Martin Brundle: On Max Verstappen, Lewis Hamilton and the Mexican GP
Reviewing the critical moments that meant Mercedes still beat Ferrari at their bogey circuit, and why Verstappen had no yellow-flag excuses, after a race that leaves Hamilton on the brink of 2019 glory.
Last Updated: 30/10/19 11:51am
The 2019 Mexican GP gave us plenty of talking points and an intriguing race even if it turned out to be rather a tease in the end.
From third and sixth on the grid, Mercedes out-raced and outsmarted the Ferrari team who locked out the front row after Max Verstappen gifted it to them.
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I've always loved Max's 'devil may care' attitude. His supreme self-confidence which borders on arrogance defines his style both in and out of the car and underlines why he already has a global army of supporters few other drivers past or present can match.
As with all great sports folk you can't just cherry-pick the bits you like, their whole defines them and their performances. But his actions have already cost him podiums and now a pole position. Clearly, due to being last of the 10 runners in final qualifying, he couldn't have known he was on pole position anyway as he came across Valtteri Bottas' Mercedes buried in the wall tantalisingly close to the finish line of an even faster lap.
Nobody can justify ignoring yellow flags and accidents. We unequivocally owe it to the track workers and fellow racers, and that's especially the case with ambassadors looked up to by junior racers. He should have abandoned the lap.
I can only think that when he admitted in the press conference that he had seen the flag and that he didn't lift the throttle, he did so thinking that they would only delete that lap and so leaving him on pole position anyway.
He was lucky to receive only a three-place grid drop, but at least that left him very much still in play for the race from the second row. Until the second corner anyway.
The long run to the first corner is always a thriller, if perhaps a little too thrilling for Lewis Hamilton as Seb Vettel didn't appear to know he was there as he squeezed him onto the grass. Having lifted out of the throttle, Lewis was then more than under pressure from Max, and Lewis steamed around the outside of him into turn one.
Now, this is more Verstappen style than the generally more measured Hamilton, although I have zero doubts about Lewis's racecraft. It's difficult to pinpoint cause or effect, but somehow the pair of them endured lurid slides and contact before taking to the grass in unison and losing track position.
Lewis would recover, but Max, via a contact puncture after an ensuing audacious pass on Bottas in the stadium, was doomed to one tyre stop and eking 66 laps out of his hard tyres to climb back to an impressive sixth.
We were all robbed really, Max would have been a contender for victory and may well have stirred up the closing laps and applied some badly-missing pressure.
So now surely the warp speed Ferraris running out front would now win the race at a bogey circuit for Mercedes?
Two key moments determining that not happening were lap 14 when Ferrari curiously pitted pole sitter Charles Leclerc to cover off Alex Albon's fast-starting initially-third-place Red Bull which had pitted a lap earlier. Albon had been keeping the Ferraris comfortably in view in the early tyre saving phase, rather like Singapore where I think Ferrari overdid the steady early laps and allowed the pack to stay too close.
This committed Leclerc to a two stopper and a set of medium tyres which didn't feel particularly good. It cost him a race-winning opportunity and eventually even a podium place.
The next critical moment was lap 23 when Hamilton pitted for hard tyres which needed to then survive 48 laps to the finish. Lewis seemed very unconvinced by this challenge and tactic, although I can't help but think that his emotional radio calls of doom are sometimes just cunning decoys. He's no fool and knows that the calls are well monitored.
The Mercedes team seemed confident he could eke them out and assured him accordingly. After all, the likes of Daniel Ricciardo and Verstappen were already sailing along nicely and consistently fast on the hard tyres.
It's highly possible that Ferrari assumed that Hamilton's tyres would fade and he would slide into their grasp, although a call to Vettel, later on, made him aware he would need to go and take the victory, but he couldn't find the speed.
In the end they were all simply paralysed in each others' slipstream, by lack of grip and overheating issues. Track position so often is King these days despite pretty much every straight line in Mexico having a DRS zone.
Vettel, Bottas and Leclerc took it in turns to appear to be the most likely challenger to Hamilton but then faded. It was yet another inspired victory by driver and team, stretching the strategy until it was forced to fit.
Six point three seconds covered the top four after 71 laps which sounds more exciting than it was. The race left me hoping that the 2021 aero reset is signed off and works as intended in terms of energising close racing.
Albon came home a fine fifth albeit 21 seconds off the lead. He drove very nicely on yet another circuit new to him, including setting the second-fastest lap. He needs to add race-long peak pace now to go with his consistency.
I rather upset my friends at Red Bull while out on the track during Friday afternoon practice. Albon had a medium size chat with the barriers and his stricken Red Bull was, eventually, removed from the track and unceremoniously dumped inside the circuit confines on a piece of rough grass.
It sat there all exposed and with the front wheel folded around and looking like a stranded Bambi. I watched some photographers help themselves to plenty of images of the design and broken parts followed by a TV cameraman. So I decided to do my job and dive in with the camera for a Brundle autopsy on a crashed F1 car.
The team were very unhappy that I would broadcast the broken areas and scuffed chassis, feeling that other teams would see clear design and manufacturing details. I rather suspect rival teams will see/buy the images… We'll all get over it, but it's a fine line to tread in our small world. We need constant daily access to teams, drivers, personnel, and their cars, as well as being journalistic, comprehensive, and innovative with our coverage.
I'm looking forward to Austin this weekend, but probably not as much as Lewis Hamilton who can secure his sixth world championship with an eighth place or better. And Red Bull and Ferrari (along with teams such as McLaren) will be pleased to have an opportunity just seven days later to recover from the under-performances in Mexico.