2018 Mexican GP Review – By Bob Constanduros
So he’s done it, Lewis Hamilton has won the 2018 World Drivers Championship, making him a five time World Champion and equalling Juan Manuel Fangio’s record of titles. I’m sure no one will deny him this extraordinary feat and it is doubly impressive that he did it at a circuit where he was having problems.
Mexico is an extraordinary track. At 2200m (this seems to vary by the odd 100m here and there) the air is thin and this affects a lot of things in racing cars. For instance, normally aspirated engines lose power, but this is compensated for by turbochargers, although it does close any performance gap. It also means that there is less downforce and even brakes suffer from the poorer cooling qualities of the air that is available, even with the largest cooling ducts allowed. The track is very dirty with little grip. And Pirelli brought their softest range of tyres. All in all, it’s pretty challenging for engineers.
This is certainly what Mercedes found, particularly when the temperatures were higher on the Saturday at this year’s Mexican Grand Prix. They were complaining of overheating in “various areas” and all was not going smoothly. Thankfully it was cooler on Sunday but even so, not all was going swimmingly.
However, over at Red Bull they were relishing in these conditions, with many people citing Daniel Ricciardo’s performance on the same combination of Pirelli’s range at Monaco. Max Verstappen was right on it, dominating all three free practice sessions. Quite clearly, he was determined to hit the ground running.
You don’t have to be fastest in all three qualifying sessions; you just want to be fastest in the last one but that was denied of Max by his own teammate and he wasn’t happy about it. But fortunes were totally reversed the next day, of course, with Daniel again parking his jinxed Red Bull and Max on the top step, just as he was last year from the same grid position.
Elsewhere, Ferrari were getting what they could from the day and so was Lewis Hamilton. You couldn’t be unhappy for Mercedes or Lewis because this is how you win championships. You can steal them from someone else at the last round, but you really want to clinch a championship as early as you can, whatever the entertainment value of a last round battle. Lewis has probably appreciated that, having stolen the championship in the last round at Brazil in 2008. But he clinched the title in 2015 and 2017 with average results in those races and that’s just what you need. Fourth on Sunday wasn’t an average result, but it was still probably less than he’s used to.
Comparisons are inevitably being made between Hamilton and the man whose record he has just equalled, Fangio. They raced in two very different eras, even requiring different talents. The major teams participating when Fangio joined the championship in 1953 were just three: Ferrari (four drivers), Maserati (five drivers) and Gordini (five drivers). When Fangio won his first title the following year, those three teams were joined by Mercedes (five drivers, including Fangio) and Lancia (three drivers).
The line-up was pretty much the same in 1955 when Fangio won his second title and for the following year, Lancia were gone as was Mercedes, replaced by Connaught and Vanwall. Fangio was now at Ferrari with Collins, Castelotti, Musso, Andre Pilette, Gendebien, de Portago and Trintignant. There were three works Maseratis but a further five privateers. What I’m trying to say is that there were a lot fewer teams than now, but more drivers per team. Fangio was usually in the right team – like Lewis – but the competitive field was much smaller. Fourth and fifth could be several laps down. The cars, on skinny tyres, were harder to handle than today, less reliable, less demanding of physical endurance, but racing on circuits where the dangers were perilously obvious. The differences are therefore pretty apparent; modern day Formula One is very demanding, less dangerous but much more competitive which is why Lewis and Mercedes should be praised to the rafters for their success.
But there were several other points of interest in this Mexican Grand Prix. Only the first four were on the same lap; Bottas was a lap down in fifth and the rest at least two laps down with the next four all making their tyres last for a slower, one stop race. There were several stand-out performances, with Renault having a better than usual weekend in spite of Carlos Sainz’s retirement and Sauber getting two cars in the top ten. Then there was Stoffel Vandoorne finally having a better race to eighth, and finally Pierre Gasly starting on the back row of the grid as last year, but this year racing four places higher to score a point in tenth. In spite of this, Toro Rosso lost a place in the World Constructors’ championship to Sauber who moved up to eighth.
What was extraordinary was Force India’s relatively poor showing at Sergio Perez’s home race and Haas outclassed by Williams. The American team’s car didn’t have any grip while incidents put paid to Force India’s result. But Haas’s performance is worrying. Gene Haas is already questioning his presence in Formula One, doubting – as others are – whether anyone can break the Mercedes-Ferrari-Red Bull stranglehold on Formula One for at least the next five years. The predictability will continue, it seems, and even with a budget cap, those teams ahead now will have an advantage for years to come.
The much-coveted Constructors title is still up for grabs, however, but the gap from Mercedes to Ferrari is 55 points. There are 43 points available at each of the final two races, so that could change, particularly around the unpredictable Brazilian circuit which is coming up next. Lewis Hamilton will be eager to go out on a high, however, and who can deny him that. He has been a phenomenal talent this year and there’s no reason to suspect that won’t continue to be the case for several years to come.