This action threw off the Mexican racer’s concentration on his final timed lap and he went off track as well. With two cars crawling outside of track limits, Max Verstappen’s final attempt was also compromised by a brief flash of yellow flags. As a result, it was Bottas who came out on top in qualifying and won his fourth Pole of the season. With Hamilton alongside, it was Mercedes’ 79th front-row lockout in the sport while the Red Bulls lined up on the second row.
However, like some other circuits, the Polesitter at Mexico is not the favourite to win the race. The long straight before the tight first corner allows the cars behind to get a slipstream advantage to make a bold pass if they can. So even though Max seemed to have lost the chance for a certain Pole position start at the 2021 Mexico GP, he was still very much with a chance of taking the lead at the start of the race.
The fifth fastest man in qualifying was Pierre Gasly, recording another excellent performance in his AlphaTauri and outdoing Ferrari and McLaren once again. His teammate’s mild error did take the shine away from the fact that the rookie had made it to Q3 once again and was 9th fastest. Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc had qualified sixth and eighth respectively while rivals Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris were seventh and tenth quickest. But that’s not the starting order of the grid as Lando and Yuki carried grid penalties for their new powertrain components, and would be starting from the back.
When the race started on Sunday afternoon, there was an unexpected amount of chaos in the first series of turns. As predicted, Verstappen was able to overcome his starting position on the grid thanks to the slipstream from the cars in front to pull alongside them down the long straight. Lewis was on the inside line with Valtteri defending the middle which allowed Max to go for the racing line around the outside. The Red Bull driver was able to outbreak his Mercedes rivals into Turn 1 (a tight right-hander) and maintain grip through the outside and hold the inside line for the following left-handed chicane of Turns 2 and 3.
Bottas found himself squeezed between the two title contenders as they braked for the first corner. As Hamilton went wide on the exit, the Finn cut deep to make the turn and across Ricciardo. The McLaren’s front-left wheel caught the Mercedes’ rear-right, spinning Bottas around and leaving Ricciardo without a front wing. Perez and Gasly pretty much cut through Turn 2 to avoid the carnage and were wheel to wheel heading into Turn 4.
Behind them, Esteban Ocon got sandwiched between Yuki Tsunoda and Mick Schumacher, sending both cars flying as their rear wheels rolled over his front wheels and taking them out due to suspension damage. Surprisingly, the Alpine was still in the running. Many others also found themselves cutting the grass in that part of the track to avoid the crashed and spun cars.
The opening lap chaos called for an early Safety Car with Verstappen in the lead, Perez in P3, and Hamilton between them. Bottas had to pit for repairs and found himself down in P17, ahead of Ricciardo, at the time of the restart.
The SC pitted towards the end of Lap 4 and Verstappen made the brilliant strategic decision to take off from the awkward exit of Turn 14, allowing him to put some distance between himself and Hamilton. This killed any opportunity for the defending world champion to get a slipstream advantage down the main straight, and DRS wasn’t on the table for a couple of laps either. The other gainers from the chaotic start included Leclerc and Antonio Giovinazzi who had moved up to P5 and P6, with Sainz slipping to P7. Also, George Russell and Nikita Mazepin had moved from the eighth row of the grid to P9 and P11 respectively. With the race underway, Sainz was able to get ahead of Giovinazzi with a late move into Turn 1. Meanwhile, Russell lost track position to Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso over the next few laps.
Max had taken full control of the race in the lead and was steadily increasing his gap to Hamilton behind. The Brit seemed to have resigned himself to his fate and focussed mainly on defending against Sergio Perez for the rest of the race. Further back, Gasly found himself in a lonely P4 with a few seconds gap from the Ferrari drivers behind.
Overtaking around the Mexico GP circuit is not easy, not without a significant and inherent pace advantage. Even though Perez was in the faster car, he was struggling to follow too closely in the dirty air of the Mercedes in front of him. This made the contest a bit stale after the restart but got lively again when it came time to make the first pit stops. Hamilton came in first, pitting at the start of Lap 30 to switch his Mediums for a fresh set of Hard tyres. He found himself in P5 behind Leclerc when he returned to track which held him up for a lap before the Ferrari pitted the following lap.
Since Max was having an easier time stretching his first stint in the lead, Red Bull pitted him 4 laps after Hamilton. Checo was on an even longer stint and he too improved his pace in the clear air after the Mercedes had pitted. After Verstappen made his switch to the Hards, Perez led the race for a few laps and became the first Mexican driver to lead an F1 GP in Mexico. He finally made his stop at the start of Lap 41 but rejoined the race in P3 and a long way behind Hamilton. But with fresher tyres and a faster race pace, he had a fairly good chance of closing the gap in the remaining 30 laps of the race. Checo had reduced the gap to just around 6 seconds in 10 laps time, and down to just over a second after another 10 laps.
In the dirty air once again, Sergio struggled to close the gap to Lewis by enough of a margin to take advantage of DRS down the straights. The seven-time world champion was also doing a brilliant job of defending in terms of track positioning and trying to lap the backmarkers in ideal parts of the track. It also helped that Sergio made the occasional mistake in his chase, allowing Lewis to pull away on the corner exit. Their battle came down to who is the better racer and on the day, Hamilton had the form to defend against Checo till the chequered flag.
Max Verstappen won the Mexico GP by a gap of over 16 seconds to the cars behind. It was the Dutchman’s third win at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez Circuit and his ninth of the season. Lewis Hamilton finished P2 and Sergio Perez had to settle for P3. Nonetheless, he was the first Mexican to finish on the podium of a Mexican Grand Prix which was a call for a large celebration. Not only was there a large and loud crowd cheering for Checo as they parked up in front of the stadium for the podium ceremonies, we saw his dad’s jubilant celebration while running towards him. We also got a wholesome moment when Perez’s son was part of the celebrations too.
The Mexico GP’s podium ceremony is among the best I’ve ever seen as they feature a hydraulic lift to bring the winner and his car to the podium level. It’s always cool to watch but I have to admit that Max doesn’t have the same flair as Lewis when it comes to celebrations and epic poses. The result allowed Verstappen to extend his lead in the driver’s standings and Red Bull to close the gap to Mercedes in the constructor’s standings.
Bottas was unable to make a notable recovery from his first lap incident and was still out of the points towards the end of the race. Mercedes then used him to swipe the extra point for the fastest lap from Max and Red Bull on the final lap. The Finn’s Mexico GP, which he started from Pole, ended with him in P15.
Gasly was able to secure another best-possible result for AlphaTauri with his P4 finish. He’d had a great qualifying and was able to pull away from the rest of the grid after the SC restart. The Frenchman had a bit of a lonely drive but a very good one to earn vital points for his team’s constructor standings.
It was a strong result for Ferrari to get P5 and P6, likely the best they’d expected at the start of the weekend. Leclerc was running ahead of Sainz for the longest time. During the second half of the race, the team asked Carlos to be let through to try and catch up to Gasly but failing that, they switched places once again. This points haul also allowed them to build a lead over McLaren in their constructor’s battle for third in the championship.
There are seven driver’s world titles between the cars that finished behind the two Ferraris: Sebastian Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso (in that order). Each of them earned crucial points for their respective teams, which is more of an accomplishment in the Alfa Romeo than it is in the Aston or the Alpine.
The final championship point from the Mexico GP was picked up by Lando Norris who started his race from 18th on the grid. It won’t be much consolation for the team but in a closely fought battle, every point counts. Ricciardo also finished the race, classifying P12.
Following the results of the 2021 Mexico GP, Verstappen’s championship lead stands at 19 points and Mercedes leads the Constructor’s title race by just 1 point. It’s a triple-header with the next race in Brazil which has a history of offering dramatic moments in tightly fought championship battles. Stay tuned for all the action from F1 and the world of cool cars in general by subscribing to the blog and our social handles on Twitter and Instagram. Also, don’t forget to leave a like on this article if you enjoyed it and share your thoughts in the comments below.
- M. Verstappen Red Bull Racing Honda — 1:38:36.086
- L. Hamilton Mercedes +16.555
- S. Perez Red Bull Racing Honda +17.752
- P. Gasly AlphaTauri Honda +63.845
- C. Leclerc Ferrari +81.037
- C. Sainz Ferrari +1 Lap
- S. Vettel Aston Martin Mercedes +1 lap
- K. Räikkönen Alfa Romeo Racing Ferrari +1 Lap
- F. Alonso Alpine Renault +1 Lap
- L. Norris McLaren Mercedes +1 Lap
- A. Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo Sauber Ferrari +1 lap
- D. Ricciardo McLaren Mercedes +1 Lap
- E. Ocon Alpine Renault +1 lap
- L. Stroll Aston Martin Mercedes +2 laps
- V. Bottas Mercedes +2 laps
- G. Russell Williams Mercedes +2 laps
- N. Latifi Williams Mercedes +2 laps
- N. Mazepin Haas Ferrari +3 laps
- M. Schumacher Haas Ferrari DNF
- Y. Tsunoda AlphaTauri Honda DNF