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Verstappen piles on the misery for Mercedes

November 8, 2021

Red Bull take double podium after the horror start for Mercedes.

 

Max Verstappen performed another dominating performance at the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez circuit, increasing his championship lead to 19 points. His teammate, Sergio Pérez, became the first ever Mexican driver to take a podium at his home race. The result meant Red Bull will leave Mexico City with the drivers’ championship lead and just one solitary point behind Mercedes in the constructors’ championship. Lewis Hamilton salvaged some points for Mercedes with a second place finish but his teammate and pole sitter Valtteri Bottas had a race to forget, which saw him finish out of the points after plummeting to last place at the end of the first lap. AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly once again showcased why he is one of the highly regarded drivers on the grid, finishing a brilliant fourth ahead of the Ferrari duo of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz. Former world champions Sebastian Vettel, Kimi Räikkönen, and Fernando Alonso finished seventh, eighth, and ninth while Lando Norris rounded up the top ten places with a strong drive from the back of the grid.

Starting from pole, Bottas got a decent start off the line, and his teammate in the second position started well too, with his car pointed right across the track in an attempt to block out Verstappen in third place. Mercedes’ decent start lasted only a few meters as Verstappen made the most of the tow and first breezed past Hamilton and Bottas, who was trying to help his championship fighting teammate slip through. It left the door open for Verstappen on the outside, who needed no second invitation to lead the race, breezing past Bottas going into Turn One. And if Bottas thought that was all of the bad luck, he was mistaken. After losing places to the top three, the pole sitter was tagged by the fast starting McLaren of Daniel Ricciardo; the Finn spun around and fell to last place. Chaos continued down the grid too. Alpine’s Esteban Ocon got sandwiched by the Haas of Mick Schumacher on the outside and the AlphaTauri of Yuki Tsunoda on the inside. The Frenchman made contact with both cars knocking them out of the race and calling for an early Safety car.

The Safety car came in on lap five, and the remaining 18 cars got racing again, with Bottas and Ricciardo pitting under the Safety car and rejoining at the back of the grid. Further up the grid, the Alfa Romeo of Antonio Giovinazzi made a stellar start, jumping up to the sixth position from 11th on the grid. Verstappen, another one who had made up places on his starting position, had already built a three second gap to Hamilton by the tenth lap. Nicholas Latifi and Lance Stroll were the first of the non-incident related bunch to come into the pits on lap 14, with both Canadian drivers opting for the hards. As the lower midfield drivers were swapping their tyres for a fresh pair, Lewis Hamilton up front was on the radio to his team, complaining about tyre degradation. Remarkably Sergio Pérez also radioed his team, mentioning his tyres were just getting better. By lap 18, Bottas and Ricciardo, who had come together on the first lap, had both made their way back to the fringes of the points, hanging on to eleventh and twelfth. Hamilton was the first of the top three to pit, and with Pérez chasing him down, it looked like the safer option to hold onto his second position. 

Race leader Max Verstappen, who was having a comfortable race, came into the pits on lap 34, which meant Sergio Pérez took the lead of the race as Verstappen rejoined in second place, a good eight seconds ahead of Hamilton in third. Pérez leading the race was a remarkable feat in itself as he became the first ever Mexican driver to lead a Mexican Grand Prix, much to the delight of his home fans. The Mexican did come into the pits on lap 41, which saw Verstappen retake the race lead and Pérez rejoined in third. The following lap, Bottas, who was struggling to break into the points, came into the pits for a second stop, but another nightmarish stop for the Finn meant he was stationary in the pits for almost 12 seconds and rejoined in 15th place. Everything that could have gone wrong for Bottas had gone wrong. Ferrari, who were having a strong and undisturbed race in fifth and sixth, had some inter team tension going on as Carlos Sainz moaned on the radio about being faster than his teammate and wanting to be let through. After being held up for a couple of laps, Leclerc let the Spaniard through to catch Pierre Gasly in fourth, who was having an absolute stellar race once again but too far behind the top three. 

By lap 64, Pérez was within DRS range of Hamilton, and with the crowd egging him on, it looked like Red Bull would take their first 1-2 at Mexico. That though wasn’t to be. Hamilton used all his experience and skill to hold off Pérez, to see the chequered flag in second place. Verstappen took a comfortable victory up ahead, 16 seconds adrift of his championship rival. If there was any consolation for Mercedes, it would have to have been Bottas snatching the fastest lap point away from Verstappen right on the last lap, although one doubts if that would’ve cheered up the Finn, who endured an absolutely horrific Sunday. 

Although they would have expected to have dominated at this circuit, Red Bull would have been scratching their heads after qualifying. Sunday was much smoother for the Austrian team, with both Red Bulls showcasing Mexico why they were favorites there. Heading into the Brazilian Grand Prix next week, it bodes well for the four time constructor champions. For Mercedes, it’s back to the drawing board and hoping they maximize the damage limitation at Brazil because if they fail to do so, Red Bull just might begin to run away with both championships.

Aditya Chaudhuri

Hailing from the City of Joy, the things that bring me joy are cricket, a good non-tilt CS:GO session, F1 and movies.

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