Analysis: Formula 1 2019 Mexican Grand Prix – Assessing the field

by William Brierty

The Mexican Grand Prix was a curate’s egg for everyone concerned. One of the most enthusiastically attended races of the year – and one of the least inspiring track layouts of the season. A stellar pole for Max Verstappen on Saturday – followed by a grid penalty and a puncture on Sunday. A front-row lockout for Ferrari eclipsed by Mercedes’ typical operational superiority in the race.

The biggest contrast of the weekend was the immense passion of the amassed Mexican crowds versus what was a fairly anticlimactic race. Worse still, it was a race that highlighted the lengths Formula 1 still must go to improve the racing ahead of 2021. However, it would be over-optimistic to expect a fix for the overheating issues the cars suffered in the thin Mexico City air. Nonetheless, the weekend still provided an impressive showcase of driving skill, with the home favourite among the top performers…

Top of the class…

Lewis Hamilton – Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport

Qualifying margin to team-mate: -0.076s | Race margin to team-mate: -3.553s

You almost begin to wonder whether Hamilton was goading his opponents with his tyre-related tirade over the radio. By the midpoint of the Mexican Grand Prix, Hamilton was having a very messy weekend indeed. With his longtime race engineer Peter Bonnington undergoing a medical procedure, the onus was on Hamilton’s data engineer Marcus Dudley. On a circuit where the W10 was expected to struggle, Hamilton suffered multiple minor offs on Friday leading to talk of an urgent text exchange with ‘Bono’. P4 on the grid – which became P3 after Verstappen’s penalty – was not a bad result considering he had trailed team-mate Bottas in the qualifying simulations.

A hair-raising opening lap began with Vettel squeezing Hamilton onto the grass at 180mph. A tank-slapper in close combat with Verstappen in the first corner could have ended in disaster – instead sending both cars scrabbling over the grass at Turn 3. A pit-stop on lap 23 for the hard tyre would prove the starting gun of one of the best defensive stints of Hamilton’s career. Despite his persistent protestations over the radio, there was little evidence of a drop-off during his mighty 48 lap stint. On thirteen lap younger tyres, Vettel had been upwards of a second quicker as he closed in on a metronomic Hamilton. The German stalled out just as Hamilton signalled that it was game over with a purple middle sector – capping off his unassailable mastery of the Pirelli tyres. He might be on the brink of his sixth world title, but Lewis Hamilton is still showing new strings to his bow.

Sergio Perez – SportPesa Racing Point F1 Team

Qualifying margin to team-mate: -1.378 (Q1 vs Q2) | Race margin to team-mate: -39.299s
Credit: SportPesa Racing Point F1 Team

From a performance perspective, the Mexican Grand Prix hasn’t tended to be the highlight of Perez’s season – having only out-qualified a team-mate once in four races on home turf. Even the briefest glance at some of the home hero’s pre-race duties makes this very understandable. Perez is the face of the Mexican Grand Prix: a national figure subject to a scrum of fan and media attention. Amid this nationalistic maelstrom, it’s perhaps unsurprising that some of the finer points of performance are sometimes missed.

And yet, arguably at the wheel of one of the less competitive cars he has driven, Perez produced his most impressive display yet at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez. A supreme lap in qualifying captured the prized eleventh place grid slot, allowing Perez to dodge using the fragile soft tyre in the race. Paddock speculation put the advantage of starting on the medium tyre at around ten seconds: although Perez would still have to resist faster cars in his RP19. A nightmare race for McLaren was a further help, but the Mexican still had to fight off the hard-charging Daniel Ricciardo in the closing stages. Whilst some of Perez’s uncanny race day wiliness has perhaps worn off in 2019 amid missed opportunities, a perfectly executed weekend on home soil goes some way towards making amends.

Daniel Ricciardo – Renault F1 Team

Qualifying margin to team-mate: +0.048s | Race margin to team-mate: -33.494s

For the second race in a row, Daniel Ricciardo produced a truly stellar recovery drive following a disappointing qualifying – only, this time he could keep the points. Thirteenth on the grid – half a tenth behind team-mate Nico Hulkenberg – on a track where the Aussie took pole last year, resulted in an ear-splitting profanity on the weighbridge. Having deftly navigated a frenetic opening lap, a superb fifty lap stint on the hard tyre not only elevated Ricciardo to the front of the midfield battle but reassured Mercedes that Hamilton could execute the one-stop. Ricciardo had the speed to pass Perez – he just didn’t have the braking performance. As Perez said post-race, Ricciardo really needed the downforce of his old Red Bull to slow the car during his “optimistic” attempt at an overtake.

Sebastian Vettel – Scuderia Ferrari

Qualifying margin to team-mate: +0.146s | Race margin to team-mate: -4.602s

For perhaps the third weekend in a row, Vettel was the quicker Ferrari driver. Having been fractionally quicker than Charles Leclerc throughout practice, the German was on course to outqualify his young team-mate when Bottas’ crash forced Vettel to abandon his final attempt. That withstanding, he soon looked the faster of the scarlet duo whilst the Ferraris ran in formation in the opening laps. The decision to extend the stint on the mediums was some impressive foresight from Vettel, however, it still would have been preferable to keep track position over Hamilton. Perhaps Sebastian could have preserved more of his tyre delta for a concerted assault on Hamilton in the final laps, however, overheating issues were always set to make an overtake nigh on impossible.

Credit: Scuderia Ferrari Press Office

Homework to do…

Max Verstappen – Aston Martin Red Bull Racing

Qualifying margin to team-mate: -0.578s | Race margin to team-mate: +47.408s

Verstappen’s weekend in Mexico is a spin doctor’s dream. From one angle, Verstappen was entirely a victim of circumstance, losing a pole position and a likely victory thanks to a variety of external factors. From another, the Dutchman allowed his established bouts of petulance to get the better of him, wilfully ignoring a yellow flag and earning himself a puncture following an unnecessary lunge on Bottas. Verstappen’s explosive mix of ambition and self-confidence has always been both his greatest asset and his biggest weakness, but one thing is irrefutable: Verstappen scored just eight points when he clearly had the speed to claim twenty-five.

Verstappen effectively made three errors in Mexico: 1) not slowing for Bottas’ crash despite having already topped the times in the first run in Q3, 2) squeezing Hamilton too much in Turn 1 and 3) an overly aggressive dive on Bottas in the Foro Sol stadium. Each of these were very small errors with disproportionately grave consequences, however, that is also a statement of just how competitive the front of the field was in Mexico. Perhaps the biggest concern surrounding Verstappen’s weekend was the fact that his rather brazen yellow flag infringement didn’t result in a more immediate penalty; with FIA race director Michael Masi explaining that the delay was due to track repairs and a stewarding backlog.

Romain Grosjean – Rich Energy Haas F1 Team

Qualifying margin to team-mate: +0.163s | Race margin to team-mate: +50.307s

Some weekends just don’t look good on paper. It’s difficult to imagine that Romain Grosjean had much confidence arriving at a circuit where neither he nor Haas have been scarcely more than backmarkers in the past. To make matters worse, the VF-19 had spent recent races as the second slowest car on the track. Grosjean duly reacquainted himself with the Mexican run-off areas throughout a trio of practice sessions marked by rear instability – something that didn’t fix itself in qualifying, leaving a deflated Frenchman down in 18th on the grid. Grosjean went on to suffer a truly dreadful race: a high-speed spin in the esses put him behind the Williams of George Russell having quickly become detached from the midfield battle and markedly trailed team-mate Kevin Magnussen’s pace.

The rest…

Carlos Sainz Jr was in typically superb form in qualifying, eclipsing an increasingly self-critical and browbeaten Lando Norris by three tenths. A disastrous Sunday for McLaren saw Sainz struggle to keep the car on the track with massive oversteer on the hard tyre, whilst a loose tyre at the pit-stop ended Norris’ competitive prospects. Daniil Kvyat seized on a bout of illness for Pierre Gasly to redress the Saturday momentum the Frenchman had built in recent races. Having done a better job than his team-mate in managing the soft tyre, a kamikaze lunge on Nico Hulkenberg on the last corner of the last lap earned Kvyat a deserved penalty, elevating Gasly to ninth.

Credit:y Mark Thompson/Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool

The Alfa’s competitiveness has faded markedly in recent races, especially in race trim. Unfortunately, this didn’t change in Mexico, albeit with Kimi Raikkonen able to keep a firmer lid on his young team-mate. The Finn was sandwiched on the opening lap resulting in terminal floor damage, although if Antonio Giovinazzi’s anonymous race was anything to go by, there wasn’t any prospect of points. Although Robert Kubica qualified an eye-watering 1.3s slower than George Russell, almost all the time loss came about thanks to a difficult run through the esses. A respectable race saw the Pole pass Russell twice – most notably an impressive dive up the inside of the double apex Turn 6 which probably ranks among Kubica’s finer moments of the season.

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