Victory For Verstappen, But A Fifth Title For Hamilton
Graham Read, Formula 1 Correspondent
After four time Formula 1 champion Lewis Hamilton had failed to add a fifth title to his CV in Texas a week ago the Monaco based British driver headed with his Mercedes team and the rest of the F1 circus to the Autódromo Hernandos Rodríguez in high altitude Mexico City for the next Grand Prix and this time he achieved his objective.
The Mexican race was actually won comfortably by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen ahead of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, but a distant fourth place finish over a minute adrift of the victor was enough to make Hamilton champion again. His five titles have put him on a par with the late great Juan Manuel Fangio and just two behind the legendary Michael Schumacher.
In Friday’s opening practice session the Renault powered Red Bulls of Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo had circulated fastest, followed by the Renault works team machines pedalled by Carlos Sainz and Nico Hülkenberg.
Come the second practice period young Dutch charger Verstappen was again quickest before grinding to a halt when his power unit expired on him. Ricciardo was, as earlier that day, the best of the rest ahead of Sainz and Vettel, with Hamilton down in seventh place. Verstappen was still fastest in final practice ahead of an improved Hamilton and Vettel.
In the subsequent qualifying session Verstappen looked set to become the youngest pole position sitter ever until team-mate Ricciardo snatched it from him by a mere 0.03 seconds after a stunning final lap. The all Red Bull front row left title rivals Hamilton and Vettel set to line up just behind them for the following day’s Grand Prix, with Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas and Ferrari’s Kimi Räikkönen completing the top six.
Hamilton knew in advance that even if Vettel won the race he would only need to finish in the top seven to secure the title and also that, if his main rival failed to win, he would be champion regardless of where or even if he finished. As a result there was no need for the Mercedes lead driver to adopt a risky strategy at the start, but in F1 that is often easier said than done.
It’s a long 1.1 kilometre high speed sprint from the grid down to the opening right-hander in Mexico and Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff expressed his concerns before the start of the race that chaos could ensue as the pair of Red Bulls at the head of the pack had less straight-line speed than his own cars and the Ferraris. A slipstream benefit for the following cars might also intensify the problem.
As a result tension levels were at a peak as the red lights went out and the drivers fought to gain an early advantage. Verstappen and Hamilton made great starts, whereas poleman Ricciardo suffered from excessive wheelspin and reached Turn 1 in only third position.
Following an early Virtual Safety Car period to assist the recovery of Fernando Alonso’s retired McLaren, Verstappen was still leading, followed by Hamilton, Ricciardo and Vettel. All the leaders had pitted for fresh tyres by lap 17 and there was no change in the order out front.
Subsequently Vettel got the better of Ricciardo for third place and then on lap 39 swept past Hamilton up the inside at the first corner to claim second. Worse was to follow for Hamilton as an off-track excursion dropped him to fourth behind Ricciardo.
After further pit stops for most of the leading players but not Ricciardo, young Max was still out front ahead of the Australian, Vettel and Räikkönen. However, Ricciardo’s bad luck this season continued when on lap 62 he suffered his eighth retirement of the year.
This left Verstappen to reach the chequered flag first ahead of the Ferraris of Vettel and Räikkönen plus new champion Hamilton, with Bottas and Hülkenberg completing the top six finishers.
So, this year’s Drivers’ title is now settled, but there is still much to play for on the Constructors’ front, particularly as it is the finishing positions in this championship which determine where the prize money goes. Next up we have the Brazilian Grand Prix at the famous circuit near Interlagos, São Paulo in two weeks’ time, and I hope you will join me there.
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1 Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 1hr38m28.851s
2 Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) +17.316s
3 Kimi Räikkönen (Ferrari) +49.914s
4 Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) +1m18.738s
5 Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) Lapped
6 Nico Hülkenberg (Renault) Lapped
7 Charles Leclerc (Sauber) Lapped
8 Stoffel Vandoorne (McLaren) Lapped
9 Marcus Ericsson (Sauber) Lapped
10 Pierre Gasly (Toro Rosso) Lapped
11 Esteban Ocon (Force India) Lapped
12 Lance Stroll (Williams) Lapped
13 Sergey Sirotkin (Williams) Lapped
14 Brendon Hartley (Toro Rosso) Lapped
15 Kevin Magnussen (Haas) Lapped
16 Romain Grosjean (Haas) Lapped
17 Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull) Retired
18 Sergio Perez (Force India) Retired
19 Carlos Sainz (Renault) Retired
20 Fernando Alonso (McLaren) Retired
2018 Formula 1 Drivers’ Championship (after 19 of 21 Grand Prix)
1 Lewis Hamilton 358
2 Sebastian Vettel 294
3 Kimi Räikkönen 236
2018 Formula 1 Constructors’ Championship (after 19 of 21 Grand Prix)
1 Mercedes 585
2 Ferrari 530
3 Red Bull 362
Victory For Verstappen, But A Fifth Title For Hamilton, 28th October 2018, 22:06 PM