Max Verstappen dodged an incident-strewn first lap and concerns about his Renault engine to take his third Formula 1 victory in Sunday’s Mexican Grand Prix, as Lewis Hamilton clinched his fourth world title in unexpected circumstances.
A clash between Hamilton and F1 title rival Vettel saw both sustain damage and drop to the back of the field early on, scuppering hopes of a fight between them to settle the championship race.
Despite being lapped for the first time in over four years, Hamilton was able to battle his way back to ninth come the checkered flag. With Vettel finishing fourth, the result was enough to confirm Hamilton as champion for a fourth time.
The start saw Vettel make a good initial getaway before having both Hamilton and Verstappen hot on his tail on the long run down to Turn 1, with the trio going three-abreast into the first corner.
Verstappen muscled his way around the outside of Vettel with a side-bump to seize the lead, with Hamilton attempting to follow the Dutchman through. However, his rear-right tire made contact with Vettel’s front wing, leaving him with a puncture and to slow down on-track.
Hamilton was able to nurse his car back to the pits, while Vettel also dived in for a new nose and front wing, leaving the title contenders occupying the bottom two positions after the opening lap.
Vettel and Hamilton fitted soft tires to take themselves to the end of the race, and were quickly handed a position when Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo was forced to retire after just five laps due to a turbo issue, having risen from P16 to eighth in the opening stages.
Tensions continued to flare further down the pack as Hamilton asked the Mercedes pit wall if Vettel’s first-lap move had been deliberate, which the stewards did investigate but deemed no action to be worth taking. Vettel, meanwhile, fumed over a strong defensive move by Felipe Massa when scrapping for P15.
Verstappen was able to quickly get his head down and forge an early lead over Valtteri Bottas and Esteban Ocon, who had risen into the podium positions through the first-lap chaos.
Ocon was able to hold on to P3 through the pit stop cycle despite seeing rivals Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez get the undercut and close the gap in the race for the podium. Hulkenberg’s hopes of finally ending his rostrum drought were soon ended though when he suffered a power issue, forcing him to park up at the side of the track and retire from the race.
Hulkenberg was joined on the sidelines just before half-distance when Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley suffered an engine failure – Renault’s third of the race – forcing him out of the race. A Virtual Safety Car was called to allow his car to be recovered, prompting the front-runners to seize the opportunity to pit.
Verstappen emerged from the pit sequence some seven seconds clear of Bottas at the front of the field, with Kimi Raikkonen taking advantage of the VSC to get the jump on Ocon in P3. Vettel (P8) and Hamilton (P16) also came in to ditch their soft tires, taking ultra-softs and super-softs respectively for the second half of the race.
Verstappen’s pace remained relentless at the front despite concerns on the Red Bull pit wall after the trio of Renault engine failures, prompting the engineers to ask the Dutchman to slow down and simply match Bottas’ pace, with his lead now standing at 15 seconds.
By Lap 50, Vettel had battled his way up to seventh for Ferrari with his sights set on Perez and Lance Stroll up the road. Hamilton was still outside of the points, but on-track to clinch the title so long as his rival did not finish in the top two.
The pair continued to make up ground in the laps that followed, with Vettel making slick passes on Perez, Stroll and Ocon, leaving him fourth at the checkered flag behind Ferrari teammate Raikkonen.
However, with Verstappen taking his third F1 victory in style and Bottas finishing P2, Vettel had fallen short of the required result to keep the title race alive, confirming Hamilton as champion.
For good measure, Hamilton also scored the points he needed had Vettel finished second, fighting his way back up to ninth come the checkered flag.
Force India clinched fourth place in the constructors’ championship for 2017 as Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez finished P5 and P7 respectively, the pair split by Williams’ Lance Stroll in sixth.
A late scrap in the lower midfield ended with Kevin Magnussen taking an admirable eighth-place finish for Haas on a weekend that saw the American team struggle for the most part, drawing it closer to Renault in the constructors’ standings.
Fernando Alonso was left to go wheel-to-wheel with Hamilton through the closing laps, ultimately losing the position with just three laps to go after a tight battle through the opening sequence of corners, leaving the Spaniard P10 at the flag.
More to follow…