Martin Brundle on Mexico's successful F1 return and Nico Rosberg's victorious reminder
Sky F1's Martin Brundle reflects on an event which re-energised the F1 paddock and a race that saw Nico Rosberg bounce back in style...
Last Updated: 05/11/15 11:42am
This was the seventh Mexican GP I've been to and definitely the most dynamic, although I would have preferred to be driving.
Sunday's grand prix was by no means a classic but in a curious way the race was secondary to the event itself.
From start to finish the weekend felt a success with Latin-American flair combining with the constant backdrop of music and knowledgeable fans, passionate about motorsport and F1, to produce a buzzing atmosphere throughout.
Sometimes when you have a fresh race on the calendar it's hard to escape the feeling that people turn up just because it's the newest show in town. In Mexico, it felt like we were being joined by genuine motor-racing fans.
Normally when I come out of the commentary box after qualifying all l see is a sea of backs as people flood out of the circuit. On Saturday, it was immediately apparent that the Mexican fans were in no mood to go home - they were hanging around, going to bars and the food outlets, and just generally wanting more. This feeling then emanates around the world from drivers and media alike.
It also helped that the paddock was absolutely packed throughout. Bernie was almost levitating with excitement and he said to me 'this is what it was like in the old days'. For me, the weekend was also a reminder that F1 should only ever go to circuits where there is already a solid fan base or one which can quickly grow, although of course there are countries we ought to go in a 'World Championship' such as China.
I felt the track was a little slow in places and the layout is not on par with the likes of Austin and other great circuits. The Turn 12 right-hander was so slow and slippery that it was a challenge for the cars to navigate one at a time, let alone side-by-side. That was a real shame because it made it difficult for cars to follow closely into the 40,000 seater stadium section and then try to nail an overtake into the hairpin.
Amid all the bedlam and excitement, I was very impressed with Sergio Perez as he carried the pressure of being home favourite in front of a sell-out weekend crowd of over 300,000. Whenever I saw him he was surrounded by a sea of people and the way he handled that level of attention was extraordinary.
On my way down to Mexico City from Austin I was swatting up on my stats when I was reminded that Sergio is still only 25 years old, and he's grown up a lot in the last couple of years. It wasn't, though, his finest race and he was disadvantaged by the Safety Car.
Nico Rosberg was very impressive. On the back of Austin, where he threw away the race and gifted the victory to his team-mate, he reacted well and I felt he had the measure of Lewis Hamilton most of the weekend. It wasn't quite a flawless performance because he went off the track after the restart and that incident could have ended very differently for him. Whenever you leave the track like that and keep your right foot in you are entering the great unknown.
But credit to Nico, he took pole position, he didn't make any mistakes when Lewis was right behind him and he defended the first corner well. In the context of what has happened this season and particularly the weekend before, it was a mighty response for F1 as well as Nico because the sport doesn't want him parked up as a number two whipping-boy in 2016.
Over the course of a season my money would still be on Lewis to prevail but Nico will always give him a run for his money.
It was fair enough for Lewis to question Mercedes' strategy change when Peter Bonnington, his race engineer, came on the radio to tell him to make an extra pit-stop. From Mercedes' perspective, it was a no-brainer to pit both of their drivers given they had built up such a large advantage on a relatively-unknown circuit with very high temperatures, and it was only two months ago that Sebastian Vettel's over-used rear tyre blew on the final lap at Spa.
Why take the risk of pushing their tyres to the limit when they didn't have to? But Lewis's response was a reminder of just what a competitive animal he is and it sounded to me that he was effectively asking, while now leading, whether Nico had damaged his tyres in a way that he hadn't. Clearly at the time his tyres felt great but this was about prevention not cure, and had to be administered to both cars.
Six of the last seven Mexican GPs have finished with a team claiming a one-two finish, which is an indication of just how big a technical challenge Mexico is at 2200 meters altitude.
Overall, the teams did a good job and there was less unreliability than expected. But neither Ferrari finished the race, and even if that was because of contact there were plenty in the paddock - myself included - puzzled about Sebastian Vettel's afternoon. His final incident, when he went straight on and into the barriers, was the type of thing you normally only ever see now when there is a problem on the car. Sebastian said it was his mistake but it looked to me that he was managing an issue and playing the team game with his comments afterwards.
Less creditable was his brush with Daniel Ricciardo into Turn One. It looked like a typical first corner racing incident but if you do veer across the track into the first corner you always need to leave a metre for any rival to be able to have two wheels on the track for grip and the ability to climb the inside kerb.
The same applied to Kimi Raikkonen's latest clash with Valtteri Bottas. It was one of those situations where blame is to an extent irrelevant because the upshot is that you are potentially out of the race. Whether you think you are sufficiently in front of the other driver is a moot point if you're missing a wheel.
There must be further bad blood now between the Finns. Kimi will have known Valtteri was in town, he'd been there on the way into Turn Four and he wasn't going to evaporate into Turn Five. There was certainly no point in just turning in. Their two recent incidents were very different - Kimi was coming from a long way back in Sochi.
Both Ferraris weren't classified finishers for the first time since Australia 2006, a pretty astonishing record.
Regarding Red Bull and Toro Rosso, I'm now pretty sure they'll be on the grid in 2016.
Meanwhile, just two more to go this season. Speak to you from Brazil.
Mexican GP driver ratings
Unlikely lads Rosberg, Kvyat, Perez and Ericsson are the stars of the show in Mexico City...