F1 – Mexico GP – Race
Hola, MiniFans! It’s race day in Mexico and all eyes are set on Mercedes. The team that has dominated the hybrid era seems to finally be back to fighting for wins, but the question that looms over them will be how they will manage the hunger of both their drivers. Who will prevail? The experienced seven-time world champion? Or the fresh meat that has yet to taste the flavour of victory? But more importantly, will they manage to work as a team to defeat Verstappen?
A very clean start doesn’t have to translate into a boring one. Mercedes, having fitted their cars with mediums, struggled more than Red Bull and Ferrari, in softs, with Hamilton climbing up to second after overtaking Russell, who lost his position to both his teammate and Pérez. Ferrari, meanwhile, tried to fight for a better placement, but they only managed to get rid of the Alfa Romeo that was stuck between them.
The race started to slowly settle, but the times between the drivers mostly increased little by little, save for a couple exceptions, such as Ricciardo hunting down Zhou and Gasly doing the same with Stroll. As the pit stops got closer, both Red Bull cars increased their pace, with Verstappen stealing the fastest lap from Hamilton. Meanwhile, Gasly received a five-second time penalty for forcing Stroll off the track during an overtake.
Due to the chosen tyre compounds, Red Bull was always going to pit before Mercedes. After a slow stop for Pérez, Verstappen waited one extra lap for his change to mediums in order to exit the pitlane in third place and in front of Sainz. Hamilton followed suit a few laps later, but chose hards to try and make it to the end of the race. Meanwhile, Russell was seeking a different strategy, asking to lengthen his stint over radio in order to avoid the white tyres and go for softs at the end. However, Mercedes decided on hards as well, seemingly not confident whatsoever on the duration of the red tyres.
Other teams did consider a one-stop with the softs after studying Vettel who, after more than half the race, was still sporting the same set he had started with. Thirty-seven laps into the race, the German driver finally switched over to mediums. Despite all the evidence supporting an alternative strategy, both Bottas and Alonso chose hards with around thirty laps to go. Ricciardo did take the risk and pitted for softs a while later, but his challenge for the day was to finish right behind his teammate.
As it tends to happen in Formula 1, a car overshot an overtaking opportunity and crashed into another driver, forcing them out of the race. Ricciardo got a ten-second penalty for causing a collision with Tsunoda, but if the race didn’t change drastically, he would finish right behind Norris with the added time. Further at the top, both Mercedes kept complaining about the choice of tyres, with a desperate Hamilton finally realising that Red Bull wouldn’t stop anymore.
To top off a barrage of engine problems, Alonso had to retire from the race with barely a handful of laps to go, prompting a brief virtual safety car as the marshals retrieved his car from the runoff area he had abandoned it in. Russell didn’t pit, even having a free stop, while Ricciardo had managed to open up the gap to Ocon, meaning he wouldn’t lose his seventh place after the ten-second penalty got applied to his finish time. At the front, Verstappen crossed the line in first place, as Hamilton and Pérez joined him on the podium and Russell stole the fastest lap from the local hero in the last possible moment.
Saturday had left everyone wondering whether Mercedes would, for the second race in a row, present a strong case for the win, but Verstappen and Red Bull were firm in their belief that no one shall finish victorious in the remainder of the season except for them. Complaints about tyres came continuously from both Mercedes drivers during their second stint, as Red Bull’s didn’t break down the way they expected them too, which pushed the world champions towards yet another victory.