Formula 1 Correspondent
11:15 PM 29th October 2023
Verstappen In A Class Of His Own In Mexico
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen simply dominated the red flag interrupted Mexican Grand Prix today, setting a new record of 16 victories in a season, whilst there was heartache for his team-mate and local hero Sergio Pérez who crashed out on the opening lap.
Max Verstappen was again peerless
Since last weekend’s somewhat less than enthralling Sprint race in Texas there have been understandable calls for the whole concept of these shorter events to be reviewed. There is a desire for them to be retained at a handful of Grand Prix weekends each season, but, although nothing has as yet been agreed, discussions are already being held about the possibility of changes such as reverse grids and the Sprints having their own standalone Championship and prize money.
2023 Formula 1 Mexico City Grand Prix
1 Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 49m23.531s
2 Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) +13.875s
3 Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) +23.124s
4 Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) +27.154s
5 Lando Norris (McLaren) +33.266s
6 George Russell (Mercedes) +41.020s
7 Daniel Ricciardo (AlphaTauri) +41.570s
8 Oscar Piastri (McLaren) +43.104s
9 Alex Albon (Williams) +48.573s
10 Esteban Ocon (Alpine) +1m2.879s
11 Pierre Gasly (Alpine) +1m6.208s
12 Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri) +1m18.982s
13 Nico Hülkenberg (Haas) +1m20.309s
14 Valtteri Bottas (Alfa Romeo) +1m20.597s
15 Zhou Guanyu (Alfa Romeo) +1m21.676s
16 Logan Sargeant (Williams) Retired
17 Lance Stroll (Aston Martin) Retired
18 Fernando Alonso (Aston Martin) Retired
19 Kevin Magnussen (Haas) Retired
20 Sergio Pérez (Red Bull) Retired
Pérez arrived at his home Grand Prix in Mexico City this weekend still very much under pressure to perform better and score more points for his front of the grid team, but at least he was expecting plenty of vocal support from the massed Mexican fans around the circuit. However, the organisers had pleaded in advance for those present to show respect towards all drivers, including Pérez’s team-mate and triple world champion Verstappen, and had placed large banners around the city reminding everyone to leave the rivalry to the drivers on track. This followed some of Pérez’s fans booing the victorious Verstappen during the podium ceremony last Sunday. Sir Lewis Hamilton is the only current driver who tends to have a personal bodyguard with him during race weekends, even within the F1 paddock, but with the heightened atmosphere in Mexico Red Bull arranged one for Verstappen too, even though he never feels the need for such measures anywhere else and questioned his team’s decision. The number of VIP and guest passes to enter the paddock, which is first and foremost a working area, was also reduced after overcrowding issues here last year had caused significant problems for the teams and the drivers in particular.
The venue for this weekend’s latest Formula 1 round was the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez, a demanding circuit which allows little room for driver errors and has therefore tended to trigger race interruptions in the past. In the previous five Mexican Grands Prix we’ve witnessed the need for a Safety Car intervention and six Virtual ones. Also, despite the long main straight and three DRS zones, overtaking has always been more challenging than at many other F1 tracks due to the high altitude, which means lower air density and therefore reduced benefits from slipstreaming and using DRS to attempt passing manoeuvres.
Sergio Pérez disappointed the massed home fans with his opening lap accident and retirement
With no Sprint race in Mexico, we were back to the standard Formula 1 weekend format of two free practice sessions on Friday, followed by a third practice period and qualifying hour yesterday ahead of today’s Grand Prix. In opening practice it was Verstappen who again led the way, if a mere 0.095s clear of Williams’ Alex Albon in a session which also included five regular drivers handing their cars over to a quintet of promising F2 pedallers. In Friday’s subsequent practice session Verstappen again topped the timesheets, with McLaren’s Lando Norris and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc the best of the rest.
The final practice hour began at 11.30 local time yesterday morning and it was Red Bull’s Dutch team leader who for a third time this weekend outpaced everyone else, leaving Albon again impressing in second place ahead of Pérez and Mercedes’ George Russell. This preceded the all-important three-part qualifying process, which proved to be quite bizarre in numerous ways. With drivers desperate to seek a piece of clear track ahead of them before starting a flying lap, we have previously witnessed cars slowing at times to almost walking pace on the track whilst others already on hot laps flew past with a massive and highly dangerous speed differential. In Mexico Verstappen, Russell and Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso were seen to blatantly hold up a queue of other cars at the pit lane exit, believing this was a safer way of finding an ontrack gap. They were however summoned to visit the stewards post qualifying, but avoided censure when the officials understood their actions, calling for a solution to be found to this issue which has been triggered by drivers being forced to not slow below a minimum lap time whilst preparing for a flying effort. Perhaps simply banning drivers from stopping or driving very slowly near the pit lane exit before joining the circuit would be a simple, but effective answer.
Hamilton also had to visit the stewards after allegedly not slowing under yellow flag conditions, but he too avoided any penalty after proving he was slower than previously. Williams’ Logan Sargeant fared worse though after overtaking AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda under yellow flags and the American rookie received a ten-place grid penalty and two penalty points on his licence. The grid penalty hardly meant any difference though as Sargeant was already due to start last today. The Williams team was also given a 20,000 Euros fine, half suspended, for leaving a jack in their pit box, which was then hit by Tsunoda.
Elsewhere during qualifying Alonso was guilty of a clumsy spin at Turn 3, which triggered yellow flags and therefore adversely impacted the speed of those following, contributing to Norris being eliminated in Q1 when he had been expected to be somewhere near the front of the grid. On a more positive note, the Ferraris of Leclerc and Sainz may have failed to show real pace in the first two parts of qualifying, but come the top ten shootout they blitzed the opposition to claim the front row on the grid for today’s Grand Prix. This seemed to surprise Ferrari just as much as everyone else!
Verstappen was third quickest and AlphaTauri’s Daniel Ricciardo put in a superb effort to join his former Red Bull team-mate on the second row, outpacing Pérez. The latter quickly dismissed suggestions though that this might in any way affect his own Red Bull future.
Lewis Hamilton couldn’t match Verstappen, but was the best of the rest
There was a great atmosphere around the circuit today under a cloudless sky as the two pm local time start neared, with the grandstands packed predominantly with excited Mexican Pérez fans. It’s a mighty 811 metre blast from pole position down to the opening righthand corner and, once those red lights had gone out, it was third placed Verstappen who made a great start to soon be right between the two Ferraris before leading through Turn 1. Pérez had also made a strong launch, but went for a hero or zero moment as he tried to take second position around the outside of Leclerc. However, the Mexican quickly experienced the highs and lows of sport as he collided with the Ferrari and found himself off the track in last position with a significantly damaged car. To the dismay of the Mexican fans their hero had to return slowly to the pits and retire. This left Verstappen out front ahead of Leclerc, Sainz and Ricciardo and a brief Virtual Safety Car period followed to allow recovery of Leclerc’s dislodged front wing end plate.
As the race settled, Hamilton swept past Ricciardo into fourth place at Turn 1 on lap 11 before the opening pit stops for the frontrunners began with Verstappen eight tours later. When this phase was completed it was Verstappen who led from Leclerc, Hamilton and Sainz, but the action was seriously interrupted on lap 33 when Haas’ Kevin Magnussen had a big off at Turn 9 as a result of a sudden left rear suspension failure. The scrambled Safety Car was soon replaced by a need for a red flag stoppage to enable barrier repairs before we then had a full restart.
Verstappen sprinted off the grid into an immediate lead again and was never challenged from this point to the chequered flag. On lap 40 Hamilton usurped Leclerc for second place with a brave manoeuvre up the inside of the Monégasque as they approached Turn 1 and followed the Red Bull to the close, crossing the finishing line almost 14 seconds adrift. Leclerc completed the podium trio and Sainz, Norris and Russell made up the top six finishers, with Norris really catching the eye as he charged through the field after his earlier woes. Verstappen had looked set to take the extra point for the fastest lap of the Grand Prix, but Hamilton snatched it from him at the very end.
Daniel Ricciardo enjoyed his seventh place finish for AlphaTauri
The Formula 1 World Championship is well accustomed to challenging logistics between races and in just a few days time comes the Brazilian F1 weekend, including of course the next Grand Prix a week today and the final Sprint encounter of the season the day before. It will be fascinating to see how things turn out in São Paulo before we then move on to the final races of 2023 in Las Vegas and Abu Dhabi.
2023 Formula 1 Drivers’ Championship
1 Max Verstappen 491
2 Sergio Pérez 240
3 Lewis Hamilton 220
2023 Formula 1 Constructors’ Championship
1 Red Bull 731
2 Mercedes 371
3 Ferrari 349