Lap 55/71: Leclerc in fifth has just been told by Ferrari to let Sainz through, who has fresher tyres. It seems an ambitious plan though: Gasly, who he’d be hunting down, is 10secs ahead.
Lap 52/71: Further back, Bottas and Ricciardo are still locking horns, now battling it out for 12th. They clashed at lap one, turn one and have been in each other’s hair ever since. Great stuff. Could the day get any better for Verstappen? Yes: he clocks up a fastest lap.
Lap 49/71: Red Bull are telling an uber-confident Perez to hunt down Hamilton. The gap between them is down to 6secs now and we might just have a tussle on our hands quite soon. A million miles ahead of them is Verstappen who – as things stand – would lead the championship by 19 points.
Lap 46/71: Lando Norris pits at long last, dropping from 7th to 10th in the process. But he’ll be confident of a points position today – Alonso is 2secs ahead of him and eminently catchable.
Lap 45/71: The longer this race goes on, the less Hamilton’s task looks like it’s going for the win and more it looks like holding off the advances of Perez to prevent a Red Bull one-two. He’s 10secs behind a cruising Verstappen now, and 7secs ahead of the Mexican.
Lap 42/71: Valterri Bottas’s afternoon from hell gets yet worse: he pits, but the stop is a 12-second epic, with a tyre issue. He’s back in 15th, presumably willing his personal nightmare to end. You shouldn’t laugh.
Lap 41/71: Perez pits, another great Red Bull stop at 2.3secs, and it’s hard tyres for the Mexican who comes out in third behind Hamilton.
Lap 40/71: Bottas, still toiling in 12th, has another go at Ricciardo but again can’t get past his man. This is the duel of the day so far. Eventually Ricciardo pits, swapping to mediums and allowing a relived Bottas to whizz past. But watch this space
Lap 38/71: How it stands:
- 1 Sergio Perez – Red Bull Racing
- 2 Max Verstappen – Red Bull Racing +6.155
- 3 Lewis Hamilton – Mercedes +14.271
- 4 Carlos Sainz – Ferrari +25.547
- 5 Pierre Gasly – AlphaTauri +39.082
- 6 Charles Leclerc – Ferrari +42.985
- 7 Fernando Alonso – Alpine +48.554
- 8 Lando Norris – McLaren +54.180
- 9 Sebastian Vettel – Aston Martin+59.494
- 10 Kimi Raikkonen – Alfa Romeo Racing+63.171
Lap 36/71: Verstappen, 8secs behind Perez as it stands and another 7secs ahead of Hamilton, swapped from mediums to hards. Perez, meanwhile, claims his tyres “are just getting good” – he’s enjoying this one.
Lap 35/71: Perez sails down the main straight and becomes the first Mexican to lead a lap at their home grand prix. And the crowd lap it up – pardon the pun.
Lap 34/71: Verstappen scoots into the pits and it’s a handy-as-you-like 2.2sec stop. Perez leads! (For now)
Lap 32/71: Verstappen and Perez now lead the way, neither having pitted, with the Dutchman out in front by a massive 12secs.
Lap 30/71: While Verstappen lead continues to widen, Perez is eating into the distance between him and Hamilton, albeit slowly – it’s 1.7secs separating them. Then Hamilton pits! It’s a swift stop but he emerges in 5th, stuck behind Leclerc, and misses the first opportunity to overtake Monégasque.
Lap 27/71: Bottas and Ricciardo are locked in a good old tussle for 11th, the Finn going on the attack at turn one, but it’s elbows out from Riccardo and no joy – this time – for the Finn.
Lap 25/71: Verstappen reports that his “tyres are not too bad” – which leaves you wondering how exactly Mercedes get back into this other than praying for a Red Bull blunder. “These guys are too fast for us,” says Hamilton through gritted teeth.
Lap 23/71: As the leaders begin to lap those at the back, Verstappen clocks up a fastest lap while Hamilton gets stuck in a bit of traffic. That gap is now 8.5secs and rising. The constructors’ championship would be level as it stands.
Lap 21/71: Bottas, after that horror start, is diligently making his way back from 18th and sees of Giovinazzi for 12th. Ricciardo in his sights now.
Lap 20/71: It’s been a dream start for Red Bull – could they use Perez to try and undercut Hamilton? Over the radio, Perez’s team tell him that “we are looking at plan B”, whatever that is.
Lap 18/71: “My tyres are just getting better,” purrs Sergio Perez. Giovinazzi and Russell have both pitted, the latter having lost a further position to his mate Lando Norris.
Lap 16/71: “Tyres are dropping massively,” says a beleaguered Hamilton. Less than two seconds behind him, the crowd favourite is sitting pretty in third. Could Perez be in for a podium here? Hamilton will be looking anxiously over his shoulder.
Lap 14/71: Latifi is having a whinge about his grip, and makes his way to the pits, to swap to hards. Stroll follows him in. Verstappen is sailing 5.4secs clear out front after just 11 racing laps.
Lap 12/71: Lando Norris, meanwhile, has climbed six places to 12th after a strong start. Behind him, Ocon goes wheel to wheel with Mazepin and picks him off for 13th
Lap 10/71: Russell’s enjoy joy – he jumped six places amid the first-lap chaos – is tempered furthered as Alonso nips ahead of him into 10th.
Lap 9/71: Raikkonen scoots past Russell going into turn one – nice – while Verstappen has extended his lead to over 3secs. “He’s quick,” says Hamilton of the man ahead of him. His assessment is accurate.
Lap 8/71: Ricciardo, who hit Bottas in turn one, is 17th, just ahead of the Finn who is dead last. Some plunge from him.
Lap 6/71: Schumacher retires due to a busted suspension. And Verstappen’s lead is looking healthy already – over 2secs.
Lap 5/71: Safety car finishes. Giovinazzi attacks Sainz, who harries to hang on to sixth. That incident earlier – it looks like Ocon got sandwiched between Tsunoda and Schumacher. Bottas meanwhile is back in 17th!
Lap 3/71: We’re still under safety car. Here’s the top 10:
- 1 Max Verstappen – Red Bull Racing
- 2 Lewis Hamilton – Mercedes +1.367
- 3 Sergio Perez – Red Bull Racing +3.623
- 4 Pierre Gasly – AlphaTauri +5.613
- 5 Charles Leclerc – Ferrari +7.656
- 6 Antonio Giovinazzi – Alfa Romeo Racing +8.959
- 7 Carlos Sainz – Ferrari +10.844
- 8 Sebastian Vettel – Aston Martin +14.124
- 9 George Russell – Williams +15.667
- 10 Kimi Raikkonen – Alfa Romeo Racing +17.837
Lap 1/71: Tsunoda and Schumacher have also both crashed, while Ricciardo, who tagged Bottas, has lost a wing and is in the pits. Clashes galore.
Lap 1/71: Bottas makes a decent start but Verstappen and Hamilton enjoy some tow and pull up alongside him. And on turn one, the Dutchman steams outside Hamilton and into the lead, getting the slipstream and giving Mercedes the start of their nightmares. Bottas spins! Safety car!
“A drag race down to the first corner,” says Martin Brundle. Quite right – it’s a long old straight to start with before the first of 17 turns. And the formation lap is under way.
Weatherwatch: hot. The track is about 46 degrees and rising. Toto Wolff, meanwhile, says he reckons Red Bull “might go very aggressive with a two-stop”.
Here’s George Russell: “It’s slightly annoying all things considered because we would have been starting P11. It’s going to be a long race – of managing the situation the best, with the tyres, the engine, the brakes. So we’ve just got to be patient and I think a lot will happen at the end of the race.”
The drivers head to the front of the field for F1’s We Race As One gesture, and then we get a rendition of the Mexican anthem belted out heartily by an exuberant crowd.
Pierre Gasly’s impressive season for Alpha Tauri continued apace yesterday when he secured a strong midfield start, taking ruthless advantage of a mistake by Charles Leclerc on his final run. “We starting in fifth which is really good, a nice tow into turn one,” he says. “We’ll try to benefit from anything that could happen at the front.”
The local hero speaks: “It was a shame we didn’t get the pole yesterday given how strong we’ve been the whole weekend. But today is what matters and these people are going to give me extra power today. We’ll try to get a good start but if not, if not, it’s a long race and a lot of things can happen.”
Is Hamilton-Verstappen destined to be filed alongside the great rivalries in F1 history? Our reporter reckons it just might. Pre-race reading:
Fourth on the grid today is Sergio Pérez, who is gunning to become the first ever Mexican winner of this GP. Stranger things have happened – and if he was to find himself leading the way in his home grand prix, the Red Bull team would have one hell of a decision to make.
Last time it couldn’t have been much tighter. Max Verstappen pipped Lewis Hamilton to first place at the Circuit of the Americas and with it took himself 12 points clear in the drivers’ championship. All the talk after the US GP was of Mercedes’ title hopes having veered off course, Toto Wolff warning against his team “swinging too much between mania and depression” – and that level-headedness has certainly paid off so far in Mexico, with Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas locking out the front row after a stunning qualifying session.
The Finn delivered a near-perfect lap to take pole, though can expect to play second fiddle to his teammate on the big day given what’s at stake with five races remaining.
Max Verstappen had been the favourite to take pole in Mexico but Mercedes were able to turn the tables on Red Bull via come fine-tuning of the engines, enabling it to better deal with the altitude, and an uninhibited display from a driver who knows he’ll be leaving the team next year. Verstappen, who was left lamenting his soft tyres yesterday, will have to defend his championship lead from third place in the grid.
And he may well be able to: the first three corners at Mexico – a rapid-fire right-left-right after a long straight – has been known to deliver drama, not least between Hamilton and Verstappen.
With a maiden title within touching distance, the pressure’s on Verstappen, although the Dutchman for his part denies any such claims. “I like what I’m doing, so that takes the pressure off,” he says. “It’s not the first time I’ve been in a championship fight. Yes, the first time in F1 but not in my life so that doesn’t really change because you need to win, and that’s what I’ve been doing in the past, so I need to strive to do the same here.”