Four talking points from a thrilling Mexican Grand Prix

28th October 2019
Goodwood Road & Racing

That sixth world championship is on ice for another week, but it won’t concern Lewis Hamilton too much after he “massaged” his way to an inspired victory in Mexico City.

Sebastian Vettel’s description of how the Mercedes ace subtly worked a set of hard Pirelli tyres for 48 laps was apt and full of admiration. Too right. Great Hamilton victories aren’t exactly uncommon, but that doesn’t make this latest one any less special. Draw up a list of the best from his 83 grand prix wins so far, and this might be a top-10 contender.


Hamilton on another level

“You can do this,” said Merc’s head of strategy, James Vowles, on the radio when his driver voiced his doubts about pulling off what he was being asked to do at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez. But just as in Hungary back in August when he was given a similarly tall order, Hamilton should have had more faith in himself.

Divergent strategies meant we all had to wait and see who would be best placed in the closing stages of the grand prix. Mercedes called Lewis in early after a dramatic start that could have ended in disaster and committed their man to a tough one-stop strategy.

In response, race leader Vettel took matters into his own hands. Instead of mirroring Hamilton’s stop, he chose to stay out, conscious that it would cost him his lead but took the gamble that his fresher tyres would give him an edge at the finish.

It did – but not by enough when Hamilton was the guy he had to chase and pass. Would anyone else have kept enough life in those tyres to fend off a looming Ferrari that on pure pace is currently faster than a Mercedes? How many others would have kept so cool under such pressure? Vettel probably should have won this race – but as is so often the case, Hamilton made the difference.

The reigning champion’s 10th win of the season leaves him 74 points ahead of team-mate Valtteri Bottas, who finished a solid third from sixth on the grid – and is now highly likely to wrap up that sixth title in Austin next weekend. The critics will still carp, but it doesn’t matter. What we’re witnessing right now is something truly special – and Hamilton deserves the highest degree of credit.


Ferrari strategy falls short again

For the third race in succession, Ferrari took defeat from the jaws of victory after both Charles Leclerc and Vettel led the Mexican GP, only to find themselves finishing behind a Mercedes.

Finger trouble from the mechanics in Leclerc’s pitstop wasn’t ideal, but that can happen to any pit crew – and Ferrari’s is among the best in the pitlane. More worryingly is the lack of leadership and vision on the pitwall, as Vettel took charge on his pitstop call, gambled and lost. All credit to him to carrying that responsibility, as he has so often at Ferrari. But why should he have to?

Now is not the time. But at the end of the season team boss Mattia Binotto will surely need to review every aspect of his operation to work out what needs to change – as it must if Ferrari is to make the most of its fast F1 car. In a straight tactical fight with Mercedes, the reds lose far too often – and too regularly to be put down to bad luck.


Hamilton vs Verstappen is getting spicy

That wheel-to-wheel moment in the first two corners between Hamilton and Max Verstappen was bursting with significance, if you consider the wider implication of this duel.

Baulked down the straight by Vettel, Hamilton was badly placed for the first turn and looked certain to lose a place to Verstappen. But Lewis, a natural born racer, wasn’t about to give it up, even with a world title to be won. The contact was slight and somehow he came off better, but he’d risked everything in those moments.

Why so bold? It’s likely because it was specifically Verstappen he was up against. From comments Max has made this year – and even this weekend about Hamilton’s views on the wider world – there seems little love lost between the pair. It’s a rivalry not yet fully ripe, largely because Red Bull isn’t a threat often enough to Mercedes – but it’s likely to one day, especially if Verstappen takes the silver-tinged career trajectory some are predicting for him.

In Max, Hamilton recognises the most obvious threat to his position at the top of F1. And in Lewis, Verstappen sees the figure he must knock off his perch. There are shades of Senna vs Prost, and also Senna vs Schumacher here. Will the parallels grow in strength over the next couple of years? Almost certainly – especially if Verstappen ends up in the same team.

Verstappen needs to grow up

In his sixth season of F1 at the age of just 22, Verstappen has already built up a wealth of experience and this year he’s added greater consistency to that explosive ability.

But just as we think he’s maturing, he has a weekend like this. Not backing off under yellow flags following Bottas’ qualifying crash is one thing, but his admission in the press conference – and to an apparently cavalier attitude to safety – suggests he still might have some growing up to do. Given his age, perhaps that’s just as it should be. But he’s old enough for a little self-reflection.

In an age when F1 drivers are perceived to lack the character, charisma and sheer force of personality of their predecessors, here we have a driver with that old spark, who is willing to speak his mind and say what some think but would never dare utter. In that respect Verstappen is a breath of fresh air and something of a throwback, all at the same time.

But too often what he says doesn’t necessarily reflect well on him. On Saturday, he’d certainly have been better off keeping his mouth shut.

His drive on Sunday bordered on brilliance, but in the case of his pass on Bottas in the stadium section that led to slight contact and a puncture, just dropped over the line into recklessness. Recovering to sixth place was a mark of the man.

So should he change? Not too much. But there are aspects of his character, both off track and on, that he would be best advised to tone down – especially if he does ever want to drive one of those Mercedes…

Photography courtesy of Motorsport Images.

  • F1

  • F1 2019

  • 2019

  • Lewis Hamilton

  • Charles Leclerc

  • Valtteri Bottas

  • Sebastian Vettel

  • Max Verstappen

  • Mexico

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