Verstappen dominated right from the start and Checo won the hearts of millions.
The Mexican Grand Prix wasn't as spectacular as some of the races we've seen this year, primarily due to Verstappen's dominance. You could see how it would play out within 15 minutes of the race start, which is good for the championship leader but not as good when you're a spectator. It has to be said that the race at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez was just two weeks after the American Grand Prix at COTA, which gave us the tensest final moments in the Formula 1 season thus far.
The race wasn't without surprises. During the free practice and qualifying, the Mercs set the pace. It seemed like Red Bull, and the rest of the pack were in for a game of catch-up with Hamilton and Bottas, but the result turned out to be the opposite.
Before we dive into the analysis, a glance at the current standings sees Max Verstappen still leading the driver's championship, widening the gap to 19 points. The race for third place is also getting interesting, following Bottas' result in Mexico. Sergio Perez is just 20 points behind. As for the constructor's title, we'll get to that in a little bit.
Following a disappointing qualifying result that placed him in third place, many popular automotive outlets assumed Max Verstappen was cracking under pressure. In our experience, Verstappen performs best when under pressure. For proof, look at the US Grand Prix. Anyway, Verstappen surprised us in the post-qualifying interview when he said that he would have preferred pole, but that third place was the second-best place to be. Surely you want to lock out the grid with a one-two?
We tend to forget that Verstappen is a spectacular driver and a tactical genius. The parallels between him and Michael Schumacher are astounding. Verstappen got off the starting line quickly, overtaking both Mercs on the outside. And then he led 99% of the race.
By the time he crossed the finish line, he was 16.555 seconds ahead of Hamilton in second place and more than a minute ahead of Pierre Gasly in fourth. Verstappen didn't just win. He gave Hamilton a spanking.
Mercedes does not handle pressure well. We've seen both drivers and the team make mistakes when a lot is at stake. And with so few races left over, the stakes are higher than ever.
Bottas had a horrible 11-second pit stop, but that wasn't the worst of his problems. Mercedes effectively locked out the grid, qualifying pole and second. They got off to a great start, but Verstappen's overtake on the outside was brilliant. Immediately after, Bottas got tagged by Daniel Ricciardo. He spun out, taking him to the back of the grid.
To make matters worse, Mercedes' team boss, Toto Wolff, and Lewis Hamilton blamed Bottas for Verstappen's move, saying that he left the door wide open.
Openly criticizing your driver and teammate in a season where he has been consistently scoring points is poor form. Do it behind closed doors, guys.
Gasly was selected as Max Verstappen's teammate early in 2019, but he only lasted until mid-season. Alex Albon took his place, but he too couldn't keep up with Verstappen. Red Bull eventually settled on Sergio Perez, who has been doing a stunning job as Verstappen's partner.
Red Bull didn't throw Gasly away completely, however. He was demoted to Red Bull's Scuderia AlphaTauri team, also known as Red Bull Lite, a learning school, if you will. Christian Horner said that Gasly had a lot to learn, and he has been improving since his demotion. He put in a stellar effort at the Mexican Grand Prix, beating both Ferraris and McLarens.
His qualifying result stood out, however. He placed the AlphaTauri fourth on the grid, among highly qualified drivers. Sergio Perez will still occupy Red Bull's second seat in 2022, but Gasly has made it clear that he wants that seat once Perez is done with it.
The Mexican Grand Prix proved that he's well on his way to winning it back.
It's not just Lewis Hamilton under pressure. The entire Mercedes team is under pressure, as Red Bull Racing Honda is just one point behind following Merc's disastrous result at the Mexican Grand Prix. All four drivers are at the top of their game, delivering consistent results. With Bottas not scoring any points in Mexico, the door is now wide open for Red Bull to claim both driver's and constructor's championships.
The constructor's trophy has been in Merc's cabinet since 2014, so losing it would be a massive blow to the team.
Further down the grid, Ferrari has been in an epic duel with McLaren this whole season, especially following McLaren's one-two at Monza. Before the Mexican GP, Ferrari was in fourth, 3.5 points behind McLaren. Following McLaren's dismal performance, Scuderia Ferrari is now in third place with a 13.5 point lead. Let's hope Leclerc and Sainz both get a new 296 GTB as a performance bonus.
Daniel Ricciardo's late braking into the first corner caused a lot of chaos. He took Bottas out of contention. The incident also ended the race for Yuki Tsunoda and Mick Schumacher. Esteban Ocon's Alpine also suffered damage, but he could at least get the car repaired and finish the race.
We were pretty shocked when racing control announced that there would be no investigation. The incident had massive repercussions, primarily for Mercedes-Benz. Most spectators, us included, thought he would be penalized. Other drivers have been punished for less this season.
An online poll on RaceFans showed that 50% of people strongly or slightly agreed that he deserved a penalty. We believe Ricciardo deserved some penalty considering it was a rookie mistake and the dire consequences it had.
Max may have won, but Perez was the man of the weekend. He's the first-ever Mexican driver to finish on the podium at a Mexican Grand Prix. It wasn't just a big moment for him, but his countrymen as well. For the short while he led the race, you could barely hear the cars over the crowd.
Checo's dad and son were also in attendance, making that podium so much sweeter. There are those who argue he was too cautious and should have made more effort to score Red Bull a one-two. To that, we say stop being so bitter. Sergio Perez is a race winner, but we're reasonably sure he would have traded any of his race wins for a podium finish in his home country.
Everyone in Mexico can walk a little taller today. Thanks to Checo's podium finish, Mexico is now part of an exclusive club of countries with drivers who finished on the podium at their home Grand Prix. The smile on his dad's face says it all, and the way his son looked at him on the podium is proof that one good photo is worth a thousand words.
Go for the win next year, Checo.