Martin Brundle: Max Verstappen reaches new level of F1 dominance as Red Bull oust Mercedes in Mexico
Max Verstappen became the first F1 driver to ever win 14 races in a season with one of his most dominant victories at the Mexico City GP; Martin Brundle reviews the race in his latest column and also talks Red Bull vs Ferrari, Fernando Alonso and Daniel Ricciardo...
Last Updated: 07/11/22 9:23am
There's a lot of hype and energy around the Mexican GP and there's always a festival atmosphere created by the fiercely partisan crowd willing Sergio Perez along.
If you took away that, along with the 55,000-seat stadium area and dramatic podium, we have to concede that the racing has not been especially good at this track of late.
In fact, the top three finishers of Max Verstappen, Lewis Hamilton, and Sergio Perez were identical to last year with very similar and unexciting gaps. To further underline that, Ferrari were once again a distant fifth and sixth, albeit with Sainz ahead of Leclerc this time.
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With the six fastest cars in the top six having disposed of Valtteri Bottas' impressively qualified Alfa Romeo early doors, it promised to be quite something, but major excitement sadly failed to materialise.
Verstappen cleverly sees off early Mercedes threat
Verstappen was very smart away from pole position in heading to the dusty but more easily defended right hand side of the track. This played nicely into the hands of second-placed qualifier George Russell, who gladly accepted the slipstream until he was obliged to move left and partly alongside.
Having had a few skirmishes recently, not least seven days earlier in Austin, George was generous with space on the inside of turn one for his team-mate Lewis Hamilton, and again in turn two, but didn't receive the same courtesy swinging right through turn three as he was squeezed wide and bounced over the kerb.
The Ferrari boys were flying in side-by-side formation behind trying to scavenge some places, but in reality those first few corners decided the running order for the rest of the day: Verstappen, Hamilton, Perez, Russell, Sainz and Leclerc. The 800-metre run to, and through, the first chicane defined the race.
The main intrigue was that both Red Bulls were on used soft tyres and both Mercedes were on new medium tyres on the grid, and for a while as the Red Bull tyres began to cry enough it appeared that Mercedes could run much longer at a reasonable pace and seize the initiative.
Meanwhile Ferrari were simply not at the races, they're didn't have the pace despite having large amounts of downforce attached and were clearly protecting something at this 7200 ft-altitude circuit as they were destined to finish a minute behind.
It must be said the Ferrari power unit in Bottas' Alfa Romeo was relatively flying along nicely although he would ultimately have been disappointed with only one championship point in 10th from sixth on the grid.
Why strategy battle ultimately fell flat
Red Bull would pit Perez on lap 23 for medium tyres and similarly Verstappen on lap 25. This left Mercedes out front and two big questions. How far could Mercedes go at a competitive pace on their original medium tyres, and could Red Bull possibly get to the end of the race on their freshly fitted medium tyres some 48 laps away?
'Not very' and 'yes' were the two answers, which rather took the sting out of the four-horse race. Hamilton would pit on lap 29 for hard compound tyres which turned out to be a bad decision.
Despite his protestations to run long and fit a set of soft compound tyres later, Russell pitted on lap 34 for new hard compound tyres which was in no-man's land, strategy-wise.
For the 39 F1 races during the pandemic it was necessary to simplify tyre choice procedures and every driver has since been allocated eight soft, three medium and only two hard compound sets of tyres. You're not allowed to mix them up. This means that if you may want to run hard compound tyres in the race you can do minimal preparation on them in practice sessions.
In both Austin and Mexico Free Practice Two was extended to 90 minutes and became a Pirelli test for 2023 tyre specs. Added to that many teams are quite late in fulfilling the requirements to run a rookie in at least one FP1 in each car, which combined has disturbed the normal flow and preparation for the last two GPs and is certainly not ideal for the show.
Sometimes the hard compound tyres turn out to be a surprisingly ace move, but as the temperatures cooled on this low-abrasion circuit they didn't really bite into the tarmac and reach a suitable temperature and grip level.
Alonso and Ricciardo the stars of the midfield
We saw plenty of brutal action in the midfield, but Fernando Alonso was without doubt best of the rest until his power unit failed. Such was his determination and attacking mode that when he exited the car he rested his head in despair on a tyre barrier. Not the kind of emotion we often see from him, but he's lost a serious chunk of points this year to unreliability.
Daniel Ricciardo was an interesting case. He was having a decent weekend and race whilst nursing his starting medium tyres to lap 44 and then did what Russell wanted to do by putting soft tyres on. He then took off like a man possessed. In his frustration to pass Yuki Tsunoda he fed his McLaren up the inside of the double apex turn six in the hope that he could distract the Japanese driver into running wide.
Instead, they made contact and the Alpha Tauri of Tsunoda exited stage left on two wheels into retirement. It was all a bit clumsy and the Stewards decided that Ricciardo was wholly at fault, and presumably as Tsunoda had to retire Daniel was hit with a 10-second penalty to be added onto his race time as he wouldn't pit again.
This was the trigger for Daniel to drive in the way we remember him best and take sixth place despite the penalty, along with 'driver of the day' from the fans. It will be interesting to see where he turns up next year, and especially in 2024.
That was about it for the action other than some midfield scuffles as Verstappen serenely took his record 14th win of the season and Red Bull took their ninth-straight victory. Congratulations to them all.
A short breathing space now before the final two races of the season.