Uncatchable? Verstappen takes control: 2021 Mexican GP report


He may have qualified third, but Max Verstappen had the 2021 Mexican Grand Prix in his hands from Turn 1

Max Verstappen and his red Bull car on the podium at the 2021 Mexican Grand Prix

Mario Renzi/F1 via Getty Images

Starts to races don’t always live up to the hype, especially when you have title rivals heading towards Turn 1 with a race up for grabs, but Mexico didn’t disappoint.

It’s no exaggeration to say the Mercedes front row lockout on Saturday was a massive surprise, and Sunday’s grand prix showed the team’s true pace against Red Bull . Lewis Hamilton got the slightly better start compared to team-mate Valtteri Bottas but in some ways that was perfect, as Hamilton held the inside line, Bottas the outside and the pair were side-by-side, blocking most of the road.

But they didn’t block all of it, and that was all the invitation Max Verstappen needed.

With the racing line on the outside now clear, Verstappen took full advantage of the opportunity, braking outrageously late to sail around the outside of the Mercedes pair. Granted, Bottas was a little tentative in order to allow Hamilton to move ahead on the inside, but it was a ballsy, decisive move that gave Verstappen absolute control of the race.

Start of the 2021 Mexican Grand Prix

Verstappen took advantage of a gap on the outside at the start, but locking-up Ricciardo found himself running out of room

Mark Thompson/Getty Images

“Of course you can’t really practice how a start is going to go, right, as you end up left, middle, right, depends what happens,” Verstappen said. “But once I was on the outside and on the racing line I knew exactly where I was going to brake.

“It’s always a tricky one, especially as the car on the inside is fully onto the dirt as nobody is really driving there so they can never brake as much as the car on the outside also because of the angle going into the corner, and I knew where I was braking was on the edge as I was getting quite close to the white line on the exit.

Related article

“I knew if somebody would brake later on the inside he would have definitely gone off the track so I went for it and it worked.”

Hamilton was less effusive about how the start panned out, taking a slight dig at Bottas for his car positioning to allow Verstappen such a run at the first corner.

“I had envisaged it differently, naturally in the sense that Valtteri maybe got a better start and I would have tried to get into his tow,” Hamilton said. “But obviously I was alongside him which was good, and I was covering my side of the track making sure that no one could come up the inside.

“So I was trying to keep whichever Red Bull I could see in my mirror behind and I thought Valtteri would be doing the same but he left the door open for Max, Max was on the racing line, so did a mega job braking for Turn 1 and I was on the inside on the dirt and there was no hope for me.”

Daniel Ricciardo pushed Valtteri Bottas into a spin with a cloud of tyre smoke

Ricciardo nudged Bottas into a spin at Turn 1

Mark Thompson/Getty Images

At the same moment as Verstappen took control, Mercedes lost almost all of the control it might have hoped to have. Bottas ceded to Hamilton but as he cut towards the apex at lower speed he was unfortunate to be tapped into a spin by the locked-up Daniel Ricciardo, who lost his front wing.

“Obviously, the spin in Turn 1, with the hit from Daniel, really compromised my race and after that the best chance we had to get past was stopping immediately, but others did the same too,” Bottas said.

“He really ruined my day today but I’m sure he didn’t do the initial hit on purpose, it compromised his race as well, but he was not ideal for my race today.”

In the ensuing scramble to avoid the Mercedes that followed, Esteban Ocon found himself wedged between two cars, and his front tyres made contact with Yuki Tsunoda on his left and Mick Schumacher on his right, breaking each of their respective rear suspensions and eliminating the two rookies.

“I think it was just unfortunate,” Tsunoda said. “The car next to me got sandwiched and that car hit me on the back and clipped me into the air, so it was just unfortunate. The car got quite a lot of damage.”

The safety car was required to clear away the AlphaTauri and Haas, and that at least offered Bottas and Ricciardo a chance to each make a pit stop and rejoin the back of the queue. Even with a new front wing needed, Ricciardo emerged ahead as Bottas had been forced to wait for the whole field to pass him while facing the wrong way, and the pair were faced with a tough fightback on hard tyres.

Yuki Tsunoda in mid air at the start of the 2021 Mexican Grand Prix

Squeeze at the start put Tsunoda out of the race

Florent Gooden / DPPI

If Verstappen taking the lead at the start had put the race in his hands, then Hamilton would have been banking on a chance to attack on the restart, but Verstappen cleverly accelerated in the stadium section and opened up a gap of nearly a second over the line to comfortably retain his advantage.

It didn’t take long for that to prove Hamilton’s last hope, as Verstappen pulled away with ease to open up a lead of nearly ten seconds in the first stint.

Hamilton was focused on Perez behind instead and once the gap between them dropped under two seconds, putting Hamilton at risk of an undercut, he was in for his one and only pit stop on lap 29. And suddenly Red Bull had a chance.

The undercut was proving powerful this weekend but Hamilton emerged behind Charles Leclerc for a lap, and so Perez was gaining time. But Red Bull wanted to run longer than the Mercedes to create a tyre offset, so opted to stay out rather than pit at the end of the lap to try and jump Hamilton immediately, knowing failure would have left the Mexican facing a very tough challenge to find a way past.

Such was Verstappen’s lead he could afford an extra four laps before stopping, even with Hamilton gaining time on fresh tyres. He retained a comfortable lead over the Mercedes, and it led to the romantic scene of Perez leading his home race as he ran a further seven laps.

Sergio Perez follows Lewis Hamilton in the 2021 Mexican Grand prix

Perez hunted down Hamilton but passing proved beyond the Mexican despite the wave of support

Grand Prix Photo

That gave Perez an 11-lap advantage over Hamilton in terms of tyre life, and he quickly set about closing a deficit of nearly ten seconds. For a spell an overtake looked inevitable as he posted a number of laps that were more than a second quicker than Hamilton, but the seven-time champion wasn’t unduly concerned.

“The pressure… I’ve had that many times before, so it was easy to hold on,” Hamilton said. “But it just shows how fast their car is when Sergio is that close behind me and able to follow that closely. He did a great job and he was applying that pressure and just kept going.”

Once Perez closed in he couldn’t actually attempt a move, and he had to settle for third despite it feeling like the whole of Mexico was cheering him on through the main grandstand sections.

Related article

“It was really close, there was a lap where it was so critical to do the undercut, they pitted that lap so we did the opposite and we went long,” Perez said. “It was a bit tricky with the lapped cars as well, I reckon we all lost some time there.

“It was close, I didn’t have a chance, overtaking here is really difficult, given their straight-line speed, they’re really strong on that. I didn’t have the chance, so a bit of a shame, as I think we had the pace to finish 1-2 today.

“Definitely, podium at home grand prix is very special. I wanted more, wanted to win the race, and to finish 1-2 for the team would have been amazing.

“But at the end of the day we are such competitive people that if we finish third we don’t enjoy it, but today is one of those days where I must enjoy it because the crowd, just seeing so many people so happy, and especially on the podium pretty much everyone who has been with me since day one was there so that was special for me.”

Sergio Perez celebrates in front of fans at the 2021 Mexican Grand Prix

Perez podium was all the excuse the crowd needed for a party

Grand Prix Photo

Verstappen showed the performance was there from the opening lap and ended up 16 seconds clear of Hamilton, only losing the extra point for fastest lap on the very final lap when Bottas succeeded at taking it off him at the second time of asking on soft tyres.

With the Finn out of the running, Pierre Gasly had a completely trouble-free afternoon to secure a crucial fourth for AlphaTauri, moving the team level on points with Alpine in the standings after Fernando Alonso could only score two points in ninth. Alonso’s race did involve a crisp move around the outside of George Russell at Turn 1, but he never quite had the pace to trouble the two world champions ahead of him.

Sebastian Vettel was seventh and Kimi Räikkönen eighth, with both securing their strong spots early on. Vettel even looked capable of keeping the Ferraris honest but gradually dropped away from Carlos Sainz, with the Spaniard running long for a tyre advantage and being allowed to pass – after a short delay – by Charles Leclerc to chase Gasly. Once it was clear fourth was out of reach, Sainz dropped back to return the position to his team-mate.

Lando Norris rounded out the top ten with a strong recovery drive from the back of the grid, but with Ferrari scoring so heavily it was a pivotal day in the fight for third in the constructors’ standings as the Scuderia moved 13.5 points clear.

It’s the points gap between Verstappen and Hamilton that is more eye-catching though, with the 19-point advantage for the Red Bull driver being extended in such emphatic style that it’s looking increasingly hard to see how Hamilton will turn it around without outside influences.

Max Verstappen in the stadium section at the Mexican Grand Prix

Uncatchable? Max Verstappen in the stadium section

Antonin Vincent / DPPI


2021 Mexican Grand Prix results

Position Driver Team Time Points
1 Max Verstappen Mercedes 71 laps 25
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes +16.555sec 18
3 Sergio Perez Red Bull +17.752sec 15
4 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri +1min 03.845sec 12
5 Charles Leclerc Ferrari +1min 21.037sec 10
6 Carlos Sainz Ferrari +1 lap 8
7 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin +1 lap 6
8 Kimi Räikkönen Alfa Romeo +1 lap 4
9 Fernando Alonso Alpine +1 lap 2
10 Lando Norris McLaren +1 lap 1
11 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo +1 lap
12 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren +1 lap
13 Esteban Ocon Alpine +1 lap
14 Lance Stroll Aston Martin +2 laps
15 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes +2 laps
16 George Russell Williams +2 laps
17 Nicholas Latifi Williams +2 laps
18 Nikita Mazepin Haas +3 laps
19 Mick Schumacher Haas DNF
20 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri DNF