Max Verstappen cruised to victory at the Mexico Grand Prix on Sunday leaving defending champion Lewis Hamilton to admit the Red Bull car “is far superior”.
Hamilton clung on to finish second in his Mercedes holding off a late charge from Red Bull’s Mexican driver Sergio Perez.
“Their car is far superior this weekend and there was nothing we could really do about it,” said Hamilton.
Verstappen, who grabbed the lead on the first corner, finished 16.555sec ahead of Hamilton with Perez just over a second further back.
The Dutchman increased his lead in the world championship to 19 points from Hamilton with four races left.
“There’s still a long way to go,” Verstappen said. “It’s of course looking good but also it can turn around very quickly.”
Frenchman Pierre Gasly was fourth in an AlphaTauri followed by the Ferraris of Monegasque Charles LeClerc and Spaniard Carlos Sainz.
Hamilton had expressed his surprise on Saturday after Mercedes secured a front-row lockout, with teammate Valtteri Bottas on pole.
The advantage did not survive the first corner, where almost all of the drama of the race happened in a few chaotic seconds.
Bottas and Hamilton started fast but as they headed into the turn side by side, Verstappen charged round the outside of the Finn.
The three cars went into the corner abreast but the Red Bull came out first.
“It was nice three wide and it was all about just trying to brake as late as you can,” said Verstappen.
“I kept it on the track, came from third to first and that was basically what made my race because I could just focus on myself, and we had incredible pace in the car,” said the Dutchman who won for the third time in Mexico.
– ‘Someone hit me’ –
As Hamilton gave chase, the Finn went for a spin.
“Someone hit me and caused me to spin,” Bottas complained on team radio after rejoining in last place.
The guilty party was Daniel Ricciardo, charging from row four. His McLaren lost a front wing.
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff was unhappy at the way Verstappen got through.
“That should not happen,” Wolff said. “We had two cars in front and seemed to opened up the sea for Max to come around the outside. The spin afterwards when there could have been a third or fourth place is annoying to say the least.”
The collision at the front sent ripples down the pack as Yuki Tsunoda and Mick Schumacher both went off.
The safety car came out, allowing Ricciardo and Bottas, who eventually finished in 15th place, to pit for repairs.
When the racing resumed, Verstappen quickly built a lead over Hamilton with Perez third.
Red Bull’s pit-stop strategy allowed Perez to take the lead on the 33rd lap.
As it dawned on the huge crowd that a Mexican was leading, they rose in their seats, roaring and waving flags.
“I could hear the crowd coming through the stadium section, it was pretty incredible,” said Perez.
– ‘Pace on another level’ –
After Perez finally pitted, he came back in third and resumed his pursuit of Hamilton.
The crowd roared again when Perez caught his hare on the 61st lap, but he could not find a way past.
“It shows how fast their car is when Sergio is that close behind me and able to follow that closely,” said Hamilton.
Perez still earned the first podium finish by a Mexican driver in the race.
Wolff said the Red Bulls were just faster.
“Their pace was on another level,” he said. “I don’t think we could have won even if we’d stayed ahead at the first corner. They could have driven circles round us.”
The battle resumes in Sao Paulo, Brazil, next week before the championship heads to the Middle East for the last three races.
© Agence France-Presse
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