18th Round of F1 World Championship 2019: Mexican Grand Prix

Grand Prix

Nov 20th, 2019

18th Round of F1 World Championship 2019: Mexican Grand Prix

Hamilton Wins to Inch Closer to Sixth Title 

The F1 2019 Mexican Grand Prix was held at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City, Mexico, a circuit named after the Rodriguez brothers, Mexico's two Grand Prix racing drivers Pedro and Ricardo. This round was the 21st running of the Mexican GP and the 20th running of an F1 World Championship round. 

Round 18 was all about Lewis Hamilton and whether he could claim his sixth world title or not in this race. Both Ferrari drivers were eliminated from the title race at the end of the Japanese GP weekend. The target for Hamilton was to win the round with the fastest lap and hope Bottas finished third or lower. Lewis won the race but failed to set the fastest lap making him wait until next week's COTA race to clinch the title. Vettel finished 2nd, and Bottas took 3rd to take the title fight to the USA. 

Thursday Pre-Race Preparations

Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez lies some 2,200m above sea level, which means air is 25% less dense compared to air at sea level. The low density of air changes the competitive order significantly, so the downforce generated by a wing at Monaco will generate downforce at Mexico equivalent to Monza levels. The thin and low-density air puts extra pressure on the engine as it has to work harder. Since these engines are turbocharged, the turbo makes up for power loss due to thin air.

Renault needed to perform at their best this weekend and score big points to have any chance of going after McLaren to regain 4th position. They got disqualified from the Japanese GP result which FIA deemed as a breach of sporting regulations for using a pre-set automated brake bias adjustment feature. 

The circuit added a third DRS zone to aid overtaking. The Mexico circuit already had two DRS zones in 2018, first on the home straight and second between turns 3 and 4. This year, drivers can also use DRS between turn 11 and 12 straight.

The weather forecast predicted Friday and Saturday to be dry but overcast; however, the rain predicted for Sunday's race could spice things up.

Lewis Hamilton's race engineer Peter Bonnington missed the Mexico GP to undergo a medical procedure according to team representatives.

Friday Practice

The Aston Martin Red Bull racers used to be the favorites in the last two Mexican GPs, and they delivered as expected, but this year, the tag was placed on Scuderia Ferrari to set the benchmark. The teams did both FP 1 and FP 2 sessions in perfectly dry conditions. 

Ferrari emerged as the top contender to take the pole position on Saturday afternoon. Red Bull was behind by only 0.115 sec, pointing towards a two-horse race for pole position. Mercedes struggled for one-lap pace some 0.6 sec slower than Ferrari. Toro Rosso had a good day at the office by leading the midfield teams.

Race simulations sketched a little bit of different pictures. Mexico track was very low-grip and stayed that way for the rest of the weekend, which is very unusual. Teams could not get tyre graining under control - such is the nature of the circuit. Mercedes has the best race engine and chassis, so they are the car to beat on race pace. 

This time around it was Ferrari and Red Bull tied first on race pace, while Mercedes was down by an average of 0.1 sec/lap. Racing Point demonstrated good long-run pace 0.6 sec/lap slower than Ferrari, Alfa Romeo 0.8 sec/lap, Toro Rosso 0.9 sec/lap, Renault 1.0 sec/lap and McLaren 1.1 sec/lap. Williams and Haas both were slowest on high-fuel run but equal on pace with each other.

After Friday practice, Hamilton expressed his thoughts about how this circuit could be so aggressive with the tyres and that three or four pit stops would certainly mix things up. "You have maximum downforce and low air density, so you're just sliding around quite a lot – it's going to be interesting." – Lewis Hamilton 

Saturday Practice

Mercedes looked like a most improved team after struggling on Friday to generate pace over one lap. Ferrari led the session 1-2, but Bottas was just 0.1 sec behind the two red cars. Rain early in the day delayed the teams' run plan, and it was in the final 15 minutes that they bolted dry tyres and went for some qualifying simulations.

Qualifying

It was a bittersweet day for the Aston Martin Red Bull after defying the odds and taking third consecutive Mexico pole position. Q1 session set the tone for the rest of the qualifying. Max Verstappen went fastest from his teammate Alexander Albon. Both Haas drivers got eliminated along with the two Williams and Lance Stroll.

Q2 started with top teams opting for medium tyres, and so did Carlos Sainz (McLaren), so that they could go long on the first stint. Sainz was 11th quickest so went again on soft tyres to get into Q3. Mercedes finished session 1-2 on medium tyres. Home hero Sergio Perez (Racing Point), both Alfa Romeo's and Renault's failed to make the cut. 

Max Verstappen was the only one to dip into a 1 min 14s bracket at the end of the first runs. Charles Leclerc came in second followed by Vettel. Leclerc was first to cross the line after the final run but failed to improve. Bottas was behind him but crashed heavily onto the wall coming out of the last corner bringing out the yellow flag, which meant nobody improved their time. Still, Max ignored the yellow flag and went on to improve his lap time, breaking previous track record by 0.001 sec. 

An investigation by race director Michael Massi handed Max Verstappen a 3-place grid drop, promoting Charles Leclerc to P1 and Sebastian Vettel to P2 position. Hamilton was to start 3rd, Verstappen 4th and Bottas a disappointing 5th. Albon started 6th, Sainz lined up 7th on the grid for the third race in a row, Norris 8th, Daniil Kyat 9th and Gasly 10th.

Sunday Race

Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez is one place where there is no guarantee that you will lead into the first corner from pole position. The distance between the P1 grid slot and turn 1 is nearly 1000m, so there’s plenty of chance to pick up a tow and emerge ahead. 

Ferrari started from their record 65th front row but managed to stay ahead thanks to the mighty Ferrari engine into turn 1. Behind them, Hamilton and Verstappen tangled going side by side and went off track allowing Albon and Sainz to slot into 3rd and 4th. Hamilton rejoined the track in 5th and Verstappen 8th.

Leclerc blinked first on Lap 16 and pitted to take another set of mediums, going for a two-stop strategy. Mercedes changed the plan and went long into the race, deciding to go for a risky but doable one-stop strategy. Hamilton pitted on Lap 24 and took a set of new hard tyres.

Bottas came in for a second stop on Lap 37, Vettel on Lap 38, and Leclerc on Lap 42. With ten laps to go, Hamilton had to cope with a trio of fast approaching rivals. Surprisingly, Lewis had enough in hand to keep his competitors behind and take a well-executed race win. Sebastian Vettel finished a fine 2nd. Bottas, after a messy Saturday, finished 3rd, denying Hamilton the sixth title and taking the fight to the next race in Austin.

Alexander Albon finished 5th, Verstappen recovered to finish 6th, Sergio Perez finished best of the rest in 7th, Renault with double points finish Ricciardo 8th and Hulkenberg 10th, and Pierre Gasly after starting from outside top 10 finished in 9th.

Lewis Hamilton thanked the Mercedes team for the incredible teamwork that brought the win. He acknowledged how incredibly hard they worked and stayed focused, pulling through a difficult race for the Mercedes. His car had quite a bit of damage, showing how the race was a struggle. "It felt like a long second stint. Oh, man, I'm so grateful for today." – Lewis Hamilton

Next week it’s United States Grand Prix at COTA, and Hamilton needs a top 10 finish to take title number six.