Max took his second win of the season and the fifth of his career with a brilliant Mexican Grand Prix drive that saw him take first place on lap one and lead for all but a handful of the 71 laps of the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez.
There was yet more pain for Daniel, however. The polesitting Aussie dropped to third at the start but looked set for a P2 finish when a sudden hydraulic failure ended his race on lap 10 laps from home.
At the start, championship leader Lewis Hamilton got away best and the Mercedes driver charged into the gap between the two Red Bulls. Max got a good getaway as well, however, and as they powered down to Turn 1 it was the Red Bull driver who had the best line. As they swept through the corner Max emerged in the lead, with Hamilton second and pole sitter Daniel down in third.
Behind them Sebastian Vettel initially lost out to Valtteri Bottas, but when the Mercedes man was forced wide in Turns 4 and 5 of the opening lap, the Ferrari driver was able to reclaim fourth place. On the edge of the top 10, Force India’s Esteban Ocon tangled with Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg in Turn 1 with the result that Ocon’s front wing was destroyed.
The debris from Ocon’s car was hit by Fernando Alonso and soon after, smoke could be seen trailing from the back of the Spaniard’s McLaren. He pulled over at the edge of the track in Turn 11 and retired from the race.
That led to a brief VSC period but when the action resumed Max began to quickly pull away from Hamilton. By lap 10 he had built a 3.4s advantage over the Mercedes driver.
Hamilton was the first of the leaders to make a pit stop, the Briton stopping at the end of lap 11 to take on supersofts. Bottas followed moments later in a double stop and they emerged in P5 and P8 respectively.
The team responded by pitting Daniel a lap later and then Max on lap 13, with both drivers also taking on supersofts. Vettel now led the race ahead of Ferrari team-mate Kimi Räikkönen with Max third ahead of Hamilton and Daniel.
Max was soon back in second place, however, quickly closing on Räikkönen and sweeping past the Finn under DRS on lap 15. Hamilton and Daniel quickly followed suit as the Ferrari driver’s tyres went off, and at the end of lap 17 the Italian squad opted to pit Vettel and his team-mate in quick succession. Max was now back in the lead ahead of Hamilton and Daniel.
Max continued to stretch his lead and at the start of lap 28 he had a 9.3s advantage over Hamilton who was complaining about degrading tyres. Then, as Max worked through the first sector of his 31st lap, behind him, in the Foro Sol section Carlos Sainz steered off track and stopped.
When racing resumed, Vettel began to once again close on Daniel and when the Aussie got stuck behind the battle for eighth place between Force India’s Sergio Perez and Sauber’s Charles Leclerc, Vettel saw his chance. He made a move into Turn 1, which Daniel was initially able to rebuff, but the German held his line cleanly and squeezed past as they exited the complex of turns.
Vettel next targeted Hamilton, as the Briton continued to struggle on his tyres, and the Ferrari driver swept past to take P2 on lap 39. Daniel saw the opportunity and he too began to close on the title leader.
On lap 47, after a couple of attempts, Daniel made the decisive move. As the pair crossed the line to start the lap the Australian opened the DRS and dived to his left. Hamilton tried to outbrake the Red Bull but went off track, leaving Daniel to sweep through to third place.
Hamilton immediately pitted for a set of ultrasofts, as did Vettel, and at the end of lap 48 race leader Max also made a second stop, with the Dutchman bolting on a set of supersofts. The order was now Max ahead of Daniel, with Vettel third ahead of Räikkönen and Hamilton.
Vettel closed up to Daniel, but the Australian did a brilliant job of keeping the Ferrari driver at bay, even managing to break DRS to the German on supersoft tyres with almost 50 laps on them.
His epic defence ended on lap 62, however. A puff of smoke at the back of his car signalled a significant problem and a few corners later he slowed in Turn 1 and pulled over to retire.
Max now led Vettel by a little over 14 seconds with Räikkönen third. Hamilton was in fourth place almost a minute off the lead but secure in the knowledge that the placing would be good enough to hand him his fifth world title.
And, after 71 laps that was how it ended, with Max taking his fifth career win and his second successive win in Mexico City. Vettel finished second, some 17 seconds adrift of the Red Bull, with Räikkönen third.
Hamilton, meanwhile, cruised home in fourth place to seal his fifth world championship title, equalling Juan Manuel Fangio. Behind the champion, Bottas took fifth place ahead of Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg with Sauber’s Charles Leclerc in seventh. Eighth place went to 15th-place starter Stoffel Vandoorne of McLaren. Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson took ninth place, and the final points position went to Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly, who started from last place on the grid.
Mexican Grand Prix - Top Ten:
- MAX VERSTAPPEN
- Sebastian Vettel
- Kimi Raikkonen
- Lewis Hamilton
- Valtteri Bottas
- Nico Hulkenberg
- Charles Leclerc
- Stoffel Vandoorne
- Marcus Ericsson
- Pierre Gasly
DANIEL RICCIARDO RET