After an enthralling qualifying that saw Max Verstappen denied the record of youngest F1 pole sitter by an absolutely smashing lap from Sebastian Vettel, the grid formed up for the main event in Mexico City.
All eyes were on the battle for the championship at the front, with Lewis Hamilton aiming for his fourth world title starting third, but with Max Verstappen and title rival Sebastian Vettel starting ahead of him the Brit would have his work cut out to take the title the way he wants, with a win. This also doesn't take into account the Red Bull and Ferrari starting behind Hamilton, who may yet come into play in the title permutations. Hamilton would no doubt be looking for help in this regard from his teammate Valtteri Bottas, who started alongside him in fourth.
At lights out, Vettel got an excellent start to take an advantage down the main straight. Hamilton also got a good start and picked up the slipstream from the Verstappen and the three leaders went almost side-by-side into turn one. Vettel and Verstappen contested the first corner, with Max holding his line on the outside of the corner as he tried to push Vettel wide into turn two. This opened the door for Hamilton, who was waiting lose behind, to try and get round the outside of turn three, and he looked to have the move done. That was until Vettel came back at him and edged his front wing into Hamilton's right-rear tyre as he tried to take his line without loasing his back end.
This caused a puncture on Hamilton's car and also damaged Vettel's front wing as Verstappen came away nscathed and scampered off into the lead. This contact brought both the championship leaders into the pits at the end of the first lap, albeit Hamilton a long way back after having to crawl round much of the opening lap on three wheels. Both drivers swapped to the yellow-marked soft tyres, indicating that they might try and go to the end with an ambitious one-stop.
Carlos Sainz also made a very early stop, possibly due to an issue with his tyres.
Verstappen pulls away
With his two main competitors out of the picture, Max Verstappen grabbed the race by the scruff of the neck and quickly pulled a four second advantage over Valtteri Bottas in second, an advantage he would maintain for much of the first stint and indeed the race. Meanwhile, the lap one incident was quickly cleared by the stewards, preventing any repeat of the Austin outrage that has tainted the sport since America.
By lap ten, Vettel was already onto the back of the field, and began to scythe his was through, albeit with heavy resistance from former Ferrari driver Felipe Massa, with Seb eventually getting past by forcing his way through at turn five.
Meanwhile, Verstappen had extended his advantage to almost six seconds by lap 15. Behind Bottas, things were looking good for Force India, with Esteban Ocon in third and Sergio Perez fifth. In this Force India sandwich, Nico Hulkenberg was the somewhat unwilling meat. Kimi Raikkonen was hot on the heels of this leading pack, finding himself charging through on his own after Daniel Ricciardo suffered a MGU-H issue and had to retire.
Vettel charges while Hamilton slumps
Vettel was looking handy, continuing his charge and getting past Romain Grosjean on lap 19, taking him to 13th. Hamilton on the other hand was still struggling down in 19th, seemingly struggling for pace after dragging the bottom of his car around for a lap at the start of the race. At the rate the leaders were moving, the championship leader might well have been finding himself lapped soon!
Meanwhile, the first round of pit-stops were underway, with Sergio Perez in first, followed a lap later by Nico Hulkenberg, keen to cover off the undercut from the Force India, who also pitted Ocon a lap later. While this was happening, Verstappen lapped Hamilton and Vettel managed to get past the Toro Rosso of Brendon Hartley. It was truly a tale of two races so far for the championship leaders.
After running a strong fourth earlier in the race, Renault's Nico Hulkenberg would have been devasted to feel his car grinding to a halt once again, having to abandon it by the side of the main straight due to an ERS issue. This retirement promoted Vettel to tenth, but with him stuck behind the hard-charging Fernando Alonso, his progress seemed stalled for now, just as Lewis Hamilton managed to get past Carlos Sainz for 17th. A few laps later, Hamilton would also get by Pascal Wehrlein, with Vettel getting past Alonso a lap later on lap 31.
Flaming Toro Rosso prompts flurry of pit stops
Amazingly, by lap 30 many of the ultrasoft runners were still running, including the race leaders. This wasn't to last much longer though, as Brendon Hartley's Toro Rosso had shot its bolt, forcing the Kiwi to pull over and quickly jump out of his smoldering car.
This prompted a Virtual Safety Car, giving the leaders an essentially free pit stop, which they gratefully took. All the leaders used this opportunity to pit, as did Hamilton and Vettel, with Hamilton taking a set of supersofts, and Vettel the ultras. These stops caught out the drivers that pitted earlier, with Ocon losing out to Kimi Raikkonen for third.
Once the VSC period ended, Vettel was able to resume his charge through the pack from eighth. Hamilton meanwhile was still outside the points, although looked a lot more comfortable in the car, getting past Romain Grosjean for 15th on lap 36, the halfway point of the race. Meanwhile, out front, Verstappen still looked imperious, holding a lead of nearly ten seconds over Bottas in second. Behind the leading pair, Raikkonen rounded out the top three, followed by Ocon, Lance Stroll (who was putting in an excellent drive), Perez, and then Vettel!
While the title contenders charged, commentators around the world were frantically doing the math to see what the eventual result would be; If Hamilton could get up to ninth, then Vettel would have to win the race to still stand a chance. With Hamilton now seemingly free of the issues that slowed him earlier in the race, he was charging hard, and was up to 12th by lap 48, while Vettel was seventh and closing in on the Force India of Sergio Perez. The home crowd had been supportive of the Ferrari driver this weekend, but how long this would last if he tried a move on Perez would certainly be entertaining to see.
Vettel make his move on lap 50, getting past Perez at turn four, but the Mexican wasn't done yet and pitted for fresh rubber at the end of the lap, setting up a crowd pleasing late charge from the hometown hero. Would anyone else take a second stop to try and make up some late places?
Meanwhile, Hamilton got past Stoffel Vandoorne for 11th on lap 54, and was now less than seven seconds from ninth, and potentially his fourth title. In the meantime, Vettel was absolutely on it up front, setting fastest lap after fastest lap, passing Stroll with ease and setting off after Ocon in fourth.
On lap 57, Hamilton got past Felipe Massa to get back into the points for the first time since the opening lap, with only Fernando Alonso's McLaren theoretically standing between him and the title. The next lap though, Vettel took fourth from Esteban Ocon, and with Raikkonen next up, albeit 24 seconds up the road, Vettel was now on for a podium finish if he could catch the Finn. When told by the team of the gap he needed to make up, Seb responded with a slightly over-the-top "Mama Mia!"
More misery for Renault came on lap 62, as Carlos Sainz retired with suspected engine issues, making it four Renault powered cars out of the race. Clearly the Renault power unit isn't particularly enjoying the high altitude, and led Red Bull to ask (sometimes even beg) Max Verstappen to slow down and stop setting fastest laps!
Hamilton was now coming up behind Alonso, who was fighting hard with Haas's Kevin Magnussen, although given Vettel's position at the time (still fourth), this wasn't a move Hamilton needed to take a risk in making, at least not yet, or at least not without some catastrophic reliability issues up front. He had a look into turn four on lap 67, but thought better of it as Alonso looked set to fight off any advances. On lap 69 though, he tried again, first at turn one, then turn four, eventually getting the job done at the second time of asking, although Alonso didn't make it easy, fighting for every inch of track and causing no small amount of carbon fiber to fly, though happily this time everyone could carry on.
Verstappen wins, but Hamilton takes the title
On to the final lap and Verstappen, who we had barely seen all race (bar his frequent fastest lap pop up in the corner of the screen), looked set to take his third win, and he duly did, dominating the race from Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Raikkonen who rounded out the podium. Surely the Dutchman is a champion in the making, and if Red Bull can bring their A game from the off next season, he just might be very soon.
Today though, it was all about Hamilton and Vettel for the title, and with the Ferrari driver 'only' managing fourth and Hamilton ninth, Lewis Hamilton crossed the line to take his fourth world title! You have to feel for Verstappen, who dominated the race and put on a great show all weekend, as all the talk after the race will be about the title, but he will surely have his chance.
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