Fourth place in the Mexican Grand Prix was good enough to hand Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton his fifth FIA Formula 1 World Drivers’ Championship title, as Red Bull’s Max Verstappen took his second successive win at the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez ahead of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Räikkönen.
Going into the race Hamilton knew that even if Vettel won the race a seventh-place finish in Mexico City would be good enough to take the title and starting from third on the grid, ahead of his title rival, the Briton was well positioned ahead of the start to score the points necessary.
In the end, despite a brief challenge for the lead after the start, tyre issues in the race hampered Hamilton’s chance of finishing on finishing on the podium but fourth place was good enough to end Vettel’s hopes and seal a title that puts him joint second on the list of all-time title winners behind seven-time winner Michael Schumacher.
For his part, Vettel did everything possible to keep the title fight alive, climbing from fourth on the grid to second. But with almost 14 seconds to make up on race leader Verstappen in the closing stages the task was simply too great for the German.
At the start, Hamilton got away well and the Mercedes driver charged into the gap Dutchman Verstappen had also made a good getaway, however, and as the trio powered towards Turn 1 it was the Red Bull driver who had the best line. As they swept through the corner Verstappen emerged in the lead, with Hamilton second and Ricciardo in third.
Behind them Vettel initially lost out to Valtteri Bottas, but when the Mercedes man was forced wide in Turns 4 and 5 of the opening lap, the Ferrari driver was able to reclaim fourth place. On the edge of the top 10, Force India’s Esteban Ocon tangled with Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg in Turn 1 with the result that Ocon’s front wing was destroyed.
The debris from Ocon’s car was hit by Fernando Alonso and soon after, smoke could be seen trailing from the back of the Spaniard’s McLaren. He pulled over at the edge of the track in Turn 11 and retired from the race. That led to a brief VSC period but when the action resumed Max began to quickly pull away from Hamilton. By lap 10 he had built a 3.4s advantage over the Mercedes driver.
Hamilton was the first of the leaders to pit, the Briton stopping at the end of lap 11 to take on supersofts. Bottas followed moments later in a double stop and they emerged in P5 and P8 respectively.
Red Bull responded by pitting Ricciardo a lap later and Verstappen on lap 13, with both drivers also taking on supersofts. Vettel now led the race ahead of Ferrari team-mate Kimi Räikkönen with Verstappen third ahead of Hamilton and Ricciardo.
Verstappen soon made his way back to second place, however, closing on Räikkönen and sweeping past the Finn under DRS on lap 15. Hamilton and Ricciardo quickly followed suit as the Ferrari driver’s tyres went off, and at the end of lap 17 the Italian squad opted to pit Vettel and his team-mate in quick succession. Verstappen was now back in the lead ahead of Hamilton and Ricciardo.
Fourteen laps later, as Verstappen worked through the first sector of his 31st lap, Carlos Sainz steered off track and stopped. That sparked another VSC period.
When racing resumed, Vettel began to once again close on Daniel and when the Aussie got stuck behind the battle for eight place between Racing Point Force India’s Sergio Pérez and Sauber’s Charles Leclerc, Vettel saw his chance. He made a move in Turn 1 and squeezed past Ricciardo as they exited the Turn 2.
Vettel next targeted Hamilton as the Briton struggled on his supersoft tyres, the Ferrari driver swept past to take P2 on lap 39. Ricciardo now began to close on the title leader.
On lap 47, Ricciardo made the decisive move. As the pair crossed the line to start the lap the Australian opened the DRS and dived to his left. Hamilton tried to outbrake the Red Bull but went off track, leaving Ricciardo to sweep through to third place.
Hamilton immediately pitted for a set of ultrasofts, as did Vettel, and at the end of lap 48 race leader Max also made a second stop, with the Dutchman bolting on a set of supersofts. The order was now Verstappen ahead of Ricciardo, with Vettel third ahead of Räikkönen and Hamilton.
Ricciardo’s race ended on lap 62. With smoke trailing from the back of his car he slowed in Turn 1 and pulled over to retire.
Verstappen now led Vettel by a little over 14 seconds with Räikkönen third. Hamilton was in fourth place almost a minute off the lead but secure in the knowledge that the placing would be good enough to hand him his fifth world title.
And that was how it ended, with Verstappen taking his fifth career win and a second successive win in Mexico City. Vettel finished second, some 17 seconds adrift of the Red Bull, with Räikkönen third.
Hamilton, meanwhile, cruised home in fourth place to seal his fifth world championship title, equalling Juan Manuel Fangio. Behind the champion, Bottas took fifth place ahead of Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg with Sauber’s Charles Leclerc in seventh. Eighth place went to 15th-place starter Stoffel Vandoorne of McLaren. Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson took ninth place, and the final points position went to Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly, who started from last place on the grid.