If one had to pinpoint exactly how Mercedes lost the 2021 Mexico City Grand Prix it was at the very start of the race, that 800 meters drag to Turn 1, won on the brakes by Max Verstappen, to which Lewis Hamilton had no answer then and thereafter.
Why that moment? Because both Mercs got strong starts and were well spread out to block any attack until they emerged under the Heineken bridge when, the pole-sitter, Valtteri Bottas inexplicably started to drift to the right, towards his teammate leaving an open channel on the outside, to the left of the track which Verstappen seized, braked devilishly late, as only he can in that car, to take the lead and dominate the race.
Hamilton: Valtteri left the door open for Max
Afterwards, Hamilton admitted that the start left him confounded: “I envisaged the start differently in the sense that Valtteri would get a better start and I would try to get into his tow.
“I was covering my side of the track and making sure that nobody could come up the inside and try to keep whichever Red Bull I could see in my mirror behind. I thought Valtteri would be doing the same, but obviously, he left the door open for Max.
“Max was on the racing line and did an amazing job braking into Turn 1. I was on the inside and there was no opening,” explained Hamilton, who went on to finish second after fending off a concerted late-race attack from local hero Sergio Perez in the other Red Bull.
“It made my race a lot harder,” explained the World Champion. “Having one Red Bull car ahead and one behind allows them to play the strategy. Sergio was super close and I couldn’t pull away from him. But when there is a will there is a way, and we managed to keep him behind.”
— Formula 1 (@F1) November 7, 2021
Trailing a dozen points before the Mexican round, Hamilton’s quest for an unprecedented eighth Formula 1 world title has been his toughest and just got seven extra points ‘tougher’ in the context of the championship.
Hamilton pointed out: “There are still four races to go. Nineteen points is a lot of points and Max has nine wins and that is a lot of wins. If they were to carry their superior speed into the next races we may be in trouble, but I hope we will be closer.
“They have the faster car, but all I can do is try and squeeze everything out of our package, make sure we don’t leave any stone unturned, maximise what we have, and give it my all,” added Hamilton
After the race at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff was on the same page as his superstar driver and said: “That shouldn’t have happened. We had two cars in front and seemed to open up the sea for Max to come around the outside. It is annoying to say the least.”
From bad to worse, then a bit better for Bottas
Adding insult to injury is the 23 points advantage Mercedes held over Red Bull, before Sunday’s race, has been all but negated and is now down to one point.
Since Bottas signed for Alfa Romeo after being ousted by Mercedes to make way for George Russell, Bottas appears to be done with the wingman role for Hamilton and is clearly not going to involve himself in the title race with the same commitment he had when his job was on the line; basically, since he joined the World Champs in 2017.
This is an about-turn from a driver that Wolff once described “as the perfect wingman”, a statement that ranks up there with “Felipe, Fernando is faster than you” in F1 folklore. From that day on Bottas should have known what his role in Wolff’s pantomime was, and one could ask did he ever recover from that? Felipe didn’t.
Maybe, as he races for Mercedes in four more races, this is his way of again saying “F@ck you, to whom it may concern!”
In Sunday’s race, things went from bad to worse as Bottas got turned around in Turn 1 by a wayward Daniel Ricciardo which confined both, the Mercedes driver and the McLaren driver, to early pitstops and a slog of a day unrewarded by points, while the Finn clocked the fastest lap late in the race to deny Verstappen the extra point as he held the fastest lap up to that point.
Keep your head up Lewis! 👊
— Formula 1 (@F1) November 8, 2021