Championship leader Max Verstappen extended his points lead with a commanding victory in the Mexican Grand Prix. The Red Bull driver made a decisive Turn 1 move on the opening lap as Valtteri Bottas went into a spin.
Sergio Perez finished in a popular third position after Lewis Hamilton held off the home crowd favourite even with Checo had a major tyre-life advantage versus the Mercedes.
At the start, Hamilton got off the line well to quickly get up alongside Bottas on the inside run to the Turn 1 right-hander, while Verstappen closed in thanks to the tow/slipstream effect and them took the outside line.
The Red Bull driver braked later, with more confidence and went around the outside of his Mercedes rivals, holding his move to the outside and staying on the track – now in the lead.
As Verstappen and Hamilton headed in Turn 2, chaos unfolded behind them as Bottas was tagged into a spin by McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo, who had locked up heavily on the inside of Turn 1.
As the Mercedes spun around, Perez cut across the inside to Valtteri’s left, the track limits rule that Lewis was in breach of in FP1 superseded for the first lap by a late order from Formula 1 race director Michael Masi, with the rest of the pack moved around.
In amongst the drama, Esteban Ocon was sandwiched between Yuki Tsunoda and Mick Schumacher – the damage in the ensuing contact putting the AlphaTauri driver out on the spot at Turn 2 and left the Haas spotted just past the exit of Turn 3 leading onto the second straight.
That safety car was called so the incident could be cleared, with Bottas stopping at the rear of the field to switch from the mediums all the leaders had started on to take the hards.
Ahead of the restart, Verstappen dropped Hamilton as he accelerated through the final corners of the stadium section and already had a lead of 0.9-seconds as the race went fully green once again at the start of lap five of 71.
From there, he shot clear of his title rival, lapping in the mid one minute, 21 seconds as Hamilton began his opening stint in the low one minute, 22 seconds, and then continuing to raise his pace – briefly reaching the high one minute, 20 seconds – with a series of fastest laps in the ten laps that followed the safety car coming in.
By lap 15 Verstappen’s lead was 5.4 seconds, which he extended to nearly ten seconds – never under pressure from behind – by the time he pitted on lap 33.
As Verstappen disappeared, Hamilton was soon under more pressure to keep a gap ahead of Perez, who remained around two seconds behind the Mercedes throughout the opening stint, despite being urged to close up by his engineer on several occasions.
Hamilton was the first of the leaders to come in for hards, four laps before Verstappen – just as Perez had closed to 1.5 seconds behind.
While Red Bull left Verstappen out for a little while, it left Perez out for 11 laps beyond Hamilton’s stop – setting up a significant tyre life off-set advantage for the second half of the race.
At the start of lap 42, Perez’s out lap, Verstappen led Hamilton by 9.8 seconds, with Perez facing a 9.5 seconds gap to close on Hamilton over the rest of the race.
The leader, again completely untroubled out front, steadily pulled further away from Hamilton over the second stint to take a commanding win by 16.5 seconds.
The main interest remained Perez’s attempts to catch Hamilton, which he did so solidly during the initial phase after his stop – the gap between them down to 5.7 seconds at the end of lap 50 as the home hero regularly lapped in the mid one minute, 19 seconds versus Hamilton’s low one minute, 20 seconds.
Mercedes reckoned Checo’s Red Bull would be close enough to make a move on the final lap, but in fact Perez’s pace was so good he closed to within DRS range at the start of lap 61.
At this stage, Hamilton was running behind the lapped Lando Norris, who had had enough pace to stay out of blue flag range for several laps, which aided Perez’s charge.
But when the McLaren moved aside on lap 62, Perez slipped out of DRS threat behind Hamilton, who was displaying mighty straight line speed – as Mercedes had against Red Bull all weekend.
That stalled Perez’s charge and he then fell back again as the pair lapped several backmarkers – including Fernando Alonso and the twice lapped George Russell (P16 at the finish).
Perez did close in again on Hamilton to run within a second on the final lap, but his look up the inside of Turn 4 was never close to really threaten Hamilton’s position and he came home 1.1 seconds behind.
Verstappen’s lead had actually been as high as twenty seconds, but when Mercedes pitted Bottas for a third time in a bid to deprive the leader of the fastest lap, the pair were suddenly close on track and held each other up.
Bottas, two laps down having chased Ricciardo on the fringes of the top ten in the first half of the race, lost further ground with a slow second stop to move back to the mediums midway through.
He took one lap back by passing Verstappen, who the lapped Bottas again – with Mercedes then opting to bring the Finn in for a fourth time to chase the fastest lap on the final tour, which Bottas, in P15, secured with a one minute, 17.774 seconds – although no point for that accolade will be awarded for this race because Bottas finished outside the top ten.
Behind the leaders, Pierre Gasly took a solid fourth place for AlphaTauri – running a lonely race well ahead of the Ferraris.
Charles Leclerc was the lead driver home for the Scuderia – after being allowed back past Carlos Sainz late on, as the pair had already swapped to allow Carlos a chance to close on Gasly after he had completed a long first stint.
But when that did not pay off, Leclerc, who had gained ground in the first corner melee – where both Ferraris were off track at one point – was moved back ahead of finish as the last driver on the lead lap.
Sebastian Vettel took seventh ahead of Kimi Raikkonen, with Alonso finishing ahead of Norris at the tail end of the top ten.
It wasn’t the most thrilling race but in terms of the championship, it makes it fascinating as Max Verstappen extends his points lead over Lewis Hamilton. While Red Bull are now a single point behind Mercedes in the constructors’ standings as the season heads to the final four races.
Mexican Grand Prix, race results:
1 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Honda 1:38:39.086
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes +16.555s
3 Sergio Perez Red Bull-Honda +17.752s
4 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri-Honda +63.845s
5 Charles Leclerc Ferrari +81.037s
6 Carlos Sainz Jr. Ferrari +1 lap
7 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin-Mercedes +1 lap
8 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo-Ferrari +1 lap
9 Fernando Alonso Alpine-Renault +1 lap
10 Lando Norris McLaren-Mercedes +1 lap
11 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo-Ferrari +1 lap
12 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren-Mercedes +1 lap
13 Esteban Ocon Alpine-Renault +1 lap
14 Lance Stroll Aston Martin-Mercedes +2 laps
15 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes +2 laps
16 George Russell Williams-Mercedes +2 laps
17 Nicholas Latifi Williams-Mercedes +2 laps
18 Nikita Mazepin Haas-Ferrari +3 laps
19 Mick Schumacher Haas-Ferrari DNF
20 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri-Honda DNF