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28 Oct 2019


Matt 'Trumpets' Ragsdale gives us the lowdown on the ins and outs of a compelling Mexico GP
Ambient 19° Track 40° Humidity 48% Wind 2.8 m/s

Prelude

Another grey day, warm, with puffy clouds spiderwebbed in the azure firmament, reflecting perhaps the disappointment of Verstappen fans after he was hit with a 3 spot ding for, well, ignoring the waving yellow flag. It would have been worse for him had the lighting system not gone out and given him some small measure of plausible excuse. It was no work, however for Horner to point out that it might well have been a blessing in disguise, as rather than being swarmed by Ferraris on the way to T1, he now could grab a tow and make life more difficult.

Pirelli is firm on a 2 stopper, if not 3 but if the weather chooses to make life interesting (looking less likely as the forecast firms up) it's all to play for. Otherwise, the sharp end is looking less silver than normal and it will be a difficult task for the midfielders starting on the Softs, which are rated to last 13 laps at best, handing a distinct advantage to Perez in P11, the first of those on the Mediums. Save Ricciardo, who had chosen to start on a set of Hards to liven things up....

Remarkable job from Merc to get Bottas back on the grid sans penalty and on the way, Albon wound up behind someone leaking oil, though the culprit wasn't identified. Track temps hotter than anyone has seen all weekend should liven things up and bearing in mind that it's not just going to be a struggle to get the tyres to last, but also who's gotten the margins on cooling spot on, for every bit of extra cooling means lost efficiency and thus more tyre wear..... Could be a fun afternoon, at least for those watching from the cheap seats....

Summary

Lights Out!!!! Great Start by Leclerc, leading down to T1 and then it was Hamilton along Vettel who squeezed him and took him onto the grass on the outside and there was a brief tap of wheels as Lewis backed out. As he dove down the inside of the Ferrari into turn 1, Verstappen came alongside and contact between Hamilton and Verstappen into the turn 2 and turn 3 complex, both cars penduluming into each other as they each had their own tank slapper, and then a bit of rallycross from both cars as they plunged down the order, letting Sainz by and Albon into 3rd as Verstappen wound up P8 and then a VSC momentarily stopped the fun, apparently for debris as all the cars were still shown as running on track....

On the restart there was no changed of position and it was not much work for Hamilton to reclaim P4 from the Mclaren driver, whilst further back Bottas was unable to replicate the move, bottling Verstappen as well, crawling all over the crash structure of the Mercedes in his frustration to get moving. Into T12 Max was up the inside and took P7 but but with a bit of contact. Bottas reclaimed the spot down the straight and it was a disaster for Verstappen, the brief puncture leading to a right rear puncture and the tyre itself dismantled itself and went shooting across the tarmac as once again, Verstappen took to the grass to make his journey to the pits just that much shorter, and presumably, safer.

Lap 8 and it was Bottas, now with order restored, behind Hamilton after dodging round Sainz, now in P6. Bottas was struggling a bit with brake temps, but with a 7 second interval to Hamilton their recovery seemed assured. Lap 10 and Perez got the job done on Kvyat as Gasly became the first of the Soft runners to box for the Hard tyre, emerging P19, just ahead of Verstappen who was still catching up to the back of the field and rather desperately hoping to win the coin toss that is the appearance of the Safety Car in the Mexican GP.

Kvyat was in the next lap, and theoretically they were trying to undercut Sainz and Norris, but looking a bit too far back to pull it off. Bottas was slowly gaining on Hamilton, but was still nearly 6 seconds adrift, but it was Albon in the catbird seat as the Ferraris were not making any headway on him and they were all strung out at 2 second intervals, watching each other like hawks.

Lap 13 and Macca was in with Norris and total disaster as they failed to get the front left on. Thinking quickly, Norris stopped before the pit exit and suddenly the race was on for his crew, sprinting down the lane and rolling him back. This was also bad news for Sainz, now under severe pressure from Perez as he had to stay out till Norris cleared the garage.

Lap 14 saw Albon in and out for a set of Mediums, looking a two stop from that distance. This put him out behind Sainz as Leclerc was in to avoid the same fate. 3 or 4 turns later and Albon was through and tracking down Leclerc 8 seconds ahead as Vettel and Hamilton continued at the front, and now it was decidedly different strategy calls between the teams as Lewis tried to overcut the Red Bull driver.

Lap 18 and Sainz, who pitted as soon as he could after Albon (who'd emerged just behind the McLaren driver) was by him, was onto a set of Hards as both Mercedes and Vettel looked to be rocking a one stopper whilst Leclerc and Albon were on a 2 stopper and pushing hard, hard, hard to make it work.... Hulkenberg was in and out with a set of Hards and P13. Leclerc was crushing his laptimes, but Albon was but a tenth faster than Vettel and slowly falling off the back, perhaps a victim of his battle with Sainz...

Lap 21 and hometown hero Perez was in and out with a set of Hards, and back into the points he went as Hamilton was on tenterhooks with the temps of his rear tyres and under pressure from Leclerc who was still closing at more than a second a lap. The following lap it was Giovinazzi's turn to have a pit stop mishap, his right rear not being attached and off he went, realising rather more quickly than Norris something was amiss, and stopped immediately whilst the tyre was properly affixed.

Lap 23 and Hamilton was in, out in front of Albon who suffered more than a bit in his second stint. Verstappen, who had overtaken K-Mag fully off track was as the HAAS driver threatened his slow crawl up the order, was looked at briefly and then thoroughly ignored P13 and continuing his redemption. Vettel, interestingly, failed to follow Hamilton in and then decided that he didn't want to box, but would prefer an offset at the end of the race.

Leclerc, too, seemed to be struggling on his tyres, with the track temps soaring to over 45C it looked like the move to a one stop might've been enough to tip the balance. Hamilton was unconvinced their move was enough to snatch the race from Ferrari, not sure he could create enough of a gap to Vettel to protect him from the ferocious speed of the Ferrari on fresh tyres at the end of the race.....

The longer they went, the more Hamilton grew concerned, as Ferrari ignored the provacative undercut and went their own way, convinced they'd have the pace at the end to make good on their bet. And looking better for the one stoppers with the higher track temps, up to 45°C now, with the 2 stoppers unable to push hard enough to make their strategy work without overheating the tyres.

Verstappen had worked his way up to P10 and with Stroll and Ricciardo yet to pit, he was heading towards a P6, definitively the best he could do under the circumstances. Lap 35 then, and it was now a game of tenths as the engineers buried their heads in the data to calculate the probabilities. Bad news for Sainz, as his battle with Verstappen seemed to have destroyed his tyres and it was Gasly right up his exhaust and they carried their battle into the first 3 turns, holding up Vettel no small amount.

Lap 36 and Bottas was in to try and undercut Vettel, after the time loss behind the midfield battle. Out on the hard for Bottas and Vettel was on it all the way in. Tick tock tick tock and out in FRONT of the Mercedes went Vettel and it was on 15 seconds from Vettel to Hamilton and 8 seconds from Hamilton up to Leclerc, who still needed a stop to complete his race.....

This would be the time for Leclerc to push, but he was instead having to weave through traffic and then it was time to see if he'd managed to save any life in his tyres for his push. Lap 41 and it was Vettel, with fast lap, 1.5 seconds up on Hamilton that go round, 5.5 seconds to catch Hamilton. But first there was Albon, hovering between the pair. Also one to watch was Ricciardo, now in P6 but still on his first set of tyres, looking to have cleared Hulkenberg from his pit window and points definitely on order for the Aussie. Sainz had bailed for a set of Mediums, but the damage to his race was done and he was now chasing from P14 to see what he could reclaim after the utter catastrophe of the stint on the Hards. Verstappen was by Perez and then it was Leclerc, in on lap 44. Out he went on the Hards, but after a bad stop, losing 4 seconds and any hope he had of victory. If you want to talk mistakes, then, as one is wont to do with Ferrari, then look to the tyre choice for the second stint, as the Hards might well have been the better choice.

The following lap Albon was in, freeing Bottas at last to began reeling in Vettel, as Leclerc knocked a second off his deficit in his first full lap on the Hards. Vettel, too, had stealthily made progress and was now just 3 seconds off the back of Hamilton, calmly knocking tenths off every lap and with 26 laps to go, the battle was very clearly going to be joined....

The only question was who was going to get there by the end, as both Albon and Leclerc were rocking off 1:19s, nearly a full second up on the leaders, Leclerc inside of 12 seconds now with 21 laps to go... And look no further than Ricciardo for miracles as he was still running his Hards, in P6, coming up on his 50th lap...

The end of lap 51 saw the end of Ricciardo's awesome adventure on the Hards, and he was in for a set of Mediums and out in P8, chasing Perez about 5 seconds up the road.... The following lap saw Leclerc by Raikkonen and another chance to gain some time on the leaders. And then a total balls up for Macca as they called Norris in, some unnamed issue ending his race before it was ready to be done...

Lap 54 and Leclerc was in with a new fast lap, under 8 seconds to the front and the big question now was was Vettel just saving tyres to the end to have a go, or was he done with his chase and simply trying to stay ahead of Bottas to the end. If it was the latter, not happy days at Ferrari and sure enough, lap 56 and Bottas had DRS for the first time, strongly suggesting Ferrari had managed to get it all wrong somehow....

2 laps later and Leclerc was under the 7 second mark as Bottas continued to whittle away with a massive chunk of traffic heaving into view at the most inopportune time... Hamilton with Stroll, Vettel and Bottas with Kubica, quantum entanglement for the briefest of moments before the blue flags worked their magic. 12 laps to go and Leclerc was 1.5 seconds off Bottas as Vettel just nabbed DRS off Stroll and managed to hold the Mercedes at bay down the straight and into T1. Bottas was getting messages meanwhile that he needed clean air as he was starting to overheat his car.

A missed braking point saw Leclerc lose a second or so, a frustrating moment for the Monegasque, who wasted no time getting back to it. Raikkonen, unable to keep his temps down, was retired by Alfa and at the front it was status quo. Slightly farther back, Ricciardo was inside DRS on Perez with 9 laps to go... Bottas seemed to be slipping the tiniest bit but ahead, Hamilton was upping his pace to match Vettel's as the Ferrari continued to try and nibble away at Hamilton's lead. Ricciardo had a big lunge up the inside on Perez, went straight on after locking up and massive cheers from the crowd as Perez retained the position as best of the rest.

Lap 64 and Hamilton was up to Hulkenberg, the last of the backmarkers they were likely to encounter and Vettel was now at just 2 seconds as Hamilton slipped by the Renault, and Vettel followed quickly, a tenth in sector 1, then minus 2 tenths in sector 2 as Hamilton purpled it, and another tenth lost to the Mercedes across the line, a tantalising 2.3 seconds up the road...

Lap 68 and Leclerc suddenly put in a push, back inside 3 seconds to Bottas, but no clue as to whether he could sustain that to the end of the race.... the following lap it was Vettel's turn to burn the wick bright, knocking 4 tenths off of Hamilton's lead, but decidedly looking too little too late.

Not so much for Ricciardo, who was well inside a second on Perez as the last lap began to tick over. Ahead, Hamilton rocked it through the stadium, now thoroughly enjoying his day as Ferrari was left to rue their choices yet again. Perez, weaving an excellent defense, kept the Renault driver at bay as Hulkenberg turned up with no rear wing as Kvyat had a big lunge on him through turn 16 and nudged him into the wall....

Ugly end to the race for Hulkenberg, whose legendary luck is beginning to resemble that of a certain Nick Heidfeld, but Ricciardo on the Hard tyre was a stroke of genius. Given equal choice of strategy, it was once again Mercedes who won the day, with Hamilton bringing it home, impervious to the pressure that Vettel brought to bear. Ferrari will be having to answer some difficult questions, notably why they pitted Leclerc to cover Albon (arguably due to the 2 stop pit window and hoping to lure Mercedes in) and why, in the name of all that is well, whatever it is, they chose to put him on the Medium tyre when the Hard would've given them some flexibility with regards to their own strategy, and yeah, defo looking at Ricciardo's 50 lap stint here. Also worth mentioning is Bottas, putting some pressure of his own on Vettel and Vettel's decision to go long and gain on offset, when Ferrari was on to bring him in...

Verstappen, too, will have to look in the mirror and ask himself some questions, for despite Horner's flowery words, his ignoring the yellows yesterday, and likely the words that followed them, cost him the chance to vie for the race win, with the melee he got into with Hamilton ultimately responsible for sending him to the back, one he likely would've avoided had he started on pole....

Brutal day for Macca as well, with the floor falling out from underneath Sainz and the painful pit errors with Norris, even before they had to retire him, conveniently enough for Renault. Kvyat got a 10 second penalty for his PIT manuever on Hulkenberg, which looked to put Hulkenberg back into the points on quick calculation, so ray of sunshine perhaps as Hulkenberg's F1 future remains as yet undetermined.

Also falling into the ray of sunshine category and coming through for the team was Perez, at his home Grand Prix, winner of the Formula B crown, making a one stop look effortless and taking full advantage of the free tyre choice afforded him and working the team's strategy to absolute, sweet perfection. Time to do it all again next week, when Hamilton is very much likely to be crowned WDC yet again once the checquers have flown.....

Discuss!!!

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