Note from the Editor: Thank you to Thea, our stand in race review writer. Unfortunately Matt Trumpets had work commitments and had to once again hand over the batton.
Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor @F1TheaJ
Unlike 2015 this year’s race was not run in the aftermath of a hurricane. It was touch and go as to whether last year’s race would run at all, as Hurricane Patricia had left it’s mark. FP2 was cancelled completely. Saturday practice was run in the absence of spectators as fans had been told to stay away (on safety grounds) and qualifying was delayed until the morning of race day itself and even then the starting grid was determined from the times set in Q2 as Q3 was cancelled.
The race did go ahead and boy what a race it was. Hamilton was leading the Driver standings some 66 points ahead of Vettel who in turn was leading Rosberg by 7 points. Ferrari stuck to their long term plan of supplying Vettel with a new engine (and a 10 place grid penalty) making his third place podium position all the more spectacular. To cut a long story short we had one of (if not the) best races of 2015: net result – Hamilton won the race and the championship.
Fast forward to 2016: Mercedes sealed their claim on the Constructor’s Championship in the previous race, (Japan) Red Bull were 50 points ahead of Ferrari in the race for the best of the rest and Rosberg was 33 points ahead of Hamilton, with four races to go. How could 2016 possibly compete with the spectacle of 2015?
Well, the steep uphill run into Turn 1 gave us some drama, with Ricciardo overtaking Rosberg into P2 and a Hulkenberg sandwich between Vettel and Bottas gave us the first retirement of the race. Hulkenberg, after his great qualifying yesterday, was out of the race (for the third time this season) and Bottas was into the pits with a shredded right rear tyre: Vettel escaped (relatively) unscathed.
There was another scuffle later in Lap 1 between Perez and Kvyat, which resulted in Kvyat having to change to a one stop strategy due to receiving a 10s time penalty for causing the collision.
Lap 2 saw Button attempt an overtake on Gutierrez for P10 but had to wait until a second attempt on L3 to make it stick. Grosjean meanwhile was cutting a swathe through the field, making four overtakes in four laps and by Lap 7 he was up to P11. Perez was also making his way back through the field, overtaking Kvyat on Lap 6 and Gultierrez into turn 2 for P12 on Lap 8.
Having started on the red walled supersoft tyres, both Raikonnen and Ricciardo pitted on L 9 onto the yellow walled soft tyres, with Ricciardo emerging slightly ahead of Raikonnen who, once back on track, got stuck behind Button and didn’t get past him until half a lap later.
Surprisingly on L10 Verstappen, who had started the race on the harder yellow walled tyres, pitted from P3 onto another set of softs and emerged into P10 from what would turn out to be the fastest pit stop of the race (2.1s) overtaking Button for P9 shortly there after.
Mercedes responded to Verstappen’s pitstop by bringing in Rosberg the following lap and sent him out on a fresh set of white walled medium tyres, telling him he was ‘playing the long game.
L11 also saw Sainz overtaken by Ricciardo dropping Sainz back into P5. Mercedes then split their strategy and brought Hamilton in on L12, sending him out on a fresh set of soft tyres into P2, ahead of Ricciardo.
At this point, Vettel was leading the GP, having taken great care of his supersoft tyres, which he didn’t swap for a new set of softs until L14, when he emerged from the pits in P6.
By L16, Rosberg (on mediums) was lapping faster than Hamilton (on softs) but was being chased down by Verstappen. The running order was Hamilton, Ricciardo, Rosberg, Verstappen, Raikonnen, Vettel, Massa, Sainz, Kvyat, Alonso making up the points positions.
On L17 Gutierrez had a brake problem and ran off the track at Turn 1, flatspotted his tyres and became the second retirement of the race before he had completed L18.
Next came the quote of the race, from none other than the Wonderkid Max Verstappen, who (in response to a reminder from his engineer to make his tyres last) said ‘I’m not here to finish fourth.’ We didn’t have to wait very long to see how and when this would come back to haunt him, but more of that later.
Meanwhile Vettel had been chasing down his team mate and by L24 the gap was down to 0.4s. By L25 Raikonnen had pitted for a fresh set of used supersoft tyres and emerged in P6.
L26 saw Ricciardo pit from P2 for fresh softs, emerging in P5.
Not to be outdone, on L27 Verstappen pitted (much to the team’s surprise, as they weren’t expecting him.) A bit of a scramble ensued in the Red Bull pit (not for the first time this year- remember Monaco and the Ricciardo tyre fiasco?) but this time the crew were not at fault. Verstappen had mistakenly thought the team had called him in – for which he apologized profusely afterwards. Verstappen’s woes (nor Red Bull’s) didn’t end there as once back on track, Verstappen then heard a clunking noise of something hitting the engine and the faster he drove, the faster it hit. Unfortunately for him this was not an auditory hallucination, but a real problem and he then proceeded to drive very slowly around most of the track (passing several convenient recovery places en route) until he reached a point where there was no recovery vehicle and no slip road: this is where he decided to pull up and retire from the race, causing a virtual safety car to be deployed. So he was right, he wasn’t there to finish fourth (or at all for that matter).
Several people (i.e. Hamilton and Rosberg ) decided to take advantage of this to pit for fresh medium tyres (effectively gaining a free pit stop.) Unfortunately, Vettel, Grosjean , Perez and of course, Verstappen’s team mate, Ricciardo didn’t benefit from this as they had all pitted a couple of laps earlier.
By L34 we saw a great battle between the two Renault drivers. Palmer was very vocal saying Magnussen was holding him up. With only one seat left at Renault for 2017, this was far more than a mere battle for P14. By L37 Palmer was blue flagged (as he was about to be lapped by Hamilton and Rosberg) which tempered his battle with Magnussen. On L45 Magnussen pitted and Palmer forged ahead, but not for long as with fresh tyres, Magnussen took the place back and finished the race ahead of Palmer (who had let him through on L50).
Ferrari kept us entertained for a while, with Vettel having ‘rear wing drop out’ Did anyone other than Ferrari know what that was? (Paul deResta came to the rescue explaining it was marbles sticking unevenly to the back wing.)
Raikonnen seemed to be the only driver on a three stop strategy at this point. He came into the pits received a fresh set of softs, got part way up the steep incline into turn 1 and stopped. Allegedly there was a wheel gun attached to his right rear tyre. A discussion between crew and driver about what to do next ensued before Raikonnen deftly steered his car backwards into the pit lane where he was not met by is crew. Raikonnen abandoned his car outside the Hass garage and stomped off, not in the best of moods. Ferrari were duly penalised for releasing the car in a unsafe manner.
Not the most exciting race so far, but the best was yet to come in the form of a battle for fifth place between Sainz, Massa and Alonso. On L46 Massa was chasing down Sainz but had a huge lock up which saw him almost collide with Sainz which allowed Alonso to draw a little bit closer. By L47 Alonso was within DRS range of Massa. By L52, they were locked wheel to wheel causing an incident which would be investigated after the race. Alonso, having pushed Massa off the track got the upper hand and moved into P6 with Sainz now firmly in his sights. Sainz defended maginifcently but by the penultimate lap was really being pressurized by Alonso. On the final lap Alonso went round the outside of Turn 11, left the track and rejoined ahead of Sainz to take P5.
Meanwhile, two laps from the end, Vettel pitted for a fresh set of supersoft tyres and promptly won the DHL fastest lap award with a time of 1:39.877.
Hamilton won the race, (the 50th of his career, now only one behind Alan Prost) reducing Rosberg’s lead to 26 points. Rosberg came second (he only needs another two second places and one third place to clinch the Championship this year) and Ricciardo took the third podium position, with Vettel coming in fourth.
Mercedes have already won the constructors championship and Red Bull moved a further three points ahead of Ferrari. Williams reduced Force India’s lead over them by two points, but remain in fifth place in the constructor standings.
What excitment will Mexico bring us next week? We’ll just have to wait a little while longer to get an answer to that one.