Lewis Hamilton has won the 2018 drivers world championship after Max Verstappen beat vanquished title rival Sebastian Vettel to victory at the Mexican Grand Prix.
Hamilton had victory in his sights from the moment lights went out, jumping slow-starting polesitter Daniel Ricciardo to follow Verstappen into the first turn in second place, but his race unraveled with poor tire wear for the second race in succession.
“It’s crazy that we’re not in this race — the car has no grip,” Hamilton lamented as he fell to more than a minute off the lead, but though it wasn’t a result becoming of the dominant second of his season that put him in a championship-winning position, fourth place delivered more than enough points for him to claim the silverware regardless.
“It’s a very strange feeling right now,” Hamilton said. “It was a horrible race!
“I want to say a big thank you to my team. What I was saying on the radio was it wasn’t won here; it was won with a lot of hard work throughout all the races.”
Hamilton’s fifth title takes him to equal second in the championship stakes with Juan Manuel Fangio, who won the 1954 crown with the Silver Arrows, and Hamilton acknowledged Mercedes’s role in his career.
“I’ve been with Mercedes since I was 13, so to complete what Fangio had done with a Mercedes is an incredible feeling. A very, very surreal moment.”
Vettel needed to win the race and hope Hamilton finished eighth or lower to keep his title hopes alive, but the German was gracious in defeat.
“Obviously not an easy day, but well deserved,” he said. “Congrats to him and his team, they did a superb job all year.
“I think we need to stand here, accept that and say congratulations.”
While Hamilton celebrated off the podium, Verstappen was jubilant on it, securing his second win of the season in a flawless drive.
The Dutchman’s victory was underpinned by a sizzling start, jumping polesitter Ricciardo, who was bogged down with wheelspin, and defending against Hamilton into the first turn.
Ricciardo slotted into third ahead of Vettel at Turn 2, but further behind them Nico Hulkenberg and Esteban Ocon came together, with the latter losing part of his front wing. Debris from the damaged Force India car struck the front of Fernando Alonso’s McLaren, causing enough damage to force his retirement on Lap 4.
By the time Alonso exited the race, triggering a brief virtual safety car, Verstappen had built a two-second gap to Hamilton to keep safely out of DRS range, but tire management quickly became the name of the game as both attempted to stretch the life of their ultrasoft rubber.
Mercedes was already struggling, with Hamilton in particular dropping bucketloads of time to the leader. Ricciardo was sizing him up to regain second place, but the Briton was stopped for a fresh set of supersoft tires before he had a chance to launch a move.
Ricciardo followed him in on the following lap, but the Red Bull Racing driver wasn’t able to bridge the gap, exiting the pits almost three seconds behind the Mercedes, and Verstappen did likewise one lap later, maintaining his place ahead of both.
The race entered a tire management phase, with no one sure how long their Pirelli rubber would last given the lack of practice running on the supersoft compound. However, once Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen made their stops on Lap 17, Verstappen, with the benefit of clear air in the lead, had no trouble building a significant gap.
But even with substantial management Hamilton was struggling with graining. His superior top speed helped keep Ricciardo bottled behind him, but Vettel made short work of both, passing Ricciardo on Lap 34 and Hamilton on Lap 39 to begin his pursuit of Verstappen in the lead.
It took Ricciardo until Lap 47 to pass the Briton, forcing the Mercedes driver into a defensive lock-up at Turn 1 that sent him across the grass. He was hauled into the pits for another set of tires — used ultrasofts, his only viable set remaining — as was Vettel. The German dropped to third behind Ricciardo, but Hamilton slipped behind Kimi Raikkonen and into fifth.
Verstappen was stopped from the lead, but such was his advantage, he maintained first place ahead of Ricciardo, who didn’t stop. Red Bull Racing instead opted to deploy him as a rear guard to his teammate’s lead, with the fast-finishing Vettel bearing down on both with fresh ultrasoft tires.
But Ricciardo’s defense lasted only until Lap 62, when his car emitted a telling puff of smoke. He was told to stop the car at the end of the pit straight, where he registered his eighth retirement of the season.
Nerves frayed on the Red Bull Racing pit wall, and Verstappen asked to turn his engine down to avoid suffering Ricciardo’s fate. His buffer over Vettel was significant enough to cruise to the end, taking the checkered flag 15 seconds ahead of Vettel and almost 50 seconds ahead of Raikkonen in third.
“The start was the key,” Verstappen said. “I was really determined to win today — luckily we did that. We had the right tires and the cars was working brilliantly.”
Nico Hulkenberg finished sixth for Renault ahead of Sauber’s Charles Leclerc. Stoffel Vandoorne finished eighth for McLaren — his equal best finishing position of the season — keeping at bay Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson and Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly in the final points-paying places.