Lewis Hamilton admits he was shocked to win the Mexican Grand Prix after incidents with Sebastian Vettel and Max Verstappen on the opening lap.
Vettel squeezed Hamilton on the run to Turn 1, causing the championship leader to lift and end up fighting side-by-side with Verstappen through the first sequence of corners. Hamilton nearly spun exiting Turn 1 and both he and Verstappen skipped Turn 2, losing further track position. From fifth place at the end of the opening lap, Hamilton made a one-stop strategy work to take a victory he dedicated to his absent race engineer, Pete Bonnington.
“I think probably for both of us it’s a bit of a surprise,” Hamilton said. “We came into the weekend… I can only talk about my side, and not having ‘Bonno’ for the first time in seven years and the challenge of having two new engineers step up into different roles and trying to keep the balance of pressure and make sure we deliver, and ultimately make Bonno proud, was not easy.
“We come to Mexico, we always struggle here with our tires, last year we lost by like 60 seconds or something. I think we finished like fourth but we were a long way away from these guys and on Friday their pace, particularly the Red Bulls, was quite stronger than ours. Seb went like eight or nine laps further than I could make the tires go.
“But we just kept our heads down and tried to work on trying to get the most out of our car and it wasn’t great through qualifying but the race pace, once we got through all the commotion at the beginning, he tried his best to (collide) … And then I obviously got torpedoed. I thought at some stage I’d get torpedoed by Max. And then after that trying to keep up with Seb was a real challenge.
“A first and third is a true showing of real strength and depth with our team and it’s a real pleasant surprise really, because we didn’t expect our tires to go as far as they did. We didn’t think we could manage a one-stop and we made it work.”
Explaining the incident with Verstappen in more detail, Hamilton says the 22-year-old is a driver he tries to give a wide berth to as much as possible.
“I actually got a really good start,” Hamilton said. “So I was pulling up to Charles and Seb is coming across, coming across, coming across and I’m thinking ‘I’m on the white line, I don’t have anywhere further to go’. And he just keeps coming. So I had to avoid crashing with him, going on the grass. Avoid his wheels as well, otherwise I could have caused a big collision for him.
“Then I was surrounded by a bunch of cars, I braked into Turn 1, and all of a sudden Max is alongside me. If you’ve seen races before, I always leave Max a lot of space – it’s the smartest thing you can do. But there wasn’t a lot of space to give him space. I think he had an oversteer moment or something and then I got a massive hit from behind. Then I nearly took him out…
“We were going through the corner, you (Vettel) were about to go into Turn 2, my back end came out and I nearly took you out and then we went straight over the grass. It was hair-raising.
“Me and Max went through the grass together, came out and there were other cars coming by. I thought I was going to get hit by other cars. But I managed to get my bearings and keep my head down. I was not expecting to have that pace and to be able to keep up with the Ferraris but it worked and even with a damaged car. Obviously, Seb went a lot further and I think so did Valtteri, he did a fantastic job to come from sixth.
“I thought I was going to struggle at the end with Seb, with 10-lap younger tires. Maybe more than 10. But I just managed to save enough in the early phase while he was doing that long run, which I was able to utilize. Particularly those last seven laps were the important ones and I kept him behind.”