Cheers for Max; championship for Lewis

Though the biggest story of the weekend was Lewis Hamilton winning his fourth Drivers’ Championship, the race belonged to the young Max Verstappen. The Dutchman’s inner belief and the self-confidence is staggering to see in somebody so young and so early in his F1 career.

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton celebrates in the pit lane after winning his fourth World Championship at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City. Though the Briton finished ninth, the points he secured from the race was enough for him to sew up the world title with two grands prix still remaining in the season.   -  AP

The whole weekend in Mexico was really thrilling. We came from Austin with plenty of drama surrounding track limits and Max Verstappen’s penalty. In the paddock, wherever you went, all the drivers and all the teams were discussing whether or not he deserved a penalty. Most seemed to suggest ‘yes’, and I agreed with that, as I had said after Austin. Like myself, a lot of people questioned how the consistency is applied across the track. I find it very hard to say that we should turn a blind eye to some corners and not others: we should turn a blind eye to someone like Sebastian Vettel going off at Turn 19 and gaining a load of lap time.

As the weekend began to unfold on Friday (October 27), it was quite clear that we were going to have three cars in the fight. Red Bull looked to be in great form, and Ferrari was in the hunt as was Mercedes. So it really was interesting to see that despite the long straight, we did have three teams in the hunt.

It was nice to talk to the drivers and hear for a change how they all had to manage the cars. I know we all want to see cars finish, but in some ways, if you look back to the 1980s for example, or the 1970s, the question of managing your car and looking after the gearbox, the brakes and the tyres, all of that was a big part of being successful in F1. Nowadays, the reliability is absolutely bulletproof, and they’re all able to push 100 per cent, all the time. In a way that has taken away an element of the driving that the guys don’t have to do so much anymore.

Red Bull Racing driver Max Verstappen celebrates on the podium after winning the Mexican Grand Prix.   -  AP

Normally, when you have dense air, you get a lot of downforce on braking, and that helps deceleration and takes a load off the brakes. When you have 20 or 22 per cent less density due to the altitude, drivers have to rely more on the brakes, and that puts a lot of heat and a lot of load on the brakes — the discs, pads and everything — into the corner. Which means the drivers had to manage their brakes at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City.

Lower downforce meant that the cars were sliding around a lot more through the corners, unable to generate enough heat because there wasn’t enough load on the tyres. Therefore, into the slow corners, particularly the first six turns and the stadium section too, the cars were just sliding onto the top of the tyre. I went trackside to watch FP1 from different parts of the track: the circuit in Mexico really allows you to go right up close to the track and watch.

You could see drivers like Fernando Alonso, Verstappen, Daniel Ricciardo and Vettel weren’t hanging around. For the first laps of the session, they were right on the ball and impressive.

Come qualifying on Saturday (October 28) and the race on Sunday (October 29), Verstappen was just stellar. The talent that boy’s got is just amazing.

When he won the Grand Prix, and you spoke to him afterwards, it was none of this big ‘whoop-whooping’ and being over the moon. It was just: ‘I won the race, and that’s what I’m hired to do’. So it wasn’t a big deal to him that he won. I thought that was a really telling sign of where he is mentally. He believes if he has a car capable of winning the race, he’ll win.

It was the same thing at Turn 1. He thought, ‘To win the race I had to pass Seb into Turn 1, so I did’. There wasn’t an arrogance to it at all. In fact, because he’s actually a very down-to-earth guy, I think it’s that inner belief and the self-confidence that is staggering to see in somebody so young and so early in his F1 career. So, I’m looking forward to seeing whether Red Bull and Renault can give him a package to fight for race victories on a regular basis in 2018, because he will be an absolute force.

The biggest story of the weekend was Lewis Hamilton winning the Drivers’ Championship. After the first lap, it was all pretty dramatic. There were a few people on Twitter — and I think Lewis questioned it as well — asking whether Seb hit him on purpose. Even after the race, he seemed a little unsure.

My personal view is that when Max passed Sebastian, Seb tapped the back of Max coming out of Turn 2 and damaged his own wing. Then he was just a little bit put off by that and maybe a little bit distracted, leading him to misjudge how close he was to Lewis. When you watch the onboard frame by frame in slow motion, Lewis was on the outside, Seb on the inside, and Seb stabbed the throttle and got a flick of oversteer, which makes it look like he steered into Lewis. That’s why some people questioned it. When you play it with the audio you can hear that he had a bit of wheelspin and that caused him to countersteer, and effectively, at that point he touched Lewis’ tyre.

I don’t think Vettel did it on purpose; I think he misjudged it. I think Vettel’s obviously more to blame than Lewis because Lewis did everything right. Lewis gave him plenty of space, he’s all the way to the outside of Turn 3 in an opportunistic move. It made an interesting race because Mexico, although an amazing event with grandstands and the crowd and the parade before the race, the racing itself can be quite dull. That’s just because the slipstream effect is so poor due to the high altitude and thinner air that the drivers don’t get such a great slipstream down the long straight, and it’s difficult to follow through the ‘esses’ in the middle sector of the lap.

The last two races in Mexico were a bit dull, but this year, we had Seb and Lewis coming through the pack, the World Championship at stake, and a great bit of battling between Alonso and Hamilton. I thought both of them gave each other a lot of racing room, a lot of respect, hard but fair, and I thought that was all really nice to watch. And in the end, the best man won the World Championship.

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