Verstappen extends championship lead with dominant Mexican GP win

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Verstappen extends championship lead with dominant Mexican GP win

Formula 1

Verstappen extends championship lead with dominant Mexican GP win

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Max Verstappen turned third on the grid into an easy victory at the Mexico City Grand Prix to extend his championship lead over Lewis Hamilton.

The Dutchman used the powerful slipstream on the 880-yard run from the start to the first braking zone to sweep effortlessly around the outside of polesitter Valtteri Bottas and into a lead he would relinquish only during the pit stop window.

It was a sweet start for Red Bull Racing but a disaster for Mercedes. Bottas and Hamilton had shared the front row, but Bottas’s limp defense at the first turn had him passed by his teammate and left him exposed to contact on the Turn 1 apex with Daniel Ricciardo, who had attempted to reserve the space for his McLaren.

Bottas was spun around while Ricciardo lost his front wing, and both dropped to the back with a pit stop at the end of the lap.

Further back in the field Esteban Ocon was racing with Yuki Tsunoda and Mick Schumacher when his Alpine got sandwiched between the two. Somehow his car emerged unscathed, but his would-be aggressors both retired on the spot with damage, Tsunoda’s car having launched onto its left-side wheels before landing with a crunch.

The safety car was called to clear the track, and at the resumption Verstappen led Hamilton and Perez. The Dutchman hit the power early out of the last corner to prevent Hamilton from following him down the straight, and the top three held position for the restart.

In race trim the RB16B recovered the pace it failed to show through qualifying, and Verstappen was able to sprint away to a comfortable lead, and as the race ticked past lap 20 Perez began to close on the back of Hamilton, turning the Briton’s battle into one for second place rather than victory.

On lap 29, his medium tires struggling in the heat, Hamilton came in to pre-empt the Perez undercut. Perez opted not to cover, and instead on lap 33 Verstappen came in to prevent Hamilton eating too much into his lead. He rejoined with a barely reduced 7.5-second advantage over the Briton, leaving Perez to lead his home race.

With Hamilton unable to make a dent in the lead with the hard tire, Perez ran until lap 40 before ditching the medium rubber, earning him an 11-lap offset compared to Hamilton. He rejoined in third with an almost 10-second deficit to the Mercedes and slowly started chipping away at the gap.

By lap 60 the gap was within a second. Hamilton radioed his team that his tires were struggling for grip, the rubber overheating as the battling pair navigated through the dirty air of lapped traffic.

But ironically the traffic cost Perez his chance to make a lunge and gave Hamilton a chance to make a break, replenishing the margin to two seconds with six laps remaining. Perez couldn’t return to striking distance until the final lap, but by then it was too late, and the podium was settled.

But the day belonged to Verstappen, whose grip on this race never slackened to grow his title advantage to 19 points and deal a hefty blow to Hamilton’s championship campaign.

“It’s still a long way to go, but it’s of course looking good,” Verstappen said. “But it can turn around very quickly.”

Notwithstanding Mercedes’s front-row lockout, second place behind Verstappen was decent damage limitation for Hamilton at a track the team expected to encounter difficulty, although the Briton was downcast to be so far off the pace after qualifying.

“Congratulations to Max,” he said. “Their car is faster through this weekend, and there was nothing we really could do about it. I gave it absolutely everything.”

Perez made himself the first Mexican to finish on the podium in a home grand prix, and his result brought Red Bull Racing to within one point of Mercedes in the constructors’ standings, to rapturous adulation from the colorful crowd.

“It’s an unbelievable day today,” he said. “Obviously I wanted more — today I wanted to get the 12 for the team. It was pretty close, but I didn’t have a single chance to get through.”

Pierre Gasly was a happily anonymous fourth for AlphaTauri, wielding his car’s midfield-beating pace to eliminate the gap to Alpine for fifth in the constructors’ standings, the two teams now tied on points.

Ferrari maximized its points haul with Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz in fifth and sixth to take third in the constructors’ standings from McLaren with a 13.5-point advantage.

Sainz had lost position to Leclerc at the chaotic start, but he ran 12 laps longer before making his pit stop, giving him an irresistible pace advantage late in the race to assume the higher place via a team order to chase down Gasly. It was in vain, however, and the teammates swapped places back late in the race, Leclerc finishing fifth and Sainz sixth.

Sebastian Vettel held Kimi Raikkonen at bay late, his race ironically made when Alfa Romeo pitted Antonio Giovinazzi — who had been ahead of the two after a brilliant start — unexpectedly early, dropping the Italian into traffic in a strategy he couldn’t recover from.

Fernando Alonso couldn’t close in on Raikkonen despite a tire offset, finishing a solid ninth, while Lando Norris recovered strongly from a penalized 18th on the grid with the longest first stint of the field to score the final point of the race.

Bottas recorded the fastest lap of the race after spending the afternoon out of the points. It took him two late stops for soft tires to set the time on the final tour, thereby preventing Verstappen from taking the bonus point.

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