Nico Rosberg drove a faultless race to take victory in the Mexican Grand Prix in Mexico City. The Mercedes team didn't put a foot wrong all day on Sunday while closest rivals Ferrari had a rotten race, losing both cars to accidents.
PRACTICE AND QUALIFYING
Saturday's FP3 saw the Mercedes pair return to the top of the standings, with Rosberg leading Hamilton, as he would in qualifying, taking his fourth pole in a row from Hamilton.
Jenson Button and Kimi Raikkonen will start at the back of the grid. Button's grid penalties were already at 50 before his new engine developed a misfire and he sat out the Saturday session, taking his penalties to 70. Raikkonen also ran into trouble with a new engine which caught fire and damaged the gearbox. The team was able to replace the engine with a previous spec unit but a new gearbox meant a five place grid penalty. He made it out of Q1 but had brake trouble in Q2 and set 15th fastest time.
The Mexican race is at the highest altitude on the calendar, well over 2000 metres above sea-level. This brought the turbo technology to the fore and the cars were running high downforce levels to counter the almost twenty-five percent drop in air pressure, which reduced drag and saw top speeds of over 360km/h.
Race day dawned bright and sunny, the full house cheering their man on through the stadium section as they had done all weekend.
The five lights went out and the cars sprinted the 900 metres to the first corner. Hamilton slotted in behind Rosberg and they made the first turn without any tears. Ricciardo and Vettel came together, though, with the result that the Ferrari driver had to limp around the track with a puncture and a helmet full of advice for race control. Ricciardo escaped sanction, a decision Vettel agreed with after reviewing the incident post-race.
The Red Bull driver was nearly swamped by the Williamses but stayed ahead. Alonso followed Vettel into the pits and retired his McLaren for the seventh time this year. The McLaren driver knew on Saturday night it was unlikely his Honda would get much further than the start after the team found a problem with the MGU-H.
Vettel's Ferrari teammate took Jenson Button with him through the field as the two faster cars swept by the backmarkers.
Bottas came in on lap nine from behind Ricciardo, complaining of his rear tyres graining. Handily the stop put him into clear air, a decision that made his eventual podium finish that much easier. Massa came in from behind Verstappen and Hulkenberg joined him for a set of medium tyres. All three cars started carving through the field on the favoured tyre, the top ten having started on softs.
Out front, the Mercedes were marching serenely on what looked like a one-stop strategy, the gap yo-yoing as Rosberg set fastest laps to stay ahead of the chasing Hamilton.
Vettel trailed Button for longer than he might have liked, passing Button on the main straight on lap 18. He appeared to throw the car off at turn seven, but the attitude of the car, breaking away on turn-in, suggested problems similar to those suffered by Raikkonen in qualifying. The German also had a huge flat spot on a tyre, adding to his woes.
Red Bull's Kvyat pitted from third on lap 22, losing just two places, coming out ahead of the fight between Bottas and Raikkonen. The two Finns battled through the esses, with the Ferrari driver holding his line. Bottas tried to get out of the way when he saw Raikkonen wasn't going to give him space into the right-hander and they touched. The Ferrari rode over Bottas' front left, deranging its rear suspension and pitching him out of the race, an unfortunate reversal of fortunes after their Russian drama.
Ricciardo pitted on lap 25, coming out behind the two Williams cars. Rosberg was called in on lap 27, his one stop passing without drama. Hamilton was in a lap later.
Vettel's problems continued, the German going in too deep trying to pass a Lotus, the red car sliding off the road at the end of the back straight, further damaging the tyres.
Sergio Perez had a crack at Carlos Sainz, the Toro Rosso skating off the road and then flying over the grass, keeping his position. Perez complained long and loud on the radio and in what appeared particularly gracious move (we'll probably never really know), Sainz allowed the Force India through in the packed grandstand section, to the great delight of the crowd.
Vettel pitted again on lap 41 for a fresh set of medium tyres, returning to the track behind Nico Rosberg, a lap down.
Rosberg pitted on lap 47, Mercedes opting to switch to Plan B. Hamilton was also told he'd need to stop the next time around, which he failed to do, instead questioning the team over the radio. He relented after some stern words from the pitwall, the driver less than happy as he felt there was plenty left in his tyres.
Ricciardo drew up behind Felipe Massa, who was on much older tyres. After two laps following closely, the Red Bull slipped past with DRS and a big braking move at turn one.
Perez had another hero moment in the stadium, passing Verstappen after the Dutchman made a mess of his entry to the twisty section.
Sebastian Vettel brought out the Safety Car on lap 50 after slapping his Ferrari into the barrier at turn seven, completing a fairly rotten race for Ferrari. The German climbed from his car after apologising to his team, cleaning up some debris on his way to safety. Ferrari's double DNF was the first since Australian in 2006.
"There was nothing wrong with the car, I went in with more or less the same speed and very suddenly lost the car - it was similar to the first time when I lost control. In the end it's my mistake and probably just asking or wanting a little bit too much."
Kvyat and Ricciardo pitted, as did Felipe Massa. Bottas stayed out putting him behind Kvyat when he rejoined. The Red Bulls came back out on softs - a decision Ricciardo later regretted - while the Williamses stayed on mediums.
Racing resumed on lap 58 and straight away Valtteri Bottas grabbed third from Kvyat. Felipe Nasr went off at turn 13, his brakes literally on fire, as reported by Jenson Button. This put the McLaren behind Perez who was on tyres that had done duty for 44 laps, the McLaren pitwall expecting some "action" as a result.
That action never really eventuated and even Lewis 'Never Say Die' Hamilton refrained from pressuring his teammate for the win. Rosberg took his first win since Austria and lapped up the attention on the podium at the huge stadium area.
Daniel Ricciardo came home fifth, shadowing his teammate for the final laps.
"It was a bit of a frustrating race. During the first stint with the options we weren't really quick enough. With the prime I thought I had really good pace, but once I caught the Williams I couldn't pass them. We lost a lot of time there and in hindsight, when the Safety Car came out, I would have liked to put the primes on as I felt I was a lot more competitive with them than with the options. It was very exciting to see so many fans cheering for us. As for the incident with Sebastian, I was on the inside and he took the apex, so I had nowhere else to go."
Rosberg's victory, as well as Vettel's DNF, helps the Mercedes driver's campaign for second in the championship, a position that was looking shaky until this race.
Formula 1 returns in two weeks for the Brazilian Grand Prix at Interlagos.
1. Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)
2. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
3. Valtteri Bottas (Williams)
4. Daniil Kvyat (Red Bull)
5. Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull)
6. Felipe Massa (Williams)
7. Nico Hulkenberg (Force India)
8. Sergio Perez (Force India)
9. Max Verstappen (Toro Rosso)
10. Romain Grosjean (Lotus)