Lewis Hamilton says Valtteri Bottas “left the door open” for Max Verstappen to take the lead at the start of the Mexico City Grand Prix.
After beating both Red Bulls in qualifying, Mercedes’ first front row lockout of the season gave it track position to defend on the run to Turn 1 at the start of the race, and the two team-mates were side-by-side heading towards the braking zone. Hamilton held the inside line but Bottas was in the middle of the track and Verstappen went from third to first by out-braking both drivers on the outside, something Hamilton was surprised he was given the space to do.
“I had envisaged it differently, naturally in the sense that Valtteri maybe got a better start and I would have tried to get into his tow,” Hamilton said. “But obviously I was alongside him which was good, and I was covering my side of the track making sure that no one could come up the inside.
“So I was trying to keep whichever Red Bull I could see in my mirror behind and I thought Valtteri would be doing the same but he left the door open for Max, Max was on the racing line, so did a mega job braking for Turn 1 and I was on the inside on the dirt and there was no hope for me.”
Bottas was then tapped into a spin by Daniel Ricciardo and dropped out of contention at the front, something Hamilton says further hurt his chances of fighting Verstappen.
“It made the race a lot harder, naturally,” he said. “I think having one car ahead one car there means they can play on strategy. Sergio (Perez) was super close in that first stint and I couldn’t really pull away, it was a moment where they’re either going to undercut us or we undercut them.
“We stopped, did a great job, but didn’t have much left on the tires at the end. Where there’s a will there’s a way and we managed to just keep them behind. One more lap I think it would have been over! But I’m happy I still got second.”
Despite those two incidents, Hamilton admits Red Bull was even stronger than Mercedes had been expecting in race trim, as he ended up over 16 seconds adrift in second place.
“It was fairly lonely until the end, obviously not a lot that I could do really about the pace Max was able to put in. I think they were close to half a second a lap I think, I couldn’t really match that with also trying to manage the tires.
“Friday night we thought they’d be two tenths faster in the race bit I think it was a little more today, then at the end trying to keep the second Red Bull behind was difficult of course. I mean I’m used to pressure so that wasn’t the issue but it was the last couple of laps, my tires were falling off, and Sergio did a great job, but they’ve clearly got amazing pace this weekend and especially today.
“I’m grateful I was able to stay in between them and get as many points as I could for the team and live to fight another day.”