Max Verstappen increases title lead over Lewis Hamilton with victory in Mexico

Belgian-Dutch driver's breathtaking win puts him in driving seat to claim his first title

Lewis Hamilton’s dreams of a record-breaking eighth world championship are hanging by a thread after Max Verstappen outgunned his rival to win the Mexican Grand Prix.

Verstappen delivered the start of starts to blast away from third, and beat Hamilton and pole-sitter Valtteri Bottas on the 355kph stampede to the opening corner.

Mexico City’s Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez is 2,285 metres above sea level, and Verstappen’s breathtaking getaway puts him in the driving seat to claim his first title and deny Hamilton further history.

With only four rounds and 107 points to play for, Hamilton, who held off Sergio Perez in the closing stages to finish second, is now 19 points behind.

Hamilton could not believe that Mercedes locked out the front row, but their hard work in qualifying was undone within 800 metres of Sunday’s race.

Starting second, Hamilton’s reaction time might have been 0.003 sec quicker than Verstappen’s, but Bottas allowed his teammate’s chief rival an opening when he left the racing line unguarded.

Verstappen hardly needed the invitation, jinking out of Bottas’ slipstream.

As Verstappen on the left, Bottas in the middle, and Hamilton on the right, arrived for the first corner, the Red Bull racer displayed impeccable courage to stamp on his brakes so much later than both Mercedes drivers.

Verstappen launched his Red Bull at the right hander apex, before hanging on to his machine through the exit. Was that the moment this championship was won?

Hamilton slotted into second, with Bottas’s nightmare start taking another sorry twist when he tripped over Daniel Ricciardo’s front wing and spun in a plume of white smoke.

Yuki Tsunoda and Mick Schumacher crashed out as they tried to avoid Bottas. The Mercedes driver and Ricciardo stopped for repairs and the safety car was sent out. Four laps later it was back in the pits.

At the restart, Verstappen blasted his Red Bull through the Foro Sol stadium section, which holds the closing corners of the lap, to cross the line nine tenths clear of Hamilton.

He weaved along the main straight to prevent Hamilton from gaining a tow, but the Briton was never close enough to launch an attack.

By lap eight, Hamilton was already 2.5 seconds behind, and on lap 15, Verstappen’s advantage had doubled to five.

“These guys are obviously too fast for us,” said Hamilton, with Perez now starting to close in on the back of his car. “Can’t pull away from him."

On lap 30, and 10sec adrift of Verstappen, Hamilton stopped for tyres, with the leader following three laps later.

When Perez came in on lap 40, Verstappen regained the lead, with his 10sec advantage over Hamilton restored.

“Let me know where they are quicker, man, where Verstappen is quicker,” said a desperate Hamilton.

“Exit of turn 11 and exit 13,” came the response from Hamilton’s race engineer, Peter Bonnington.

But Hamilton simply had no answer to Verstappen with his mirrors now occupied by the other Red Bull of Perez.

On lap 61, Perez was just 0.5sec behind, with the 140,000-strong crowd roaring their man through all 17 corners, lap after lap.

But Hamilton held his nerve to take the runner-up spot – 16.5sec behind Verstappen – with Perez third.

And with next week’s Brazilian Grand Prix at Interlagos also expected to suit Verstappen’s Red Bull machinery, the man Hamilton knows time is not on his side.

Pierre Gasly finished fourth for AlphaTauri ahead of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz. Bottas crossed the line 15th.

“At the start it was all about just trying to brake as late as I could," Verstappen said after his ninth triumph of the season and his second in a fortnight.

“I kept it on the track, I was first, and that is what made my race, because I could focus on myself because we had the pace in the car.

“It [his first title] is still a long way to go and of course it is looking good, but it can turn around quickly."

“Congratulations to Max,” said Hamilton. “Their car was faster than us this weekend so there was nothing we could do.

“I gave it everything and I had a great fight with Sergio at the end, so I am pleased to get second.

“I have had the pressure many times before, so it was easy to hold on to second, but it just shows how fast their car is when Sergio is that close behind me and able to follow that closely.”

Updated: November 7th 2021, 10:02 PM
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