Lewis Hamilton won the Mexican Grand Prix after a chaotic start but the Mercedes driver was unable to celebrate a sixth Formula One title on Sunday.
Hamilton was squeezed out by Sebastian Vettel after starting in third and the virtual safety car was deployed after he ended up on the grass along with Max Verstappen when they touched at turn one on the opening lap.
The Mercedes driver dropped to fifth because of that early drama but fended off a fast-finishing Vettel to take the chequered flag at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez on another frustrating afternoon for Ferrari.
Hamilton would have wrapped up the title if he outscored Valtteri Bottas by 14 points but was made to wait as his team-mate finished third. It was a case of what might have been for Ferrari, which raised eyebrows by pitting polesitter Charles Leclerc when he was leading on lap 16 and a two-stop strategy for the Monegasque backfired.
Leclerc could only finish fourth behind Bottas, with Hamilton stopping just the once and going on to claim yet another win despite questioning whether his hard tyres would last the distance.
The Scuderia were counting on Vettel, who started alongside Leclerc on the front row, hauling in the champion elect on fresher tyres after he also pitted just the once - 14 laps later than his fierce rival - but Hamilton crossed the line 1.766 seconds ahead of the German.
Alexander Albon took fifth place after losing time following an early pit stop, while Verstappen – who missed out on pole position due to a three-place grid penalty – pulled off an incredible recovery act to finish sixth.
The Dutchman, winner of this race in each of the past two years, suffered a puncture on lap six after making contact with Bottas but limped back to the pits and worked his way from the back of the field with a stunning drive.
Home favourite Sergio Perez, Daniel Ricciardo, Pierre Gasly and Nico Hulkenberg rounded off the top 10, the latter promoted after Daniil Kvyat collided with the German at turn 16 on the final lap.
SILVER ARROWS 'EXPERIMENT' REWARDED WITH 100TH WIN
Team principal Toto Wolff revealed the Silver Arrows experimented by keeping Hamilton out on tyres that the Briton did not expect to last until the end of the race. Mercedes noted Ricciardo was "going strong" on a long stint before he was finally brought into the pits but it was not sure if Hamilton could do the same.
Hamilton, who leads Bottas by 74 points with three races to remaining, had stated "we pitted too early" over the radio after his lap-24 stop, adding "there's a long way to go on these tyres, man."
His concerns proved to be unfounded, though, and he stated after sealing Mercedes' 100th F1 win: "Today is an incredible result. We came here thinking we were on the back foot and it was a difficult race for us, but we pulled through."
FERRARI STRATEGY THE PITS FOR LECLERC
Leclerc got off to a great start with battles unfolding behind him, but his hopes of winning a third F1 race were effectively ended when he was called into the pits on lap 16. The 22-year-old was called in for a new set of medium compounds after Albon pitted and failed to make headway when he returned to the track.
As the drivers questioned team strategies, it was Leclerc who was the biggest loser, complaining that his new tyres were not as good as the originals before he came in again on lap 44. He lost around four seconds on that second stop, which just about summed up his day.
NEVER A DULL MOMENT FOR VERSTAPPEN
Verstappen was stripped of pole for failing to slow with yellow flags waving when Bottas crashed in the closing stages of qualifying on Saturday. There was more drama for the Red Bull driver when he made contact with Hamilton, then his race looked to be over when his tyre flew off after touching Bottas' Mercedes on lap four.
Verstappen was a man on a mission after just about getting back to the pits, complaining "he just turned in on me" after a clash with Kevin Magnussen as he worked his way through the field from the back.
Sixth place was just about as good as he could have hoped for following a nightmare start.
IN THE POINTS
1. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
2. Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) +1.766secs
3. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) +3.553secs
4. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) +6.368secs
5. Alexander Albon (Red Bull) +21.399secs
6. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) +68.807secs
7. Sergio Perez (Racing Point) +73.819secs
8. Daniel Ricciardo (Renault) +74.924secs
9. Pierre Gasly (Toro Rosso +1 lap
10. Nico Hulkenberg (Renault) +1 lap
1. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 363
2. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) 289 (-74)
3. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) 236 (-127)
4. Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) 230 (-133)
5. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 220 (-143)
1. Mercedes 652
2. Ferrari 466 (-186)
3. Red Bull 341 (-311)
4. McLaren 111 (-541)
5. Renault 72 (-580)
Title number six could be sealed by Hamilton at the Circuit of the Americas next weekend. The 34-year-old year won four consecutive races in Austin before Kimi Raikonnen's victory last year.
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