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Statman sweeps up after Mexico

Statman sweeps up after Mexico

By Sean Kelly, C4F1 statistician

100 up for Mercedes as a constructor.

100 up for Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton together.

Almost – but not quite – a sixth world championship for Hamilton himself.

Sunday’s Mexican Grand Prix was a slow burner in which the winner looked like it could come from any of the top four cars in the closing stages, as Sebastian Vettel, Valtteri Bottas and Charles Leclerc all tried to catch a vulnerable Hamilton, attempting to win the race while running the final 48 laps on a single set of tyres.

His success in doing so puts him at match point in the championship chase, only requiring an eighth place in any of the remaining three Grands Prix to guarantee a sixth crown – and that is only necessary if Valtteri Bottas wins all three events with the fastest lap bonus each time.

While Hamilton can start planning his title victory party for next Sunday night in downtown Austin, it would be remiss to downplay the significance of his Mexican win.  This was the 100th Grand Prix victory for Mercedes as a Formula 1 constructor, and while they made their debut as long ago as 1954, they only returned to the sport in that capacity in 2010.

Furthermore, a staggering 87 of those victories have come since the dawn of the turbo hybrid era at the start of 2014, during which time there have only been 118 races!  The decade that shall draw to a close in a couple of months’ time has seen Mercedes jump up to being the fourth-most successful constructor of Grand Prix history – and soon to be third, unless the 114-win Williams team affect a remarkable turnaround in their recent fortunes.

Hamilton has been the biggest single piece of their success story, and Sunday saw the Englishman coincidentally take his 100th podium finish for the team, becoming only the second driver ever to reach a century while driving for a single constructor.  The other one – inevitably – was Michael Schumacher, who notched up 116 top-three visits in his dominant days at Ferrari.

Even more coincidentally, all of this happened on the day that Hamilton became the longest-tenured driver in Mercedes’ team history, surpassing the 136 starts made by Nico Rosberg between 2010 and 2016.  Given that all 247 of Hamilton’s F1 races have been powered by Mercedes engines, it is a fitting distinction.

It didn’t seem particularly likely at the beginning of Sunday, as Hamilton was to start third on the grid behind the two Ferraris – who reclaimed their front row lockout record by starting 1-2 for the 65th time, one more than Mercedes – and no driver had won in Mexico from third place since Jacky Ickx way back in 1970.  Hamilton hadn’t even led a lap on this track since winning back in 2016, and he was only the fourth-fastest car in qualifying….

Things could have been so different had Max Verstappen not frivolously robbed himself of pole position on Saturday, when he failed to slow down after Valtteri Bottas crashed in front of him, improving his best time when pole position was already assured.  A three-place grid penalty ensued, which snowballed into much bigger problems when he suffered a puncture from light contact with the endplate of Bottas’ Mercedes, the consequence of an audacious pass into the stadium section.

Verstappen’s delays played into Hamilton’s hands even more when Ferrari appeared to try and split strategies to cope with him, without either choice really being decisive.  They may especially regret the decision not to pit Vettel on the lap immediately after Hamilton, which would likely have given him the track position necessary to win.

Nevertheless, Vettel finished second for the second consecutive race, and for the fifth time overall in the 2019 season.  It was the 55th time that Hamilton and Vettel have finished 1-2 in a Grand Prix (in either order), extending a record they already owned.  Clearly it was of significance to Vettel, as he snubbed the zealous attentions of the Mexico GP mascot “Mario Achi” during the ceremony!

Valtteri Bottas’ third place is the reason that the Drivers’ Championship continues on to Austin, and it was a reasonable result for the Finn after his big shunt at the end of Q3 on Saturday left him sixth on the grid, tied with Montreal for his worst of the year.  This podium was the 44th of Bottas’ career, surpassing the career total of Sir Jackie Stewart.

An unlucky Charles Leclerc lost out when it transpired that Pirelli’s pre-race prediction that a two-stopper was the fastest strategy turned out to be incorrect.  Having been the leader when he made his second stop on lap 43, he rejoined fourth and made no further progress, although the bonus point for fastest lap was a consolation.

Alexander Albon had his most visible showing in a Grand Prix to-date.  The Thai driver ran in third place early on – higher than he’s ever been in an F1 race – until regression to the mean meant that the Mercedes teammates moved ahead of him.  Even with that, fifth place means that Albon has finished in the top six in all six of his Red Bull starts so far, and in a stat that will be critical in determining his 2020 prospects, he’s outscored Verstappen 58-39 since they became teammates.

Having been relegated to the periphery by his early misfortunes, Verstappen staged a remarkable recovery to end the day in sixth, having taken his hard tyres into no man’s land by running them for 66 laps, eschewing a second pitstop in the process.

There are home heroes at many Grands Prix, but few of them receive quite the adulation bestowed upon Sergio Perez, or “Checo” as the locals refer to the man from Guadalajara.  Paradoxically, he’s never run particularly well in his home event, and he was left frustrated on Saturday after missing Q3 by just 0.008s, but a seventh-place finish in the race matched his best-ever result in Mexican soil.

Daniel Ricciardo bounced back from the disappointment of Renault’s disqualification from the Japanese Grand Prix with eighth place – his first Mexico finish since 2016 – while at the third attempt Pierre Gasly finally started somewhere other than last on the grid at this track, which contributed to the Frenchman netting ninth by the chequered flag.

Gasly had crossed the line tenth, but for the second consecutive race he was elevated due to penalties for other drivers.  In this case it was his own teammate Daniil Kvyat, whose collision with Nico Hulkenberg at the final corner of the race pitched the German into the wall.  Kvyat’s 10-second sanction put him out of the points, and Hulkenberg’s initiative in getting to the finish line despite a damaged car received a reward when he was promoted to tenth.

After DJ Tiesto’s post-race set concluded at the Foro Sol, a biblical rainstorm hit the racetrack and flooded the local roads.  Lewis Hamilton negotiated his way through them knowing that any chance of him losing the 2019 title are surely now as good as washed away.