For the second year in a row Max Verstappen upstaged the championship contenders by winning the Mexican Grand Prix while Lewis Hamilton finished off Sebastian Vettel’s hopes.
For the second race in a row Mercedes suffered with their tyres which allowed Ferrari to take advantage. But Red Bull capitalised even more successfully and were on course for a one-two before yet more unreliability struck down Daniel Ricciardo.
Verstappen makes amends for lost pole
But once again Verstappen was frustrated by the throttle response from his engine during his flying lap. Ricciardo nailed the final two sectors and nabbed pole by less than three-hundredths of a second. Which, as it turned out, was also about as long as he led the race for.
When the lights went out Ricciardo let the clutch slip too quickly and Verstappen was instantly by into the lead. Hamilton followed too, and drew alongside Verstappen on the outside of turn one. With the title on the line, Hamilton was never going to take a silly risk, so Verstappen led him and Ricciardo off on the rest of lap one.
Vettel held fourth ahead of Valtteri Bottas, all having started on the harder and strategically preferable ultra-soft tyres. So had Kimi Raikkonen, but he was mugged by Carlos Sainz Jnr’s hyper soft-shod Renault and had to reclaim sixth place at the start of lap two.
“The initial start was OK,” Raikkonen explained. “I was following Seb and then somehow that side of the road slowed down in the middle of the straight.
“I went on the other side but obviously I was behind Seb going through the first corner, and didn’t really want to get involved. I lost one place and got it back the next time around on the straight, so it wasn’t a big deal.”
Tyre trouble shapes race
The ultra-soft was meant to be a much better race tyre than the hyper-soft. The Force India drivers purposefully avoided using the hyper-soft in Q2, sacrificing a likely place in Q3, in order to start the race on the ultra-softs. But in the opening laps it became clear the hyper-soft wasn’t quite as bad as expected and the ultra-soft was not as good.
“I think it was a bit unexpected how the tyres behaved,” said Verstappen. “Maybe with the hyper, yes, but with the ultra, I think nobody really expected it to be like this.”
The front runners’ pace began to drop off around lap eight and they soon appeared in the pits for super-softs.
“Very quickly, in the weekend I think that we saw that the super-soft was quite a strong tyre,” Verstappen added. “Luckily I had two. I didn’t use any in practice, I just saved them for the race in case we needed it and clearly we needed it.”
Mercedes were struggling the most and tried to get the jump on their rivals by bringing both cars in on lap 12. They performed the stacked stops impressively well – both were among the nine quickest complete stops of the race.
But the W09 chewed its super=softs too, and soon both drivers were in trouble. By lap 23 Hamilton had Ricciardo and Vettel on his tail, but the pair dropped back as the Ferrari attacked the Red Bull. After diving down the inside of his rival at turn one, Vettel set after his championship rival.
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Hamilton forced in again
Hamilton wasn’t about to try any funny business with Vettel, who sailed past him on lap 38. At this stage in the race Vettel was taking half a second a lap out of Verstappen. If he could get into the lead, and Hamilton dropped out of the top seven, the title fight would continue to Brazil.
By now Hamilton was losing well over a second a lap to Verstappen and urging his team to take action. He’s already run off the track at turn one. On lap 46 Ricciardo took third place off him and Mercedes finally responded, bringing him in for a second set of super-softs.
Vettel came in on the same lap, dropping to third behind Ricciardo. Red Bull had been kinder to their tyres and their strategists were wondering if a one-stop strategy could deliver a one-two finish.
Verstappen had enough of a lead to make a pit stop and stay ahead, so they brought him in for a fresh set and studied his discarded rubber. The team concluded Verstappen could have made it to the end of the race, and chose to leave Ricciardo out. Vettel would have to pass both Red Bulls to win the race.
Hamilton had fallen behind Raikkonen but was in no further danger as far as the championship was concerned unless his car stopped. The gulf between the top six cars and ‘Formula 1.5’ was even greater than usual: Hamilton was around two minutes ahead of seventh-placed Nico Hulkenberg.
On lap 56 Vettel looked poised to strike on Ricciardo, then fell back. The Red Bull driver pulled out of DRS range and with 10 laps to go it seemed Red Bull had put a lock on their one-two. But Ricciardo’s clutch had begun faltering on lap six, and a sudden failure left him coasting to a stop. It was the latest in a series of cruel retirements.
An alarmed Verstappen urged the team to let him turn his engine down as a precaution. It held, and he delivered a well-earned second win of 2018. With that, Vettel’s title hopes were over, and Hamilton’s fifth championship was assured.
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Blow for Force India
Force India’s strategy gamble failed to pay off. Sergio Perez drove with great verve at his home race but was forced to retire when his brake pedal went long. Esteban Ocon ruined his race when he lost his front wing by getting too close to Carlos Sainz Jnr on lap one.
With the pink cars out of the points, Hulkenberg and Charles Leclerc made good use of their unfancied hyper-soft tyres at the start to claim sixth and seventh. Marcus Ericsson made it a double points finish for Sauber in ninth, lifting the team ahead of Toro Rosso in the constructors’ championship, despite Pierre Gasly climbing from 20th to 10th.
Gasly’s team mate Brendon Hartley started 14th after an error in qualifying and a clash with Ocon further hindered his bid to add to the team’s points tally. Hartley, whose position at the team is in doubt, has become increasingly vocal about his situation, and this result which won’t have done him any favours.
However Stoffel Vandoorne, who is already on his way out of Formula 1, claimed an excellent eighth for McLaren. Team mate Fernando Alonso retired after debris from the Sainz-Ocon clash lodged in his radiator.
Red Bull’s calculated win
Hamilton has produced many excellent drives throughout 2018. But in Mexico, hamstrung by tyre degradation, he could do little more than count down the laps until he was champion. His relief afterwards was obvious, though not immediate, as it clearly took time for his achievement to sink in.
Contrarily, Vettel drove one of his better races after a series of poor runs. He was also a model of sportsmanship out of the car, congratulating Hamilton and Mercedes on their successes, though the constructors’ championship remains up for grabs.
Hamilton’s had-won success inevitably overshadowed Verstappen’s superb run to victory. It was a success several weeks in the making, as Red Bull had arranged their power unit programme and taken penalties in earlier races to maximise their chances of winning in Mexico.
“I think credit where credit’s due,” said team principal Christian Horner. “Renault have provided us with an engine this weekend in these conditions that is competitive with our opponents’. And that’s enabled us to go head-to-head, lock out the front row and win the grand prix in a dominant fashion. Theoretically we should have had a one-two here.
“I think the altitude of this circuit obviously does constrain some of our rivals and it puts Renault into a window where they’re competitive which is why we put an awful lot of focus in this race and taken the penalties to get another B-spec [engine] into the pool to have for this weekend.”
The 2018 season may have been all about Mercedes and Ferrari, but Mexico was a reminder what Red Bull could do with a consistently competitive power unit.
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2018 Mexican Grand Prix
- Gasly-Ocon rivalry is “not good for either of us”
- “These tyres are a disgrace for F1”: Over 300 Mexican GP team radio messages
- Leclerc told 50 times to save his tyres in Sauber’s extreme Mexico strategy
- Verstappen breaks record for most wins without a pole
- “It’s crazy we’re not in this race”: Hamilton’s full Mexican GP team radio transcript
2018 F1 race reviews
- Untouchable Hamilton ends season with 11th victory
- Verstappen’s ruined masterpiece becomes Hamilton’s latest triumph
- Verstappen’s win, Hamilton’s title in tyre-dominated Mexican GP
- Error-free Raikkonen shows Vettel how it’s done
- Hamilton on cusp of fifth title as Vettel throws in the towel
26 comments on “Verstappen’s win, Hamilton’s title in tyre-dominated Mexican GP”
29th October 2018, 17:37
The tyre wear was just so bizarre. It seemed to be so inconsistent across all the cars. I was at one point wondering if Merc would run out of tyres.
So while it added a bit of drama, it was drama for all the wrong reasons in my view.
The operating windows of these Pirellies seems to be so hit and miss sometimes. One week Ferrari chew them up, next week it is the Merc.
29th October 2018, 17:50
@mach1 – two races where Pirelli revised the minimum tyre pressures. I wonder if that invalidated the setup data gathered on the Fridays.
29th October 2018, 17:48
Credit where credit’s due, this is good of Horner. They’ve taken flak for their barrage of criticism against Renault (justified or not), and it’s good to see this as well.
Jordi Casademunt (@casjo)
29th October 2018, 18:20
I’m pretty sure Ocon had contact with Hülkenberg and not Sainz. Sainz had a better start and was ahead of Hülkenberg through turns 1, 2 and 3 (in fact he was attacking Räikkönen) while Hülkenberg was the second Renault.
29th October 2018, 19:27
The sixth (Hulk) finished 2 laps behind in a dry race with two VSC. In the last WEC race (6h of Fuji – 4.3Km), LMP2 category finished 13 laps behind LMP1, GTE PRO 10 laps behind LMP2 and GTE AM 6 laps behind GTE PRO. If the Mexico GP (4.3Km long) had lasted 6 hours, Hulk would have been lapped around 9 times. Is it time to consider two different categories in F1?
30th October 2018, 6:56
No. It’s a peculiarity of the Mexico circuit. Last year it was the same. The gap is really big even though the track is short. At other races the gap to number six hasn’t been this pronounced. Verstappen even lapped Bottas. That’s quite unusual.
30th October 2018, 8:12
And he didn’t really raced as he was in engine safe modus… Means if he did do 100% al the way he would overtake everyone except Vettel. (He almost overtook Lewis)
30th October 2018, 20:37
I guess its quite unique to see the winner of the fastest lap award being 1 lap down.
30th October 2018, 9:00
I agree with @hahostolze
Just one week before the top 3 of Formula 1.5 (or Formula 1B) were not even lapped. And now they had 2 laps. BUT had Verstappen not made the (unnecessary) second pit-stop he was most likely to lap Hamilton!
So even though the midfield is much slower and tends to get lapped in most races, the results from Mexico are a bit inflated (and because Max tends to be very fast here) and, in my opinion, not the real indicator of the gap.
30th October 2018, 21:08
The problem here is the trend: the gap was +2 lap this year, +1 lap in 2017 Mexican GP, +1 minute in 2016 and +25 seconds in 2015. Not only Max lapped twice, also Vettel. The gap would have been greater if they had decided not to pit for second time. Top team can make mistakes (or pit for free) without consequences because the next opponent is +2 laps behind. No matter if it happens only in one GP, it is a joke for the competition all the same.
29th October 2018, 19:42
So was DanRics poor start down to a faulty clutch, or was the faulty clutch down to the poor start ?
29th October 2018, 19:52
Oops! should have scrolled down before posting.
Nick Wyatt (@nickwyatt)
29th October 2018, 21:17
Well, that was quite a race (I just watched on Ch4 replay). And I feel so much sympathy for Ricciardo; this race was the absolute crescendo of the season and to be a retirement from a podium position must be truly gutting.
I was also saddened by the fact that all three Spanish speaking drivers retired, but by the volume of the crowd I’m not sure that F1 in Mexico needs much stimulus.
Congratulations to Lewis. There cannot be any finer scene than the embrace between he and Sebastian.
I still remember that pass in the 2006 GP2 race at Silverstone “Hmm. That kid can really drive.”
Nick Wyatt (@nickwyatt)
29th October 2018, 21:47
Oh, but isn’t it time we took tyres out of the equation?
Those round black things at the corners seem to be wagging the racing dog, and that’s not the way it should be.
30th October 2018, 2:30
29th October 2018, 21:34
So everyone wanted two-stop races because they would promote closer racing and the drivers could push more, but now we’ve had a two-stop race and it had the largest gaps we’ve seen in a long time while people were still tyre saving. I think it’s fair to say that whether it’s one-stop or two-stop doesn’t really matter
29th October 2018, 21:55
It’s not the amount of pit stops that matters, it variation in strategies that we really want to see.
29th October 2018, 21:56
I meant to put +1
F1 in Figures (@f1infigures)
29th October 2018, 23:24
@leonardodicappucino I think this was the best Mexican Grand Prix by a long shot. These brittle tires really made this race more interesting, as tire degradation proved highly unpredictable in the race, so the teams were unsure what strategy would be best and the drivers didn’t know whether or not to attack. It turned out that Red Bull and Ferrari could make the tires last long enough to make one stop, Mercedes were obviously struggling on their tires, so they had to make another stop. The main disadvantage of making two stops was that most drivers only had one set of red super-soft tires available for the race, so they had to switch back to the weaker ultra-soft tire. That’s why Ferrari threw away every chance of winning the race by pitting Vettel a second time, given he was very fast on super-softs. Otherwise, the final laps could have been quite exciting. The last couple of races were quite good I think. The combination of aggressive tire allocations and conservative tire strategies really seems to produce interesting and action-packed races.
30th October 2018, 6:37
Verstapoen made two pit stops.
30th October 2018, 6:42
True but the 2nd one was precautious. Horner confirmed that Verstappen could have made a one stopper, but they choose not to do so because:
1. they could with the margin to the rest of the field
2. in case of a safety car.
30th October 2018, 16:45
you said: “That’s why Ferrari threw away every chance of winning the race by pitting Vettel a second time”
but that statement is falsified by the fact that verstappen lost equal time by also pitting twice. And if vettel had pitted only once, verstappen would probably not have pitted twice as his supersoft surely would last longer than vettel’s utra’s. So there was really no chance for a ferrari win in terms of tire strategy bar vettel’s ultra’s versus verstappen supersofts and a safety car, after which vettel would have to overtake VER and maintain the lead for a few dozen laps on ultras versus supersofts beneath the faster car. I don’t see how a ferrari win would be possibloe with tire streatgey alone. It would require verstappen driver error or mechanical failure on the redbull – not tire strategy.
30th October 2018, 2:50
@leonardodicappucino, 100% agree, high deg tyres are totally counterproductive to close exciting racing. I like to think of F1 as a combination of high speed action flirting with disaster and the technical challenge of designing and building the fastest car, for me there is no place for artificial random limitations outside of the teams control, obviously many fans like to think of F1 as more of a chess game than a physical contest, I just wish they would play/watch chess to satisfy their craving for tactics and numeracy and let their hair down when they watch F1.
Pratyush P (@pratyushp276)
30th October 2018, 1:37
30th October 2018, 2:28
Yeah, that was pretty brutal from Keith, wasn’t it? Brutal, yet honest and funny :-)
30th October 2018, 6:41
Funny, though also sadly true… Max lost out on P1, a what would have been a historic P1….
Though not for a minute we doubt Verstappen would get on top of him, just cause he did it so many times before…
In 2017 Max jumped Dan 4 times, in 2018 4 times already as well
Comments are closed.