Updated: Feb 9
Written by Morgan Holiday, Edited by Umut Yelbaşı
Formula 1 returned to Mexico in style this weekend, and while Mercedes qualified first and second, it was Red Bull who came out on top after an exciting Grand Prix. First lap drama for Valtteri Bottas and excellent drives from both Max Verstappen and Sergio Pérez saw the team inch ever closer to Mercedes in their exciting battle for the title.
Pole sitter Valtteri Bottas got off to a good start, but Verstappen in third had an even better one, managing to get ahead of both Mercedes cars going into turn 1 thanks to a slipstream. Daniel Ricciardo also made up places, only to lock up going into turn 1 and clip the back of Bottas, sending them both to the back of the grid. Tsunoda and Schumacher were both caught up in the aftermath and retired, bringing out the safety car on the first lap.
The safety car was out for a total of four laps before the drivers were allowed to race again, this time with a reshuffled grid. While Bottas and Ricciardo had fallen back, other drivers had made up places at the start, with Giovinazzi finding himself sixth after gaining eight places, and Vettel up three places and also into the points. Verstappen stayed ahead Hamilton and Pérez at the restart, and began building a gap between himself and his title rival in the Mercedes.
We saw the first of the scheduled pit stops on lap 12, when Latifi pitted for the hard tyre. While most drivers were set to do a one-stop race going from mediums to hards, a two-stop strategy was also an option. One by one drivers peeled into the pits to switch to the hard tyre compound, as battles were fought further down the order. Ricciardo and Bottas stayed together as they came up through the field, Bottas putting in tremendous effort after effort to get past the McLaren car yet never quite managing it.
Hamilton pitted on lap 30 from second place, and came out in fifth place behind Leclerc’s Ferrari. Three laps later Verstappen came in, leaving Pérez out in front. After a full lap, he became the first Mexican driver to lead a lap at his home Grand Prix, much to the delight of his home audience.
After six laps of leading his home race, Pérez ducked into the pits, leaving Verstappen out in front once again. Further down the field in eleventh, Bottas lost time in his battle against Ricciardo with a slow pit stop, an 11.7 second nightmare by the Mercedes pit crew. As the Finnish driver struggled to recover from a race that just kept getting worse, Pérez on brand new hard tyres was gaining on Hamilton in second as Red Bull chased down an elusive 1-2 finish. On lap 50, Pérez set the fastest lap of the race up until then, a 1:19.468.
By lap 61 Pérez was within one second of the Mercedes and made use of DRS, but still couldn’t quite get close enough to make the overtake. After Verstappen regained the fastest lap of the race, Bottas pitted on lap 65 in an attempt to take the point away from Red Bull, although not to gain it himself as he was running in 14th place. Finding himself in an uncomfortable position with Verstappen close by, Bottas came into the pits once again on lap 70, only to have another slow pit stop.
Pérez remained right on Hamilton’s tail for the rest of the race, but could not manage to overtake him. Still, as Verstappen took home a dominant victory at the Mexican Grand Prix with Hamilton in second, Pérez took third and managed to break another record in one day by becoming the first Mexican driver to stand on the podium at a home race.
While Bottas suffered from misfortune after misfortune, he did manage to snag the fastest lap from Verstappen on the final lap of the race, setting a 1:17.774 from 15th place. Pérez was voted a deserving Driver of the Day at what will be a slightly disappointing but overall fantastic weekend in his home country, but the unsung hero of the race was surely AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly. After qualifying fifth, Gasly inherited fourth place when Bottas was spun on lap 1, and maintained it in a race where he went widely unnoticed.
The Ferraris of Leclerc and Sainz finished fifth and sixth respectively, putting them back above McLaren in the constructors’ standings with a 13.5 lead over their rivals. Vettel, Räikkönen, Alonso and Norris made up the rest of the points-scorers for the weekend.
Besides Ferrari, the other team to close a gap this weekend was Red Bull, who now sit just one point shy of the championship lead after a disappointing weekend for Mercedes. While Max Verstappen seems to have a solid grip on the driver’s championship, there are still four races left in a season that has already shown itself to be a classic, and anything could happen.