World champion Max Verstappen CRUISES to a record 14th win of the season at the Mexican Grand Prix

Max Verstappen won the Mexican Grand Prix, a tactical battle, the dullest race of the year, a triumph of strategy by Red Bull, a personal milestone for the best driver in the world today, and more pain for Lewis Hamilton.

Verstappen’s triumph here at altitude at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez was the Dutchman’s 14 of a dominant season, putting him ahead of Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel, who won 13 each in 2004 and 2013 respectively.

He notched the record by rising above the tremors of the last few weeks, in which he and his team have felt vilified as a result of some bad accountancy that resulted in them being fined £6million for breaching the 2021 cost cap.

Max Verstappen won the Mexican Grand Prix and in the process his 14th of the season

An ill-wind has blown their way, some of it fanned by Mercedes who are still seeking vengeance for Lewis Hamilton’s defeat in Abu Dhabi, so Verstappen and Red Bull were thrilled to stick up two-fingers at their detractors.

But for Hamilton, the wait for a single victory this season goes on. He finished second after Mercedes’ tactical plan failed to yield a reward, a place ahead of Sergio Perez in the second Red Bull. George Russell was fourth for the Silver Arrows.

The die was cast early on. Theory had it that the longest run into the first corner of the year, of some 1,000 yards, would offer hope to those starting behind pole-man Verstappen by dint of the tow. History backed up this school of thought. For the last two editions of this race were won from third, last time by Verstappen.

But this time Verstappen turned this notion on its head. He charged off, showing a pace that the two Mercedes behind him, Russell and Hamilton, on mediums, could not equal. He also braked late. Super late. He is now the master of the late brakers.

By the end of lap one, he led by 1.3sec and all looked well set for victory in front of a noisy, passionate crowd that totalled 395,902 over the weekend.

In the early skirmishes Hamilton went past Russell (who ended up with the fastest lap) as he ran over the kerbs. Sergio Perez, the local hero, overtook Russell, too.

Lap after lap in the initial stint, Hamilton kept Verstappen on his toes. The margin always stood at over one second and went up to just over two when Verstappen was chivvied along to extend his lead by race engineer Gianpiero Lambiase. On cue, Verstappen delivered, a sign of how he is driving like a Schumacher-esque machine.

But, still, there was the constant hope that strategy could yet play into Hamilton’s hands, with his more durable mediums offering potential opportunities.

Especially so if Red Bull couldn’t execute efficient pit stops. They usually do, as a trademark, but didn’t in Austin a week ago and nor did they when Perez was called in as the first of the leading handful after 23 laps of 71. The rear left was sticky.

Verstappen was now complaining of his left front being dead and was summoned to the pits with an advantage of 1.6sec over Hamilton to be re-shod on mediums. It was at the end of lap 25. The stop was good. Just 2.4sec. Hamilton, still out on the track, now led and calmly relayed to the pit wall that he felt comfortable on his tyres.

Verstappen was not sitting so easy. ‘The shifts are f***** again,’ he exclaimed.

Hamilton was in after 29 laps and put on hards. The idea: get to the end. He came out 5.7sec adrift of Verstappen.

It was now strategy versus strategy, a game of high speed chess which was impossible to call as it unfolded lap by lap. How long and how well would the various tyres travel?

Meanwhile, in other news, Ferrari bungled Carlos Sainz’s stop. The press room broke out in mock applause. You wouldn’t trust the Italian team to make an espresso without dropping the cup.

By lap 40, Verstappen (mediums) led Hamilton (hards) by nine seconds, with Sergio Perez (mediums) 1.2sec further back but seven seconds ahead of Russell (hards, after a long first stint). Hamilton complained that his hards were not as good as the mediums. Truth or mind games for Red Bull’s ears? We had to wait to find out.

By lap 45, Verstappen’s lead was up to 10 seconds precisely. By the end it was 15 seconds.

Nothing was really happening. You could go for a snooze and miss nothing. That was until Daniel Ricciardo tried ambitiously to thread his McLaren through on the inside of Turn 5 up against AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda. The Japanese driver momentarily went into the air. He limped back to the garage and retired.

Fernando Alonso retired when his Alpine engine popped and a virtual safety car was deployed. It made no odds. Verstappen and Hamilton both made it to the end on one stop, and the victory went to the world champion. Again.


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