Martin Brundle: Max Verstappen reaches new level of F1 domination as Red Bull ousts Mercedes in Mexico
There is a lot of hype and energy surrounding the Mexican GP and there is always a festive atmosphere created by the fiercely partisan crowd willing to accompany Sergio Perez.
If you take that away, along with the dramatic 55,000-seat stadium area and podium, we have to admit that the race hasn’t been particularly good on this late track.
In fact, the top three finishers are Max Verstappen, Lewis Hamilton and Sergio Perez exactly the same as last year with very similar and uninteresting distances. To further emphasize that, Ferrari were once again fifth and sixth, although this time Sainz led Leclerc.
With the six fastest cars in the top six having passed the Alfa Romeo pass qualifying Valtteri Bottas’ impressive, it promised to be something, but sadly the great excitement didn’t materialize.
Verstappen deftly eliminates Mercedes’ early threat
Verstappen was smart when he moved from the turret to the right side of the dusty but easier to defend track. This match went well in the hands of second-placed George Russell, who happily accepted the slide until he was forced to move left and partly along.
There have been a few skirmishes recently, at least seven days earlier in Austin, George generously reserved space in turn one for his teammate Lewis Hamilton, and again in turn two, but did not receive the same courtesy swing through the third turn when he was forced wide and bouncing on the curb.
The Ferrari boys were flying in formation side by side behind trying to spot some places, but in reality those first corners decided the running order for the rest of the day: Verstappen, Hamilton, Perez, Russell, Sainz and Leclerc. The 800 meter track comes and goes, the first chicane that defines the race.
The main conspiracy is that both Red Bulls use used soft tyres, and both Mercedes use the new medium tyres on the grid, and for a time when the Red Bull tires start squealing enough, it seems like Mercedes can run much longer at a reasonable speed. and take the initiative.
Whereas Ferrari is simply not in the races, they have no speed despite a large amount of downforce and are clearly defending something at this 7200 ft lap when they intended to finish one minute later.
It must be said that Ferrari’s power unit in Bottas’ Alfa Romeo flew relatively well although he was ultimately disappointed with just one championship point in 10th from sixth on the grid.
Why did the final strategic battle fail
Red Bull will hit Perez in lap 23 for medium tyres and similarly Verstappen in lap 25. This leaves Mercedes ahead and two big questions. How far can Mercedes go at competitive speeds on their original average tyre, and can Red Bull make it to the end of the race on their newly installed medium tire 48 laps away?
‘Not very’ and ‘yes’ are two answers, rather making a four-horse race a pain. Hamilton going into lap 29 with hard compound tires turned out to be a bad decision.
Despite his objections to the long run and a set of soft compound tires afterwards, Russell tried his hand at lap 34 for a new hard compound tire in the desert, wisely.
For the 39 F1 races during the pandemic, it was necessary to simplify the tire selection procedures and each driver has since been allocated eight sets of soft tyres, three medium and just two sets of hard tyres. You are not allowed to mix them together. This means that if you might want to run hard mixed tires during a race, you can minimally prepare for them during practice sessions.
In both Austin and Mexico Free Practice Two was extended to 90 minutes and became Pirelli’s test for the 2023 tire specifications. Plus, many teams were quite late in completing the requirements. to run a rookie at least one FP1 in each car, this combined has disturbed the normal flow and preparation for the final two GPs and is certainly not ideal for the show.
Sometimes hard compound tires turn out to be a surprisingly superior move, but when the temperature cools on this low-wear circuit, they don’t really bite into the runway and reach the proper temperature and grip.
Alonso and Ricciardo the stars of midfield
We saw plenty of rough action in the midfield, but Fernando Alonso was definitely the best of the rest until his power department failed. Such was his determination and mode of attack, when he got out of the car he hung his head in despair on a wheel bar. Not the kind of emotion we usually see in him, but he lost a serious point this year because of his unreliability.
Daniel Ricciardo is an interesting case. He had a good weekend and raced while nursing his starting average tire to lap 44 and then did what Russell wanted to do by putting the soft tyre in. Then he took off like a possessed man. In frustration over passing Yuki Tsunoda, he brought his McLaren to the inside of the double top on turn six in the hopes of distracting the Japanese driver for a wider run.
Instead, they communicated with each other and Tsunoda’s Alpha Tauri left the stage left on two wheels to retire. It was all a bit clumsy and the Managers decided that Ricciardo was entirely at fault, and perhaps when Tsunoda had to retire, Daniel had to incur a 10-second penalty to be added to his race time because he won’t pit anymore.
This was the impetus for Daniel to drive the way we remember him best and take sixth place despite the penalty, along with ‘driver of the day’ from fans. It will be interesting to see where he shows up next year, and especially in 2024.
It was about action other than some midfield scuffles as Verstappen serenely clinched a record 14th win of the season and Red Bull had a ninth straight win. Congratulations to all of them.
Now it’s time to breathe before the final two races of the season.