Verstappen takes Mexican GP victory, Hamilton clinches F1 title

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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…

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed its new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with Ford Motor Co. in an event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and team principal Christian Horner.

It’s the first Formula 1 team to launch in the United States for 2023, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin, Texas, for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen already had wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

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Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts inevitably will turn to establishing a dynasty, and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his chief rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.