Mexican Grand Prix 2016: Winners and Losers from Mexico City Race

Oliver Harden@@OllieHardenFeatured ColumnistOctober 31, 2016

Mexican Grand Prix 2016: Winners and Losers from Mexico City Race

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    YURI CORTEZ/Getty Images

    Lewis Hamilton claimed his eighth victory of the 2016 Formula One season in Sunday's Mexican Grand Prix at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez.

    After returning to winning ways at the recent United States GP, the Mercedes driver took a dominant pole-to-flag win—his first in Mexico—to cut Nico Rosberg's championship lead to 19 points with just two races remaining.

    Joining Hamilton on the podium were Rosberg, who salvaged another strong result from a challenging weekend, and Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel, who was later demoted to fifth after incurring a post-race penalty following a late-race scuffle with Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo, who inherited the position.

    With a look at a day to forget for the home heroes, Sergio Perez and Esteban Gutierrez, and another positive weekend for Nico Hulkenberg, here are the main winners and losers from the Mexican GP.

Winner: Lewis Hamilton

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    Clive Mason/Getty Images

    The damage may already have been done, but the late-summer gloom has lifted at last.

    Having failed to win any of five races immediately after the August break, Hamilton—with two victories in the space of seven days—is well and truly back in the groove.

    After finally conquering his start-line issues in the week prior to the United States GP, as he told Sky Sports television, and with Rosberg requiring only a smattering of podium finishes to secure his first world championship, Hamilton's task is straightforward.

    To win every race and hope for the best.

    That simplicity certainly helped Hamilton at the Circuit of the Americas, where he secured a timely pole-to-flag win, and it again did the trick in Mexico, where his performance was as confident and effortless as those in his title-winning campaign in 2015.

    Indeed, the only real threat to Hamilton at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez came from himself, with his unforced error at the very first corner of the race leading to him running off track and rejoining at Turn 3 in an incident not too dissimilar to Verstappen's toward the end of the race.

    And as the confirmation of Verstappen's five-second time penalty came, many were left wondering why Hamilton wasn't also the subject of a stewards' investigation.

    Yet, as noted by former F1 driver Martin Brundle, Hamilton was already clear of the pack—Verstappen was closer to Rosberg than Rosberg was to him on the approach to Turn 1—and, in any case, the early safety car period negated any advantage he gained by skimming across the grass.

    Now 19 points behind Rosberg with just two races remaining, Hamilton has to keep doing what he's doing.

    To keep the momentum going.

    To win every race and hope for the best.

Loser: Max Verstappen

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    Mark Thompson/Getty Images

    As usual, it was Niki Lauda who called it right.

    "His talent is unbelievable but then he smashes it all with these stupid actions," the three-time world champion sighed after the race, per Motorsport.com's Charles Bradley, becoming the latest high-profile figure to criticise Verstappen.

    Verstappen has almost single-handedly made F1 worth watching over the last two years, but he now carries the arrogant air of someone who believes his own hype a little too much.

    In truth, there was nothing hugely wrong with the boy wonder's manoeuvre at the start of the race, when he saw a gap down the inside of Turn 1, filled it and met Rosberg in the middle, his slight tap giving the world championship leader an excuse to back out of a battle he didn't need to have.

    Nor was there anything wrong with his lunge on Rosberg on Lap 50, when—presented with his one and only shot at taking second place—he launched an ambitious move at Turn 4 and ran wide.

    Yet his utter refusal to swap places with Vettel after locking up and running wide at Turn 1 on Lap 68 showed a complete disregard for the racing driver's unofficial code of conduct, which compels those who gain an unfair advantage by running off track to switch positions at the earliest available opportunity.

    Verstappen's decision to stay ahead not only infuriated the Ferrari driver, it also led directly to the flashpoint between Ricciardo and Vettel, who later received a 10-second time penalty for moving under braking as he desperately tried to keep up with and force his way past the teenage troublemaker.

    Of course, there was no remorse shown after the race as Verstappen, per Motorsport.com's Pablo Elizalde, called for Vettel to "go back to school or something," insulted by the idea that he—all-action Max—was in any way at fault.

    Little more than a week after the so-called Verstappen Rule to deter drivers from moving under braking was introduced, it would be no surprise if a regulation change instructing drivers when, where and how to swap positions were to be made in the near future.

Winner: Nico Rosberg

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    Clive Mason/Getty Images

    It's on weekends like this when you know it really is meant to be.

    For the first time since that awkward, wet-dry afternoon in Monaco in May, Rosberg was struggling—seriously struggling—against Hamilton, with no answer in sight.

    Blown away by No. 44 car throughout practice, he was unable to even come close to Hamilton in the first two segments of qualifying, when he—having decided to mirror his team-mate's setup—was 0.549 and 0.624 seconds slower, respectively.

    But come Q3, the session that really mattered, Rosberg was right back up there, stealing second when he could so easily have been stranded in sixth or seventh.

    At a time the discussion over whether he would be a worthy world champion has flared up once again, Rosberg's recovery illustrated he now has the speed and the nerve to join the immortals.

    And so too, in fact, did his start to the race.

    In practice, Rosberg had frequently complained about both over- and under-engaged launches, raising major question marks over his start ahead of what is the longest run to the first corner of the entire season.

    But as in qualifying, it proved to be perfectly alright on the night, with Rosberg having a slightly superior getaway to Hamilton and maintaining second after being shoved wide by Verstappen at the first corner.

    Given Hamilton's sheer pace advantage across the weekend, it came as no surprise to see Rosberg settle for second at an early stage of the race, which left him vulnerable against Verstappen.

    That the Red Bull driver forced him into a lockup at Turn 1 proved Rosberg is still prone to mistakes under sustained pressure—a promising sign for Hamilton ahead of the final two races. But his handling of Verstappen when the inevitable move came at Turn 4 on Lap 50 highlighted just how far he has come in terms of racecraft.

    Rather than defending with all his might and running the risk of a collision or a puncture, Rosberg simply allowed the boy wonder to charge through, lock up and run wide before simply slipping back past.

    Verstappen's error gave Rosberg the cushion he needed to finish second, and after missing out on his first "championship point" in Mexico, the equation is now simple.

    Win the Brazilian GP for a third year in succession and the title will be his.

Loser: Sebastian Vettel

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    Clive Mason/Getty Images

    A podium finish would have meant an awful lot to Vettel in Mexico.

    At the end of a difficult second season with Ferrari—and at a time he is being heavily criticised by the Italian media and his future with the Prancing Horse is in doubt for the first time—a first top-three finish since Monza would have been a welcome result.

    It would have been a timely display of unity and, perhaps more importantly, a reminder that Ferrari—for all their difficulties in 2016—are still serious contenders.

    That was why Vettel looked so delighted during the podium ceremony and why he will be utterly devastated having lost the position, the points and the trophy almost through no fault of his own.

    After all, the only reason Vettel did move under braking was due to Verstappen's failure to move aside after locking up and running off track at Turn 1.

    Vettel's frustration with Verstappen's stubbornness—and his desperation to remain within touching distance of the youngster in the event of a time penalty or in the hope Verstappen would eventually give way—saw him resort to those rather desperate, ultra-defensive tactics when Ricciardo joined the fight.

    Rather than considering the circumstances and the emotion of the situation, it seemed the stewards—perhaps inevitably, given how recently the Verstappen Rule was implemented—were determined to punish any moving under braking of any kind to set a precedent for future incidents.

    As a result, Vettel slipped down to fifth after an incident that was very much of Verstappen's making.

Winner: Daniel Ricciardo

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    Mark Thompson/Getty Images

    Ricciardo may have been critical of Vettel after the chequered flag, per Elizalde, but he surely wouldn't have wanted to take third place in these circumstances.

    Claiming a podium finish in the stewards' room is not the right way for a driver partial to a late, great lunge on the brakes, but as his eighth top-three result of 2016 has secured third place in the drivers' championship for a second season in three, you suspect he'll take it anyway.

    Ricciardo was the less convincing of the two Red Bull drivers over the Mexican GP weekend, with Verstappen having been beaten him to third in qualifying and Ricciardo dropping to fifth after a relatively slow start to the race.

    Yet his less-than-perfect getaway proved to be something of a blessing in disguise, encouraging the team to experiment with their tyre strategy.

    After removing his fragile supersofts behind the safety car at the end of Lap 1, Ricciardo ran a 49-lap middle stint on the mediums before switching to softs for the final 21 laps, giving him a significant pace advantage over the one-stopping cars ahead.

    That pace advantage allowed Ricciardo to waltz into the battle between Vettel and Verstappen, with the No. 3 car an unwelcome distraction for the four-time world champion as he tried to take a position that was rightfully his.

    The Australian's decision to keep things neat and tidy as his nearest rivals self-destructed ultimately paid off when time penalties for Verstappen and Vettel dropped them to fourth and fifth, respectively.

    But of his 18 podium finishes to date, this should rank as his least favourite by some margin.

Loser: The Home Heroes

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    Lars Baron/Getty Images

    Perez thrived on the pressure and expectation of his first F1 appearance on home soil in 2015, pulling off a one-stop strategy to finish eighth after holding off a train of faster cars.

    The Force India driver finished only two positions lower this time, but his second Mexican GP was a far more frustrating experience.

    After an error at Turn 1 on his final lap of Q2 saw him fail to reach the top-10 shootout, Perez started on the soft-compound tyres but made his solitary stop too late after the pit wall underestimated the lifespan of the mediums, as he later told the team's official website.

    That meant Perez, who pitted on Lap 20, found himself stuck behind Felipe Massa for the remainder of the race, with the Guadalajara native failing to make a number of ambitious moves stick as he desperately tried to force his way past the Williams.

    Meanwhile, Gutierrez's chances of a good result were effectively over on the opening lap, when the Monterrey-born driver was sandwiched between Manor's Pascal Wehrlein and Sauber's Marcus Ericsson at Turns 2 and 3.

    Gutierrez was arguably fortunate to avoid a penalty for the incident, with brake-cooling issues—a common problem at the high-altitude Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez—leaving him 19th.

    Still, he seemed happy enough, telling Haas' official website how his first Mexican GP was "an incredible experience."

Winner: Nico Hulkenberg

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    Clive Mason/Getty Images

    As deputy team principal Bob Fernley told Autosport (h/t Eurosport), Force India have detected a change in Hulkenberg since his transfer to Renault was confirmed ahead of the United States GP.

    Having been shaded by team-mate Perez for much of the last two years, Hulkenberg is now more settled, more relaxed, more at ease.

    Is it due to the fact his future has been resolved? Because he has finally earned the move to a full-blown factory team he always wanted, perhaps? Or is he just determined to bid a fitting farewell to the team who have shaped his career to date?

    Whatever the reason behind his return to form, his performances in recent weeks have only served to underline how much Force India will miss him in 2017.

    Hulkenberg was consistently the best of the rest behind the Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari cars in Texas—finishing no lower than seventh in all three practice sessions and qualifying—only to tangle with Vettel and Valtteri Bottas at the first corner of the race and knock a front wheel out of joint.

    But he made up for that disappointment in Mexico, where he enjoyed the weekend he should have had a week ago.

    His lap time for fifth on the grid—one minute, 19.330 seconds, which was just faster than both Ferraris and only 0.2 seconds slower than Ricciardo—made Hulkenberg the undisputed star of qualifying, with the No. 27 car benefiting from the Australian's slow start to run as high as fourth in the early stages.

    Hulkenberg was powerless to stop the Ferraris, on the more durable soft-compound tyres, jumping him during the first round of pit stops, with the German running ahead of three-stopping Kimi Raikkonen before spinning while under attack from the No. 7 car at Turn 4 in the latter stages.

    Even then, though, Hulkenberg still finished almost seven seconds ahead of eighth-placed Bottas to secure his best result in two months.

    Make no mistake, Force India will miss him when he goes.

       

    Timing and tyre data sourced from the official F1 website, the FOM television feed and Pirelli's official race report.

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