2017 Mexican GP Review – By Bob Constanduros
It wasn’t the way he wanted to win it – and nor did anyone else – but Lewis Hamilton surely wasn’t going to lose this World Championship was he? Many people, including those in Brazil and Abu Dhabi, would have liked the title battle to go a little bit further, maybe to the end, but with a lead like the one that he enjoyed post-Asia, this was surely a forlorn hope.
Sebastian Vettel, of course, had it all to do, and perhaps he tried too hard at turns one and two in Mexico, aided and abetted by Max Verstappen. The collision eventually did for him but he couldn’t be blamed for not trying.
That was the thing about the subsequent race; the progress of those who had been demoted to the back of the grid for whatever reason. Daniel Ricciardo, of course, leaped through the field from the a penalised 16th on the grid in the opening laps and Sebastian Vettel made reasonable progress after his pit stop. Of all the drivers who found it hard to progress from the back it was Lewis Hamilton after his early stop; his tussle in the closing stages with Fernando Alonso was tremendous even if it was for ninth place. Fernando was in a fighting mood and Lewis loved it. But it was fascinating to see how difficult it was for the best engine in the Mercedes to get on terms with what was the slowest engine on the straight, even with DRS. Such are the vagaries of Mexico and its thin air at over 2200 meters altitude.
Thanks to Fernando, Lewis never quite made it to eighth place which was where the team predicted he’d finish. That was reserved for Kevin Magnussen, a driver who has come in for a fair amount of stick for his recent tactics and who had to be checked out by the medical staff before racing in Mexico due to a stomach bug – not uncommon in these parts. So to score his second eighth place in three races wasn’t a bad achievement. He’s been quick on a number of occasions – I think he set third fastest race lap in Japan – it’s just that he keeps getting involved in ‘incidents.’
But while Max Verstappen firmly put the controversy of Austin behind him, this race was all about the World Championship and Lewis Hamilton. He has had a phenomenal run of success since the summer break with five wins, a second and ironically, this ninth place sealing his title.
Asked if he felt that Lewis had made a step forward since then, teammate Valtteri Bottas didn’t hesitate in confirming it. And few people would suggest that the Mercedes was the best car in the field. Sure, it’s reliable but not necessarily the quickest.
When you look at this season, you have Paddy Lowe working on Pat Symonds’s Williams. You have James Allison inheriting Lowe’s Mercedes and you have Mattia Binotto taking over Allison’s Ferrari in Maranello. At least Binotto worked on the car with Allison; the others were taking over someone else’s philosophy, and that doesn’t necessarily work. Indeed, it is also suggested that these technical engineers don’t want to make someone else’s car work, it’s their subsequent own car they want to see gaining the glory.
Amusingly, Allison was in chatty mood when I found myself walking beside him in the paddock before qualifying on Saturday. He seemed in no hurry to get to the pits, and was more worried about how the team’s laundry in Austin had managed to destroy every second button in the team’s shirts.
His new World Champion was in a similarly chatty mood after winning the title a day later. His post-race press conference was revealing in a number of ways. Normally ninth place would have resulted in a grumpy, probably mono-syllabic Lewis but not this time. He was in expansive mood, even confessed to enjoying giving us, the press, long answers. The hunched shouldered, hoodie-wearing, tuned-in recluse was gone and with it, you realised just how much effort it takes for him to dominate the World Championship as he has. He talked about how there have been long long debriefs – confirmed by Allison a couple of races ago, who expressed his admiration for Hamilton’s work ethic. Indeed, the results confirm that Mercedes and Hamilton have very often got the best of a bad job when the car hasn’t been competitive.
So he becomes a four time World Champion, firmly rebuffing any ideas that he might ‘do a Nico’ and retire, believing that there is still more in him – even if he wants to go out at the top. There surely is little doubt that he is one of the greats, certainly the greatest of this generation and it’s always hard to compare drivers of different eras.
The Mexican Grand Prix was surely one of the highlights of the season. It coincides with the country’s festival of the Day of the Dead which featured in the James Bond movie Spectre which propelled it to the world stage. This is strictly held on November 1 but in fact the lead-up lasts all week, including a party in the paddock on Thursday. There was a face-painting team there all weekend, so a number of F1 team members were painted up to look like skulls. It’s all pretty scary in some ways, and yet touching in others.
There was a fantastic pre-race show with all kinds of spectacular costumes, all this celebrating the dead which included, of course, the victims of two recent earthquakes, one of which hit Mexico City. This took place on September 19, and so during the minute’s silence for those victims, the national anthem and on lap 19 of the race, the crowd stood with arms extended and clenched fists in a show of solidarity and patriotism. It was a little reminiscent of the Black Power salute of the eighties for those of us of a certain age, but putting that aside, one couldn’t help but feel sympathy and admiration for this great nation, whose massive weekend of crowd of over 307,000 was so passionate and appreciative. The efficiency, hospitality and promotion of this Grand Prix is second to none and it utterly deserves its place and date on the calendar.
Curiously, even though Mexico is technically in North America, because of its Latin American heritage, it feels more South American and allies itself with its fellow Spanish and even Portuguese speakers. It is therefore completely logical that we move now to Brazil for the penultimate round of the championship, a race that often throws up the unexpected. More of that next week.