Max Verstappen extends title lead with Mexico win

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MEXICO CITY -- Max Verstappen continued his march toward his first world title after taking a comfortable victory ahead of Lewis Hamilton at the Mexican Grand Prix.

The win extended Verstappen's advantage in the standings to 19 points over Hamilton with four races remaining.

Although a maximum of 107 points remain up for grabs, Verstappen has won nine races to Hamilton's five over the course of the year and the last two grands prix in a row. 

Verstappen's victory in Mexico hinged on a brilliant start from third on the grid in which he overtook both Mercedes drivers around the outside of the first corner.

Valtteri Bottas, who started from pole position, was pitched into a spin by the McLaren of Daniel Ricciardo, which was followed by a mess at the rear of the field as Esteban Ocon was sandwiched between Yuki Tsunoda and Mick Schumacher. 

An early safety car to clear up the mess neutralised the race, and when it restarted at the end of Lap 4 it became clear that Verstappen held a significant pace advantage over Hamilton. 

Such was Verstappen's speed that Hamilton's focus soon turned to his mirrors in which he could see Sergio Perez's Red Bull looming larger with every lap.

Mercedes pitted Hamilton relatively early on Lap 30 to ensure he retained second place ahead of Perez at the pit stops, but Red Bull responded by leaving Perez out 11 laps longer to give him fresher tyres to attack the Mercedes at the end of the race.

With 10 laps remaining, Perez was within a second of the Mercedes, much to the delight of the Mexican crowd.

Hamilton was running behind Lando Norris, who was a lap down in tenth position, and initially struggled to get past the McLaren, allowing Perez to close in further.

Once clear of the McLaren, Hamilton looked more comfortable but radioed his team to inform them that his car was overheating. Perez closed in again on Hamilton with two laps remaining, but couldn't quite get close enough to make a move stick at either Turn 1 or Turn 4. 

Hamilton's defence could prove crucial if he is to mount a comeback at the final four races as it ensured he held on to another three points versus Verstappen and kept Mercedes one point ahead of Red Bull in the constructors' championship.  

Bottas was also crucial to keeping Mercedes' noses ahead. With five laps remaining, he pitted from 13th place to take on soft tyres and attempt to take the fastest lap from Verstappen.

Although Bottas didn't score the point because he finished the race outside the top 10, he succeeded in taking the point away from Verstappen, thereby limiting the damage in the championship. 

However, it wasn't simple as when he first out of the pits on softs he found himself in a fight with race leader Verstappen and that seemed to hamper his tyre performance, meaning he needed to pit again to get clear air and secure the fastest lap on the final lap. 

The next race of the 2021 season will take place next week in Brazil.