Out in Front: Lewis Hamilton’s fifth world title

Thomas McKeown takes us through the drama of the Mexican Grand Prix.

Max Verstappen at the Austrian GP

Lewis Hamilton became one of only three men to win the Drivers’ World Championships after Sunday’s chaotic Mexican Grand Prix.

Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen was the man who stood atop the podium on the day, the 21-year-old capping off a highly impressive weekend with a dominant win where he led for 67 of 71 laps. Verstappen has built a reputation in his first 3 years in Formula 1 as an almost obsessively competitive driver. At times though, criticism has come his way when this competitiveness has blown over into overly aggressive and dangerous driving. In Mexico, however, we saw Verstappen fully in control, successfully protecting the car on a day where mechanical failure was rife and with a maturity that belied his years.

Verstappen was the fastest man on Friday and Saturday’s practice sessions but after missing out on pole position in qualifying he channelled his frustration and made Red Bull team principal Christian Horner proud: “I think it played on Max’s mind, and from the moment he turned up [on Sunday] you could see there was only going to be one guy coming through turns 1/2/3 in the lead. As soon as he emerged from the rst three corners with the lead, the rest of it he controlled brilliantly.”

Despite Verstappen’s masterful drive, it was always going to be Hamilton earning the plaudits after the chequered flag. After a very dominant season, Hamilton only needed to finish seventh at the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez to write himself into the history books alongside Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher.

While lacking pace compared to Ferrari and Red Bull throughout the entire race weekend, the Stevenage born superstar still managed to produce a conservative and measured drive to bring the car home in a respectable fourth position. But in the media pit, surrounded by hordes of team mechanics, media pundits and fans, Hamilton wasn’t immediately jubilant at his feat over the course of the season: “It really doesn’t feel real at the moment… it feels like a normal day when you’ve had a bad race! I think it’s gonna take a while to sink in, but I honestly feel very humbled. I feel so conflicted, because in my heart I still want to win the race. It’s really weird, because I don’t really feel like celebrating. I’ve still got races I want to win and things I want to achieve this year.”

Coming second in Mexico and second in the Driver’s Standings, Hamilton’s rival Sebastian Vettel was gracious in defeat after his loss in the title race was confirmed.

“I congratulated him,” Vettel said after the race. “He drove superb all year and was the better one of us two, number five is something incredible. I congratulated him, asked him to keep pushing next year and we’ll fight him again.”

It was Verstappen and Hamilton who surged forward into first and second right from the first corner, leaving pole-sitter Daniel Ricciardo languishing in third. Ricciardo, after incredibly quick practice and qualifying sessions, found himself yet again plagued by the ongoing reliability issues that have led to his decision to leave Red Bull Racing at the end of this season. Sunday marked the Australian’s 8th DNF from just 19 races, compounding previous season’s reliability issues which led to six DNFs in 2017. Ricciardo is usually considered to be one of the more amiable and patient drivers on the grid, but was thunderous in the paddock post-race, saying:“You know, honestly, now where I am, I don’t see the point of coming on Sunday. I haven’t had a clean race or weekend in so long. I’m not superstitious or any of that … but the car’s cursed. I don’t have any more words.” Ricciardo will undoubtedly be hoping for better reliability from the team at Renault, where he will spend the 2019 season.

Misfortune also struck Force India’s hometown hero Sergio Pèrez, who until Sunday had never finished outside of the points in his native Mexico. To the dismay of the crowd, Pèrez was forced into retirement by a brake failure. A visibly dissapointed Pèrez reflected after the race: “We were doing a fantastic job. Seventh place was in my pocket, the team had a great strategy, but unfortunately it was not our afternoon,”

In the end, the expected coronation of Hamilton took place as scheduled, but this year’s Mexican Grand Prix was not without its flash-points and moments of drama. Attention now turns to Interlagos in two weeks’ time, with the Constructor’s Championship still very much hanging in the balance with Mercedes leading with 585 points and Ferrari on 530.

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