Karun's column: How Red Bull turned the form guide upside down to win in Mexico
Our man in the pitlane explains a topsy turvy race in Mexico City
The Mexican Grand Prix was a really weird weekend where the form guide for this season got totally torn up. All of a sudden we had all three of the top teams in contention for the win which is something that everyone connected with F1 dreams of, whether you work in it or are a fan watching at home.
Being 7,000 feet up from sea level seemed to really mix things up. Throw in a slightly odd track surface and temperatures that were changing all through the weekend and we got a very entertaining weekend.
The thinner air meant the drivers had to contend with Monza levels of downforce despite the wing angles resembling Monaco, while the teams all had to use big open bodywork normally reserved for the hot races like Singapore and Malaysia.
On Friday the track temperature was up at 48 degrees and the drivers were all complaining that the tyres were turning into bubble gum. It’s a horrible feeling as a driver when the engineers tell you to go out there and do a long run but the tyres are just falling apart under you.
Everyone struggled with tyres this weekend in Mexico (Pic: Sutton)
It’s a hugely frustrating experience and really not an enjoyable way to drive as you’re doing everything against your natural instinct which is to go fast. Everything you do feels wrong and even when you think you’re going too slow, you’re probably going too fast!
Choosing the right tyres for the weekend was also tricky for the teams and really, nobody seemed to get it 100 per cent right.
All the teams bet on the Hyper Soft being the tyre to have because traditionally this season, the softest compound has been the favoured one as Pirelli have been pretty conservative with their tyres. However in Mexico, the low grip surface and lack of downforce because of the altitude meant that the Hyper Soft tyre was the least favourite one for the race and the teams were all spending a lot of time trying to juggle the few sets of Ultra and Super Soft tyres that they brought.
Red Bull back at the front
Saturday and Sunday was a lot cooler but in every condition, it seemed like Red Bull were going to be in with a shout this weekend on pure pace for the first time since Monaco.
Max Verstappen was brilliant from the very first lap that he hit the track this weekend and it was a bit of a surprise to see Daniel beat him to pole on Saturday. Max talked about some engine braking issues and while you could argue that it was an excuse, in fairness to him, I heard him complain about the issue on the radio even in Q2 when he was fastest.
If the engine braking isn’t set up right, the drivers either have too much rear locking on the entry to the corner which de-stabilises the rear of the car, or they have too much over-run from the engine which could push them wider than they would like. Either way, it’s not ideal when you’re fighting five other drivers who all have a car that’s fast enough to get pole position.
On Sunday however, Max’s drive was simply exemplary. He did what he had to off the line and beat Daniel away, he didn’t get into a tangle with Lewis at the first sequence of corners and once he exited turn 3, there was no looking back.
Yes, Daniel was held up behind Lewis for a period of time but either way, the fact that Max managed to pull out 25 seconds over the Aussie, in the same car, on the same tyres was a massive statement to the world that it was he who lost pole position on Saturday.
Max’s performance underlined his fantastic form since the Canadian Grand Prix and for the sake of F1 and everyone watching, I really hope that the Red Bull Honda next year is capable of fighting for the World Championship because he certainly is.
You have to feel sorry for Daniel Ricciardo though. He seemed to lack Max’s pace on Sunday but he was doing an excellent job of making his one stop strategy work against a motivated and charging Vettel until he was halted by another mechanical problem.
The gulf between the top and midfield teams this weekend really showed itself in the race and seeing the Renault that he’s going to drive next year finish two laps behind the Red Bull with the same engine probably didn’t cheer him up.
Lewis seals his fifth title
The big story of the weekend of course was Lewis Hamilton clinching his fifth World Championship. Mercedes had a pretty miserable race on Sunday and Lewis himself seemed confused about how other people on used tyres were quicker than them.
They seemed to suffer from a lot more front graining than anyone else and by the end, the gap to Raikkonen was nearly half a minute. Bottas also seemed to be way off the pace but it didn’t matter for the World Championship because as long as Max won the race, the title was heading to the Hamilton household.
As Hamilton was quick to point out, the title wasn’t won today. It was won over the 19 races that we’ve had so far and he and Mercedes have been the better team and driver combination. And crucially, they’ve made no errors of note. Yes, they had a couple of sub-par weekends – Mexico included – but on the whole, they didn’t cost themselves points in the way that Sebastian did.
Vettel was graceful in defeat just as much as Hamilton was humble in victory. He showed great sportsmanship by going into the Mercedes engineering office after the race and congratulating the whole team.
He paid tribute to Lewis in the press and talked about how he would want the Brit to come back in 2019 on top form as he wants to battle him while he’s at his best. Ferrari have had a car that was fast enough to win the championship for the past two seasons but have failed to on either occasions.
A Ferrari World Championship is always hugely popular with the fans but there are an increasing number of smart and knowledgeable people in the paddock who would bet on a Red Bull Honda winning the title before Ferrari.