With two races left in the thrilling 2016 season, Lewis Hamilton has closed the gap to Championship leader Nico Rosberg to just 19 points thanks to his win in Mexico, following time penalties for both Max Verstappen and Sebastian Vettel. This means that should Rosberg win the Brazilian Grand Prix, he will be crowned World Champion. The consensus is that this will be Rosberg’s year, however in 2007 Hamilton had a thirteen-point lead entering the last two races, and lost by a single point, so anything is possible.
The Mexican Grand Prix is arguably the best supported race on the calendar since its return in 2015 due to its fantastic stadium section. Once a baseball stadium, it is now one of the best places to see a Formula One car in action.
Such was the support for the home drivers, Sergio Perez and Esteban Gutierrez, you would be forgiven for thinking they were fighting for the Championship. Unfortunately for the home crowd, the Mexican pair had a disappointing day. Gutierrez finished 19th and was lapped, while Perez finished 10th after being stuck behind Felipe Massa for 45 laps. This was due to the new asphalt laid down ahead of the race, the high altitude of the track itself and the Pirelli’s tyre selection for the Grand Prix, resulting in negligible tyre-degradation, meaning only a single pit stop for most drivers.
The two Mercedes both got off the line well for once and went into the first corner side-by-side. Hamilton was forced onto the grass and across turn two, re-joining in the lead. The pack bunched behind, and Gutierrez spun Pascal Wehrlein into Marcus Ericsson’s Sauber, ending the German’s race and bringing out the safety car.
Several drivers pitted, including Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, committing him to a two stop strategy. When the race restarted, the Mercedes stretched their advantage at the front until they pitted, leaving Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel leading. As evidence of the lack of tyre-wear, Vettel was able to do the same lap times as Hamilton, on tyres that were 30 laps older.
Vettel then pitted and rejoined in 7th, making slow progress through the field, aided by pit-stops for teammate Kimi Raikkonen and Ricciardo. With five laps to go, Vettel caught Verstappen, whose tyres were past their best. Running out of grip, Verstappen fluffed his braking at the first corner, and had to cut the second, replicating Hamilton’s mistake on lap one. The rules state that if a driver leaves the track and gains an advantage, they must give up a place to the car behind.
Max Verstappen, however, did not, despite the team’s instructions. Vettel was irate on the radio, swearing several times including in response to race director Charlie Whiting who said the German would have to hand the place back to Verstappen. On the penultimate lap, Ricciardo tried to pass Vettel at turn four. Vettel moved under braking to defend and the pair locked wheels and slid towards the corner, lucky to get away without damage. This action came only a week after a rule was brought in banning such practice.
The drama didn’t finish there. Before the podium, Verstappen was informed he’d been given a five second penalty, which dropped him to 5th. Vettel celebrated on the podium, but was later slapped with a 10 second penalty which meant that Ricciardo was promoted to 3rd, Verstappen 4th and Vettel 5th. Lewis Hamilton took 1st place while Rosberg followed in 2nd.
Viewers can only hope that the conclusion to the season will be as exhilarating as the drama on show in Mexico last week.