Lewis Hamilton scored a textbook victory at the Mexican Grand Prix ahead of team-mate Nico Rosberg, as Max Verstappen was ruled out of third position after a titanic battle with Sebastian Vettel saw the Dutchman penalized for leaving the track and gaining an advantage. Vettel finished third ahead of Daniel Ricciardo with Verstappen demoted to fifth place.
At the race start Hamilton got away in the lead, despite a slightly slow getaway. Directly behind Verstappen made a good start and pulled alongside Rosberg as the pair entered the first corner. Under pressure, Hamilton braked too late and went skittering across the run-off area and the infield grass.
Rosberg too was under pressure from Verstappen and as the pair went through turn one, Rosberg was forced wide. Instead of backing out, however, he powered across the run-off area to rejoin in P2. The race stewards launched an investigation but eventually ruled that no further action was warranted.
At the back there was more drama as Marcus Ericsson and Pascal Wehrlein collided. The incident, which ruled Wehrlein out of the race, brought out the safety car and during this period Daniel Ricciardo pitted to shed his starting supersofts for medium compound tyres.
As the first stint unfolded that looked a good move. By lap 18, when Hamilton made his first stop, for mediums, Ricciardo was seventh and 22.4s behind on-the-road race leader Rosberg.
The Australian pushed hard as he was told that there might be an opportunity to pass the German when the Mercedes man pitted, but with Perez defending hard ahead of Ricciardo time was lost and when Rosberg emerged from his first stop, for medium tyres, he was comfortably 2.8s ahead of the Red Bull.
Behind Ricciardo, team-mate Verstappen was now champing at the bit on fresher mediums and on lap 22 Ricciardo did the sensible thing and allowed his quicker team-mate through.
Sebastian Vettel, though, was still circling on his starting soft tyres and with the German posting lap times better than second-placed Hamilton after 28 laps, there was a real suggestion that the Ferrari driver could influence the podium outcome if he was to stop just once.
Ferrari appeared to roll the dice on lap 33. Vettel dived for the pit lane and took on medium tyres. He rejoined in sixth place, just over two seconds behind team-mate Raikkonen and 18.6s behind race leader Hamilton who now led Rosberg Verstappen and Ricciardo.
Further back, the battle for fourth place in the Constructors’ Championship was again fierce. Seventh-placed Hulkenberg was comfortably 11 seconds ahead of Valterri Bottas, but behind them Felipe Massa in the second Williams was coming under enormous pressure from local hero Sergio Perez. The battle would last the entire race but Massa held his ground until the flag.
As the race entered its final third, Raikkonen was the first to blink on strategy, with the Finn taking a final set of mediums on lap 46. Ricciardo was the next to make a switch and the Australian shed his 49-lap-old mediums for a set of soft tyres on lap 51. Again the move seemed positive as he rejoined in sixth and immediately passed Hulkenberg.
The Australian began to push and on lap 56 he was 14.5s behind fourth-placed Vettel and lapping almost a second quicker than the German who was hitting traffic.
At the front, though Hamilton was comfortable. At the start of lap 57 the Briton led Rosberg by seven seconds, with Rosberg now three seconds ahead of Verstappen. With just 15 laps to go it looked like the front four would stick to a one-stop strategy, though Verstappen was beginning to nurse tyres that were 45 laps old.
And as the race entered its final laps, Vettel’s strategy, and that of Ricciardo, paid off. The pair pulled up close to the fading Verstappen and with a handful of laps to go Vettel found himself within DRS range of the Dutchman. He moved to attack, prompting the Red Bull driver to brake too late. The Dutchman went off track but rejoined ahead of the German. It looked certain that he would be told to cede the position.
Behind, Ricciardo had closed up to Vettel and he launched an attack on the Ferrari driver. The pair banged sidepods and almost came to a halt but Vettel held the position. Ricciardo then backed off as the stewards announced they would investigate the Vettel/Verstappen incident after the race.
Ahead Hamilton crossed the line to claim his 51st career win ahead of Rosberg but all eyes were on the fight for P3. Verstappen took the flag in third but Vettel drew alongside furiously wagging his finger at the teenager.
The stewards agreed and as Verstappen climbed out of his car in parc fermé the news was delivered that Verstappen had been handed a five-second penalty for gaining an advantage when he went off track.
It dropped the Dutchman to fifth place and gained Vettel his 86th podium finish. Ricciardo moved up to fourth ahead of his team-mate while sixth place went to Raikkonen. Hulkenberg was seventh for Force India ahead of the Williams cars of Bottas and Massa, while the final point went to Perez.