A week after getting a five-second time penalty that knocked him off the podium in Austin, and a year after a five-second time penalty that also cost him a podium in Mexico City, Max Verstappen responded in the best way possible with an utterly crushing third career Grand Prix win in today’s Mexican Grand Prix.
As he did in Sepang earlier this month for his first win of the 2017 season, the Red Bull driver seized his opportunity early in the race and then checked out from there to not be headed.
Verstappen started second and avoided a similar pitfall as plagued him in Singapore, when he got caught up in the Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari teammate contact on the run down to Turn 1 under the lights, in the rain there.
Today, he made it past Vettel through the Turn 1, 2 and 3 complex and was clear enough of both Vettel and Hamilton by the end of the complex to set sail from the end of the first lap. Vettel, with wing damage and Hamilton, with a puncture, both pitted and Verstappen had the lead from there.
Valtteri Bottas moved into second and Esteban Ocon into third as a result of the first lap chaos, and neither driver – nor their Mercedes and Force India cars – had the measure of the Renault-powered Red Bull the rest of the race.
Verstappen explained the start when speaking to world feed interviewer David Coulthard shortly after the checkered flag.
“The start was very crucial. I went around the outside and it worked out well. I looked after the tires. Performed early in the race. Big thanks to Red Bull otherwise it wouldn’t have been possible. After last week, this is a perfect race,” he said.
The 20-year-old Dutchman expanded on it in a further post-race interview with NBCSN’s Will Buxton, noting how he funneled anger both from losing a podium last week, then losing the pole on Saturday into his dominant drive on Sunday.
“It’s great. Especially after last week. I was so motivated to show these things today,” he told NBCSN. “That’s made it even better to be honest.
“I was maybe a bit angry. But controlled angry. It’s great to have such a great car and control the whole race.”
In fact the only thing Verstappen had to worry about was Renault’s reliability, as the manufacturer endured something of a nightmare weekend. Power unit issues took Verstappen’s Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo, Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg and both Toro Rosso drivers, Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley out of the race.
Verstappen said his power unit was turned down and that took that variable out of play.
“Yes (I was nervous)… because I saw one engine catch fire in front of me!” he laughed.
“But we turned it down quite a lot. I had no issues luckily.”
After a run of seven retirements through the opening 14 races through Singapore, Verstappen’s now turned in a four-race run of first, second, fourth and first in the last four races to score 80 points over that time period.
He’s still sixth in the championship but at 30 points back of Raikkonen with two races to play, a top-five points position is still salvageable.
Also coincidentally, Verstappen’s third win comes after Red Bull’s third successive drop of Daniil Kvyat from its program. The first came at Spain last year when the two were switched between Toro Rosso and Red Bull, and his Malaysian win came after Kvyat was temporarily benched to allow Gasly his debut. Now, this win’s come after Kvyat’s final dropping, with Gasly and Hartley in at Toro Rosso until the end of 2017 and quite likely into 2018.