Hamilton on verge of sixth title after supreme Mexican GP win

MEXICO CITY -- Lewis Hamilton claimed a brilliant victory at the Mexican Grand Prix ahead of Sebastian Vettel and Valtteri Bottas to leave him on the cusp of a sixth world championship.

Hamilton initially doubted Mercedes' decision to pit him on lap 24, much earlier than those around him who had opted for a one-stop strategy, but it proved to be a race-winning decision. The strategy required Hamilton to manage his tyres to the end, which he did in fine style, with a little help of some reassuring words from stand-in race engineer Marcus Dudley and team strategist James Vowles over the pit-to-car radio.

Hamilton applauded his team after the race and dedicated the win to his regular race engineer, Peter Bonnington, who missed this race for a medical procedure back in the UK.

"What a job guys," he said on the radio after the grand prix. "Thank you so much for all your hard work. That was a tough race, we just stuck in there. Fantastic job. That was for Bono!"

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It means Hamilton needs four points in Austin regardless of where his only remaining title rival, Bottas, finishes at the U.S. Grand Prix on Nov. 3 to clinch the title.

Hamilton's race start had been dramatic, with the Mercedes driver making contact with a fired-up Max Verstappen, who was stripped of pole position on Saturday evening and demoted to fourth on the grid. While holding Verstappen at bay through Turn 1, Hamilton almost lost control of his car and the pair made light contact, forcing them both across the grass at Turn 2.

The contact left Hamilton with a strip of the floor of his car missing for the rest of the race. 

Hamilton's incident at the start helped the Ferrari pair of Charles Leclerc and Vettel to pull away at the front, having inherited a front-row lockout after Verstappen's penalty. Leclerc appeared to be controlling the early stages but was called in for another set of medium tyres on lap 16, ensuring he would be on a two-stop strategy. Teammate Vettel did the opposite, but would stay out for 15 laps longer than Hamilton before making his own stop for a set of hard tyres for the second stint of the race.

Hamilton was convinced both Vettel and Bottas, who pitted one lap earlier than the Ferrari, could catch him with fresh rubber. However, he was able to keep his tyres performing until the finish. 

Vettel claimed second position for Ferrari but had looked like the favourite to win the race at mid-distance after ending on the more favourable of the two strategies in play. While he did a one-stop race, albeit stopping 14 laps later than Hamilton, teammate Charles Leclerc was called in for an early stop on lap 16 while leading the race. Leclerc would be required to pit again later in the race but he did not have the pace in hand to catch the lead trio even with a slight advantage in terms of tyre wear.

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It looked like the race was set for a grandstand finish with various drivers set to go to the chequered flag on differing strategies, but the action in the final stages never materialised. Hamilton was able to keep his tyres performing until the end, while Bottas had a few fleeting laps within Drag Reduction System range of Vettel, but ultimately without the Ferrari's straightline speed the Mercedes driver was never going to get past.

The Red Bulls settled for fifth and sixth. Alexander Albon turned in another impressive drive in what is looking more and more like his car for keeps next year. Verstappen's early clash with Hamilton dropped him to eighth but it was contact with Bottas a few laps later that ruined his race, leaving his Red Bull with a right-rear puncture which forced him into an early stop and a recovery drive through the field to sixth position. Those incidents and the sequence of events which led to him losing pole position on Saturday evening will leave him wondering what might have been this weekend. 

Sergio Perez delighted his home crowd with a drive to seventh for Racing Point ahead of Renault's Daniel Ricciardo, who gave the flailing French team something to smile about with a supreme drive which included a monster 51-lap stint on his medium tyres. Toro Rosso's Pierre Gasly finished ninth, ahead of teammate Daniil Kvyat on the road. However, Kvyat would be relegated to 11th for what happened at the final corner.

Nico Hulkenberg finished the race without a rear wing, having been knocked into the wall by an optimistic Kvyat lunge at the end of the race. Kvyat was immediately hit with a 10-second penalty after the race which relegated him to 11th. Lance Stroll was 12th ahead of Carlos Sainz, who was part of a McLaren team which saw its race unravel in dramatic fashion. Lando Norris' race was compromised by a pit-stop which saw the team fail to correctly fit his front-left tyre to the car.

Norris' car was brought into the pits to retire in the latter stages. Kimi Raikkonen was the other DNF, with Alfa Romeo bringing the Finn in to the pits to retire in similar fashion.