Max Verstappen took a dominant victory in the Mexican Grand Prix as ninth place was enough to give Lewis Hamilton a fourth drivers’ championship.
Contact between Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel – the only man who could have denied Hamilton the championship – at the start of the race (pictured above) forced both drivers to pit on the opening lap and stage recovery drivers. Vettel was exceptional in climbing back through the field but he needed at least a top-two finish to have any chance of keeping the championship alive.
Hamilton made slower progress but a thrilling pass on old rival Fernando Alonso secured him ninth place in the closing stages, which meant Vettel needed victory, but the German crossed the line fourth behind Verstappen, Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Raikkonen as Hamilton matched him on four titles.
The race got off to a dramatic start as Hamilton, Vettel and Verstappen went three-wide toward Turn 1, with Verstappen going around the outside of Vettel and then muscling his way into the lead at Turn 2. Vettel clipped the Red Bull, allowing Hamilton to go around the outside for P2 at Turn 3 but then Vettel hit Hamilton’s right-rear tire on the exit, giving the Mercedes a puncture.
The damage to Vettel’s front wing required an immediate pit stop, with Hamilton also limping back to the pits in last place. With the two title rivals in trouble, Verstappen dominated and eased away at the front, with Bottas holding the all-important second place Vettel was targeting. Esteban Ocon ran third from Nico Hulkenberg in the opening stint, with Daniel Ricciardo retiring early having started from 16th after a power unit penalty.
Raikkonen had been jumped by the two Force Indias and Hulkenberg at the start but ran longer in the opening stint, with home favorite Sergio Perez pitting early but failing to make progress from fifth place.
With the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez the highest circuit on the F1 calendar, climbing through the field was difficult as both Vettel and Hamilton needed to find clean air for cooling purposes when following another car. Trying to do the whole race on one set of soft tires also looked difficult, but an engine failure for Brendon Hartley – the third Renault failure of the afternoon after Hulkenberg pulled over when running in the top six – required a Virtual Safety Car and allowed a number of free pit stops.
That change saw Vettel switch to ultrasofts and Hamilton to supersofts to mount a more effective charge through the field, while Raikkonen jumped up to third as a result ahead of Ocon and Lance Stroll. Hamilton had been lapped early on but started to make better progress through the midfield and was told by Mercedes that the team predicted he would finish in eighth place.
With Hamilton set to score, Vettel produced some decisive moves as he sought a top-two finish, scything past Perez under braking for Turn 4 from a long ay back to move into the top six and then quickly dispatching Stroll and Ocon. While Raikkonen could have promoted Vettel to third, Bottas was too far up the road and so Vettel crossed the line as the last man on the lead lap in fourth place.
Hamilton was unwilling to rely on Vettel failing to make the top two, however, and rose into the points with a good move around the outside of Felipe Massa at Turn 1. Next up was old foe Alonso, with Hamilton knowing ninth place would require Vettel to win the race to deny him the title, and a thrilling battle ensued.
As Verstappen cruised home for a dominant third career victory – one of only two Renault-powered cars to finish the race as Carlos Sainz also retired – the closest race was for fifth as Ocon held on from the impressive Stroll. Perez came home seventh in front of his home crowd, with Kevin Magnussen having a clean race to finish eighth for Haas – holding off Alonso before Hamilton passed the McLaren – with Hamilton ninth and Alonso 10th.
It was an underwhelming result for Hamilton but a dramatic race that saw him secure his fourth drivers’ championship and move level with Vettel. On the slowing-down lap, Vettel dropped back to the Mercedes and applauded out of the cockpit, with the pair matching Alain Prost on four titles, with only Juan Manuel Fangio (five) and Michael Schumacher (seven) having won more.