Verstappen cruises to 14th victory of the season at Mexico City Grand Prix

Max Verstappen claimed his 14th victory of the 2022 season in the Mexico City Grand Prix, ahead of Mercedes rival Lewis Hamilton and Red Bull team mate Sergio Perez, after an intriguing strategic battle played out at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez.

It secures another record for the Dutchman in his burgeoning career, as he now boasts the most wins in a single F1 campaign, moving one clear of the 13 achieved by Michael Schumacher (2004) and Sebastian Vettel (2013).

Verstappen, whose Red Bull team opted for a soft-medium tyre strategy, took the chequered flag some 15 seconds clear of Hamilton, who was left to question why Mercedes swapped their starting set of mediums for hards.

Perez gave the home fans something to cheer about in third, having threatened to challenge Hamilton late on, while Russell – who lost out to his team mate at the start – took a distant fourth.

Russell was also unhappy with his strategy, repeatedly asking Mercedes to pit again and ditch the hard tyres, which failed to bring the race back to the Silver Arrows in the closing stages – a stop for softs with two laps to run at least yielding the fastest lap.

Ferrari endured a lacklustre race as Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc claimed lonely P5 and P6 finishes, ahead of McLaren driver Daniel Ricciardo, who charged his way to seventh with soft tyres late on and kept the position despite a 10-second time penalty for a clash with Yuki Tsunoda.

Esteban Ocon placed eighth, after a painful late retirement for Alpine team mate Fernando Alonso, as the other McLaren of Lando Norris and Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas – not quite able to repeat his qualifying performance – completed the points.

AlphaTauri driver Pierre Gasly picked up a five-second penalty for an early, aggressive move on Aston Martin rival Lance Stroll and ultimately missed out on a point by just half a second, with Alex Albon 12th for Williams.

Verstappen leads the pack at the start.

Zhou Guanyu got his Alfa Romeo to the line ahead of Aston Martin pair Vettel – sporting a touching tribute helmet to the late Dietrich Mateschitz – and Stroll, followed by the Haas cars of Mick Schumacher and Kevin Magnussen.

Williams driver Nicholas Latifi was the final finisher, with the aforementioned Alonso grinding to a halt with an engine issue late on, and Tsunoda retiring after briefly going airborne in his collision with Ricciardo.

A sell-out crowd delivered a party atmosphere in the build up to Sunday’s race, with the every move of home hero Perez being enthusiastically cheered, as had been the case throughout practice and qualifying earlier in the weekend.

But after experiencing technical problems throughout the qualifying hour, ‘Checo’ had to make do with fourth on the grid, lining up behind pole-sitting Red Bull team mate Verstappen and the Mercedes cars of Russell and Hamilton.

Intriguingly, Verstappen and Perez opted for soft tyres to attack the run of more than 800 metres to Turn 1, with Russell and Hamilton going for mediums – meaning there would be an array of strategic permutations to keep an eye on as the encounter developed.

At the back, Haas driver Magnussen started 19th with a five-place grid penalty for an engine change, with Aston Martin’s Stroll in P20 – having been docked three places for his clash with Alpine rival Alonso in Austin.

When the lights went out and the 71-lap race roared into life, pole-sitter Verstappen made a clean getaway to defend from the Mercedes drivers off the line and down to Turn 1, before Hamilton pounced on Russell in the middle of the first chicane to take P2.

Perez then got a run on Russell exiting the tight Turn 1-2-3 complex and, having jumped out of the slipstream, swept around the outside of his rival at Turn 4, sparking another deafening roar in the grandstands lining the circuit as he moved into the podium places.

Hamilton bemoaned Mercedes’ decision to opt for hard tyres.

Sainz held fifth in his Ferrari, with the Alfa Romeo of qualifying star Bottas dropping back to eighth, behind the other F1-75 of Leclerc and between the Alpines of Alonso and Ocon – McLaren driver Norris rounding out the top 10.

In the early laps, Hamilton went with leader Verstappen and initially sat little more than a second adrift of his 2021 title rival, before dropping back by a few tenths – engine cooling a crucial factor for consideration amid the high altitude and warm temperatures.

“You just need to try and break this tow. You’re doing a great job,” was the message to Verstappen shortly afterwards, with almost two seconds separating himself and Hamilton by Lap 10, when attention started to turn to the pit stops.

Some drama in the midfield involved Gasly forcing his way past Stroll under braking for Turn 4 on Lap 14, but the stewards quickly determined that the AlphaTauri driver had forced the Aston Martin off the track and handed him a five-second time penalty.

While Verstappen continued to edge away from Hamilton up front, Perez sat around six seconds off the lead, and Russell 7.5s, as Sainz and Leclerc settled into a quiet race of their own – the Ferraris struggling to live with the pace of the Red Bull and Mercedes machines.

As the race moved past the 20-lap mark, Verstappen reported some tyre concerns – at one point stating “the left front doesn’t want to turn” – with Red Bull stretching out their opening stint on softs and the Mercedes duo biding their time on the more durable mediums.

Perez was the first of the front-runners to pit on Lap 24, swapping his softs for mediums in a tardy five-second stop due to a sticking rear-left tyre, with Verstappen pitting two laps later, releasing Hamilton and Russell into the lead.

While Perez fell behind yet-to-stop Ferrari pair Sainz and Leclerc, forcing him to pull off some extra overtaking (and spark further cheers from the home fans), Verstappen slotted into P3, some 20 seconds off new leader Hamilton, who reported that “my tyres are okay”.

Engine trouble brought an early end to Alonso’s race.

Nonetheless, on Lap 30, Hamilton and Mercedes decided it was time to pit, switching from mediums to hards, while Russell asked to extend his stint and aim to bolt on a set of softs in the closing stages of the race.

Russell temporarily led Verstappen by some 10 seconds, with Hamilton six seconds further back but lighting up the timing screens on the harder tyres – giving his team mate some extra information to consider ahead of his own stop.

Russell’s soft tyre ambitions were short-lived as he boxed on Lap 35 to follow Hamilton onto the hard tyres, rejoining the action in fourth, around 16 seconds off the lead, before being told to “lift and coast” for the remainder of the race.

His initially competitive pace on the hards fading, Hamilton reported that they did not feel as comfortable as the mediums, and Russell soon joined him on the radio to question the strategic move – but Mercedes sought to reassure both drivers that the race would come back to them.

Further back, Sainz and Leclerc continued their race as the ‘best of the rest’, as Ocon joined Alonso in getting past Bottas with a fine move to put the Alpines in P7 and P8 respectively – Norris keeping his hands on the final point with 20 laps to run.

On Lap 51, Norris’s team mate, Ricciardo, tipped the AlphaTauri of Tsunoda into the air at Turn 6 amid a fierce wheel-to-wheel scrap, prompting the stewards to hand the Australian a 10-second time penalty – the AlphaTauri man pitting to retire his damaged car.

But the punishment appeared to fire Ricciardo up, as he used his relatively fresh soft tyres to pass Norris, Bottas, Alonso and Ocon, moving up to P7 and doing all he could to build enough of a margin and still emerge with some points.

As the race entered its final 15 laps, Verstappen found himself leading Hamilton by more than 10 seconds, while Perez closed in on the Mercedes in a bid to bag another Red Bull one-two finish – both Hamilton and Russell continuing to question the medium-hard strategy.

Verstappen celebrates a record 14th win of the season.

Despite further reassurances from the Mercedes pit wall that the race would come their way, in the form of the Red Bulls hitting late tyre trouble, Verstappen had no such problems and eked out a 15-second winning margin.

Perez was unable to reel in Hamilton for P2, but at least made the podium in his home race, while Russell pitted with two laps to run to bolt on a set of softs and score an extra point with the fastest lap.

Sainz and Leclerc finished around a minute behind Verstappen, while Ricciardo did just enough to build the required 10-second margin over Ocon for P7, as Norris and Bottas rounded out the points-paying positions.

Alonso had been firmly in that fight behind the Red Bull, Mercedes and Ferrari cars, but a failure failure with just six laps to go ended his afternoon, and added a fresh twist in the battle for P4 in the constructors’ standings.

Gasly and Albon narrowly missed out on points for AlphaTauri and Williams, with Zhou having to settle for P13 in the second Alfa Romeo, followed by the Aston Martins of Vettel and Stroll.

Haas also left empty-handed as Schumacher led Magnussen home in P16 and P17 respectively, with Latifi the last driver to take the chequered flag after Alonso and Tsunoda’s retirements.

Next up in 2022 is the Sao Paulo Grand Prix, to be held at Interlagos from November 11-13, with F1’s Sprint format returning for the third and final time this season.

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