Mexican GP - Sunday - Race Report

It ain't over till it's over

Hamilton, Rosberg, Verstappen, Mexican GP 2016

Hamilton, Rosberg, Verstappen, Mexican GP 2016 

 © Active Pictures

 

By Dan Knutson in Mexico City

"It ain't over till it's over," was a favorite saying of New York Yankee legend Yogi Berra who passed away just over a year ago.

Championship contenders Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton have much the same philosophy regarding their title fight. Hamilton won the Mexican Grand Prix and Rosberg finished second, with the result that Rosberg now has a 19 point lead with two races to go.

Hamilton has to go for wins in those races, and that's his plan. Rosberg could wrap up his first world championship by finishing second even if Hamilton wins, but Rosberg's plan is to take it one race at a time and go for the wins.

"All I can do is my best and hope things go as they have done for the past two weekends," Hamilton said after his victories in the U.S. and Mexico. "History has shown that it's never too late - that's why I keep pushing and doing everything I can to repeat weekends like this. I hadn't won here before so it's a great feeling to do that in front of this incredible crowd.

"Now my sights are fully set on Brazil. I've never won there either - but if I can take this kind of performance into the next weekend I'll be in a good position."

Rosberg also has his sights set on the race in Brazil.

"Lewis was that little bit quicker today," he said, "so I didn't manage to achieve my goal and win here again. But being second is not too bad overall. Now I look forward to flying home after two long weeks and relaxing a bit with my family, ready to come back stronger in Brazil and go for the win there. I think the Interlagos track suits our car much better, so I'm looking forward to going there and seeing what we can do."

Three different drivers finished third. First Max Verstappen (Red Bull), then Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) and finally Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull). The first two received penalties for on-track infractions, and the final result was that Verstappen ended up fourth and Vettel fifth.

Hamilton started on pole for the tenth time this season. Rosberg had been off the pace in qualifying, but slammed in the second fastest time at the last moment. Red Bull's Verstappen and Ricciardo filled the next row of the grid.

Nico Hulkenberg (Force India), Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari), Vettel, Valtteri Bottas (Williams), Felipe Massa (Williams) and Carlos Sainz (Toro Rosso) filled out the top 10 starters. The Mercedes and Ferrari teammates were on Pirelli's soft compound slicks while the rest of the top 10 had the super soft compound. The third Pirelli option was the medium compound.

A crowd of 135,026 was in hand to watch the 71 lap race that had important championship ramifications depending on what happened with Hamilton and Rosberg.

It is a long run down the straight to Turn 1 where Hamilton, who took the lead, ran wide.

"I had a good start - but it's such a long way down to Turn 1 that everyone just got the tow on me," Hamilton said. "The right front brake disc had glazed on the formation lap and I couldn't un-glaze it. I thought it might be okay - but when I hit the brakes it just locked up as the temperature came up and I went flying across the grass. I was lucky to get across and rejoin on the other side of the track.

"I had a big flat spot - and I mean seriously big. I could barely see the end of each straight with the vibrations and I genuinely didn't know if my suspension was going to last."

Verstappen went on the inside of Rosberg, their cars collided, and Rosberg ran wide as well but nowhere near as far off the track as Hamilton.

"At the start I had a good getaway and thought I would be able to take the lead from Lewis when I saw he had a massive lock up and went straight through the grass," Rosberg said. "Then, suddenly, Verstappen hit me heavily after he had a lock up too and forced me off the track. Luckily my car wasn't damaged and it didn't cost me a position."

More action went on behind the leaders as Esteban Gutierrez (Haas) got into Pascal Wehrlein (Manor) who tangled with Marcus Ericsson (Sauber). Ericsson and was out of the race, and out came the Safety Car.

"I couldn't believe it," Wehrlein said. "It was heartbreaking, yes. We had a chance at a really strong race today and for that opportunity to be ripped away before we'd even begun was difficult to take. I got a great start, gained two places and I was up to 14th - then it was over. I was in front and when I turned in, Gutierrez hit me from behind. That's it. The impact launched me into the air and that pushed me into Marcus Ericsson. My suspension was broken and my race was over."

Ericsson would finish 11th.

"The collision at the start was unfortunate, and, to be honest, I was worried that it was going to be the end of my race after I was hit," he said. "I managed to get back to the pits to fit a new front wing. We also saw on the data that the car's floor had been damaged. We kept on going, and I managed to get back into the rhythm, so the pace was still good."

Ricciardo pitted for the medium tires, and Ericsson came in for repairs.

The Safety Car came in at the end of lap 3 at which time the order was: Hamilton, Rosberg, Verstappen, Hulkenberg, Raikkonen, Massa, Vettel, Bottas, Sergio Perez (Force India) and Sainz.

Hamilton edged away from Rosberg (the gap was 2.1 seconds after 7 laps) who was being hounded by Verstappen.

By lap 10 Hamilton had extended his lead to 3.3 seconds, and Rosberg was now 1.7 seconds ahead of Verstappen. The rest of the top 10 remained the same.

Ricciardo was on the move and was now in 12th after being 17th on lap 2 following his early pit stop. His teammate Verstappen pitted at the end of lap 12 for a set of the medium Pirellis. Sainz also made a stop.

On track, Massa, Vettel, Bottas and Perez fought for fifth place.

But Massa then pitted at the end of lap 14. Hulkenberg made his stop as well. Both got the medium Pirelli slicks.

Leader Hamilton came in after 17 laps and the Mercedes crew quickly fitted the medium compound tires.

Rosberg was now in first place on lap 18, and he stayed there until he came in at the end of lap 19. He, too, got the mediums. Raikkonen, who was second, came in as well for the medium tires as well.

Vettel, who had yet to stop, was now out front ahead of Hamilton, Rosberg, Ricciardo, Verstappen and Raikkonen after 21 laps.

"What do we do now?" Verstappen, who as on much fresher tires than his teammate, radioed. "I mean I'm stuck." That issue was resolved as Ricciardo let Verstappen pass.

Vettel's medium tires were holding up well, and he was lapping faster than the Mercedes duo behind him. Verstappen, Ricciardo and Raikkonen rounded out the top six after 28 laps.

Vettel finally stopped at the end of lap 32, switching his soft Pirellis for the mediums. That put Hamilton back in front on lap 33. Meanwhile, Verstappen was moving towards second-placed Rosberg. But Rosberg responded with some quick laps of his own.

On lap 40 the order was: Hamilton, Rosberg, Verstappen, Ricciardo, Raikkonen, Vettel, Hulkenberg, Bottas, Massa and Perez. Sauber drivers Ericsson and Felipe Nasr were 11th and 12th and just out of the points.

Raikkonen pitted after 45 laps for another set of the medium tires. Meanwhile, Mercedes radioed to Hamilton that he had a lot of slower traffic coming up - six cars in all.

"You can use overtake to get past these back markers," Hamilton's engineer instructed. "Just be careful because they are racing."

Soon Rosberg, with Verstappen a second behind, began to have to work through the same traffic at Hamilton. Verstappen lunged past Rosberg at Turn 4 but ran wide and Rosberg retained second place. Verstappen dropped back 2.1 seconds.

Ricciardo pitted at the end of lap 50 and received a set of the soft Pirelli slicks. He overtook Hulkenberg and was now fifth but a long way - 17 seconds - behind former teammate Vettel. But Ricciardo was now lapping about a second faster than Vettel, and he got the gap down to about 10 seconds at the end of lap 58. But then the gap started to stabilize between the two men. Ricciardo was still closing but not as quickly as previously.

With 10 laps remaining, the order was: Hamilton, Rosberg, Verstappen, Vettel, Ricciardo, Hulkenberg, Raikkonen, Bottas, Massa and Perez. The only close race in this group involved Hulkenberg and Raikkonen.

And now Vettel was lapping quicker than Verstappen who was just 1.0 seconds ahead with six laps to go. Ricciardo was 4.8 seconds behind Vettel and was the fastest driver on the track.

Raikkonen battled with Hulkenberg, took over sixth place on lap 67, and held it to the finish.

"They are very quick on the straights," Raikkonen said of the Force Indias. "It was quite tricky to follow him through the last corner. Not with the first set of tires but with the last set I struggled when I got close to him, the grip was quite poor anyhow, so it was really hard to get a good run out of the last corner.

"I tried quite a few times, then we had to back off for a while and then I went again. In the end, we had enough grip, comparing to him. I had a chance, I don't really know if we touched or not. I saw he was very close, I tried to keep it fair and I think there was enough space for both. I saw when he spun but I didn't really feel a touch, I think it was more or less okay, racing wise."

Hulkenberg wound up finishing seventh.

"The battle always going to be difficult, because he (Raikkonen) had a massive tyre advantage over me," Hulkenberg said. "I was surprised we could keep him behind for so long. I tried to defend as hard as I could on the inside, but braking on a dirty line with 60-lap-old tires is quite tricky! He turned in on me and there was no way I could stop the car, so I forced it into a spin to avoid a crash.

"In the end, it was a good weekend: qualifying was my highlight and we've come away with a solid result today. We leave Mexico having strengthened our fourth place in the constructors' championship, so there is plenty to smile about tonight."

Williams drivers Bottas and Massa took eighth and ninth.

"It was a really difficult race," Massa said. "I was really happy with the first lap because I made a lot of overtakes and got up to sixth. I stopped to put on the medium tires and suffered on the first 15 laps with those, the same as in practice. Then, lap-by-lap I picked up the grip and fought for the whole race with Perez. It was really difficult to keep in front, but I pushed to the end and I'm so happy with the result."

While Gutierrez finished way down in 19th, fellow Mexican driver Perez gave the fans something to cheer about as he grabbed the last point with his tenth place.

"Even though I scored a point today it was a very frustrating race being stuck behind the Williams cars and unable to overtake," Perez said. "I tried everything I could, but it's not easy because they had a straight-line speed advantage. There were a few occasions when I was very close to making the move stick on Felipe (Massa), but in the end it just wasn't possible.

"Even with the tenth place today the fans were cheering for me. They are so loyal; always behind me and they have given me so much positive energy all week. Although I wanted to give them a better result, this has still been the most enjoyable race of the year."

While there had been no fight for the lead because of the way Hamilton outpaced Rosberg, the tussle for third also provided the fans with plenty to cheer about.

While fending off an attacking Vettel, Verstappen went off and on the track and stayed ahead and went to cross the finish line in third place. But the stewards quickly determined that Verstappen had gained a lasting advantage and gave him a 5 second penalty that dropped him to fifth behind Vettel and Ricciardo.

"I didn't even gain an advantage," Verstappen said. "I was still ahead under braking, when I came back on track I was same length in front, so I think it's ridiculous."

While Vettel had been attacking Verstappen, Ricciardo, on his fresher set of soft compound Pirellis, made a move on Vettel. Vettel moved while braking to defend his position.

"The last 10 laps or so was good fun out there," Ricciardo said right after the race. "But I feel that I should be on the podium because Seb, I feel, moved under braking. I committed to the inside, and then he moved. Sure I had to move to try not to crash into him, but he kept closing, closing. We crashed and then I damaged the tire, so I could not attack on the last lap. I think we will make a protest because for me it is what everyone has been complaining about lately, and he has done it to me today."

Red Bull did not file a protest, but the officials still ruled that Vettel had driven in a dangerous or erratic manner and gave him a 10 second penalty which dropped him to fifth behind Ricciardo and Verstappen.

"We knew that the speed was there, so we had good confidence for the race," Vettel said. "We made the tires last longer than anybody else. We were quicker, so we put Verstappen under pressure: for sure it was not easy to pass, but he did a mistake, cut the track and didn't give the position back even if he was told to do so.

"About the fight with Daniel: I respect him a lot, it is never ideal when you touch. On my defense, I was fighting hard, and trying to give him some space, which I think I did."

So the final classification was Hamilton, Rosberg, Ricciardo, Verstappen, Vettel, Raikkonen, Hulkenberg, Bottas, Massa and Perez.

Now it is on to Brazil because it ain't over till it's over.


Follow grandprixdotcom on Twitter