Formula One’s North American doubleheader continued in Mexico City last weekend. The fans turned out strong and loud for Checo Pérez, the most successful Mexican driver in F1 history.
After strong performances in practice and qualifying, whispers spread through the paddock that this might be Mercedes’ best chance to steal a race win before the year is over. But as has often been the case in 2022, Sunday was another story.
Immediate reaction: *Thud*
This race unfortunately suffered from being mostly clean and drama-free. Max Verstappen maintained the lead on the start and only relinquished it while pitting. Sadly, we were never provided with anything that shook up the running order or strategy of the race. There was a period where we all watched and waited to see if Mercedes had made the better decision putting on hard tires compared to Red Bull’s mediums, but that ended up being a futile effort as well.
Driver of the race: Ricciardo… I suppose
Daniel Ricciardo has to be my driver of the race based on his starting and finishing position, but I don’t love it nonetheless. He was given a 10 second penalty after making an overly aggressive move to the inside of Yuki Tsunoda on lap 51, causing a collision which retired Tsunoda for the day. Watching it live, I couldn’t believe he made the move and could do nothing but shake my head. All that being said, he drove his ass off and, despite the time penalty, maintained his 7th on-track finishing position.
Moment of the race: The first pit stop
The first and only stop for Max occurred on lap 26; for Lewis Hamilton, it happened on lap 30. Though the lap wasn’t significant, the tire choice was. Mercedes thought that the hard tires were going to be fast enough at the end to run down and challenge Max, but it turns out that they were wrong. Max and Red Bull put on mediums on their stops and they proved to have plenty of tire to maintain their 1st and 3rd place positions.
Thoughts moving forward: Mid-pack battles
We once again have potential for a battle for second in the constructors championship. After Singapore I thought that Ferrari might be able to just cruise their way to 2nd, but after a nearly even week and two poor weeks for them vs. Mercedes, that’s not a guarantee. Mercedes has gained 27 points the last two weeks, whittling the Ferrari advantage to 40. While Ferrari doesn’t need to panic yet, a poor showing in Brazil would certainly make them sweat for the final GP in Abu Dhabi.
My goodness, that was a boring race. Truly, the only exciting things were the track itself and the massive grandstands packed with fans. I’m not sure what it is that emphasizes the small differences in performance of the cars and causes them to spread out so much on this small track, but it created a grand prix that was almost completely devoid of drama.
Only six cars finished on the lead lap and two of them, the Ferraris, were not even competitive. Rumor was they adjusted their engines to protect against mechanical failures at altitude. So they had a nice little stroll by themselves all day long. A small mistake in the opening turns of lap 1 relegated George Russell off the podium, and Max Verstappen just drove away from everyone.
Driver of the race
It has to be Verstappen. Checo Pérez had the same car, the same tires, and the support of all the home fans, but he finished third. Verstappen won by more than 15 seconds. It was dominance in the best and worst way possible.
An honorable mention goes to Daniel Ricciardo for providing something to actually watch in the final laps. His car came alive on soft tires and he drove through the field of lapped cars to finish P7, even making up for a 10 second penalty he received… for wrecking Yuki Tsunoda. It feels wrong to name someone who caused an accident driver of the race, but I appreciate his effort to make it interesting.
Moment of the race
With the same driver basically leading from lights out to checkered flag (minus pit stops) and few overtakes anywhere, there aren’t a lot of moments to choose from. I’ll pick the moment when Fernando Alonso’s engine failed with about five laps remaining because I thought for a split second that it might shake things up. But Alonso was able to safely pull his car off into an area far away from the racing line, setting up one of the fastest car retrievals I’ve seen. Only a virtual safety car period was needed. No drama.
Thoughts moving forward
Now that there are only two races left in 2022, there’s not much “moving forward.” Verstappen has the record for most wins in a season and the drivers championship. Red Bull has the constructors championship. The main battles left are Ferrari vs. Mercedes for second place (Ferrari +40), Alpine vs. McLaren for fourth (Alpine +7), Pérez vs. Leclerc for second (Pérez +5), and Russell/Lewis Hamilton/Carlos Sainz for fourth.
Looking to next season, I will be interested to see how much Red Bull’s reduced wind tunnel time — due to winning this year and the penalty for the budget saga — brings them closer to Mercedes and Ferrari. It’s an unenviable position to be the team chasing a major frontrunner in F1. Ferrari turned into a pumpkin trying to catch up mid-season and now Mercedes has made some galaxy-brained strategy decisions as well, trying to do anything to reduce their sizable performance disadvantage. I would love to see a two or even three-way battle again where they’re all trying to out-strategize each other.