Ross's Mexican GP review: Hamilton's tyre management masterclass
According to Formula 1 Managing Director, Motorsport, Ross Brawn, Lewis Hamilton’s win at the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez was a masterclass of tyre management by the champion driver and of strategy by his team.
But while the Mercedes man was the undoubted maestro of Mexico, Ross adds that the inability of the following drivers to mount a sustained attack on his lead once again shows why changes must be made and how he hopes this week will confirm the steps being made.
Plus, he salutes a standout performance from Daniel Ricciardo, laments Max Verstappen’s mistakes and looks forward to the upcoming Grand Prix in the US, where F1 is rapidly gaining a new, younger fan base.
The perfect ten
At the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez Lewis Hamilton took his tenth win of the season in Mexico to move closer to his sixth title. He and his team proved they can win even when they don’t have the quickest package, a rare situation during the past five years.
Lewis won thanks to the choice of a single pit stop and the realisation that track position is paramount. Those factors, combined with Lewis’ innate ability to manage the tyres, sealed a superbly executed win.
Over the last dozen laps, when he was running on significantly older tyres than Sebastian Vettel, Lewis never really gave the German any hope that an attack was possible.
Hamilton responded sector by sector, lap after lap, to any attempt to close on him. In some ways, this race reflected the season as a whole: this year is the first in the hybrid era in which Mercedes’ technical superiority has been challenged, but at the same time the driver and team have found a way of getting the best out of their package, making the most of any unexpected circumstances and the mistakes of others. Record beating runs are built like this.
Change is needed
While the Mexican Grand Prix provided an interesting strategic battle in terms of best judging the unexpected behaviour of the hard tyre, there was arguably perhaps more of a show off track than on it.
Over 345,000 spectators turned up over the weekend, the podium ceremony was truly spectacular – with the winning car and driver coming up from below surrounded by smoke and fireworks – and as ever, the atmosphere on Sunday was a real fiesta, or should that be F1ESTA! to borrow the slogan of the race.
It’s a shame that there was not much of a fight on track, especially among the leaders, as everything was in place to deliver an exciting fight, revolving particularly around the potential duel between Mercedes and Ferrari on a track where overtaking is very possible. However, once again we saw that when cars and drivers are evenly matched, then it becomes really hard to not only overtake but to even get close to the car in front. Getting too close for a few laps could mean ruining your tyres, causing drivers to back off and let them recover before making another brief assault.
This is nothing new, but it confirms once again that there is a need for a change in the regulations to enable cars to fight at close quarters. Change is potentially now not far off, at least on paper, given that in a few days, the FIA World Motor Sport Council will rule on the regulation package for 2021, which we presented along with the FIA.
The new aero configuration has been developed to reduce the impact of following another car. Overtakes and battles are easy when there is 1-2 seconds lap time difference, but when there is a smaller difference there is no chance. Suggestions we should delay the introduction are frustrating because the situation gets even worse each year with the cars we have now.
How many opportunities have we lost to see close battles? On Sunday there weren’t many, despite the track characteristics and the introduction of an additional third DRS zone. If even these attributes do not produce closer racing, it’s time we reacted. It isn’t about change for the sake of it, we have put a massive effort into developing these new regulations in the long-term interests of the sport.
Missed opportunity for Max
Max Verstappen was the driver with the most to regret in Mexico. After a brilliant summer, Red Bull have rarely given the impression – even in Singapore – that it could match the pace of Mercedes or Ferrari, the latter having strung together a run of six consecutive pole positions since the summer break.
However, in Mexico, the Honda-powered team seemed to have everything in place to fight for victory and, indeed, it was a close favourite to do so. The odds seemed to further stack up in their favour given that all four drivers using the Japanese power unit made it into Q3 and that Verstappen was clearly quickest, the only driver to get under the 1m 15s barrier.
However, Max made a few mistakes that cost him dearly, starting on Saturday when he ignored yellow flags following Valtteri Bottas’ Q3 crash, and afterwards blatantly admitting that he had not reduced his speed.
Then, on Sunday, the red mist came down on the first lap as he tangled with Hamilton in Turn 2 after the start. To make matters worse he picked up a puncture following a somewhat ambitious move past Bottas in the stadium section a few laps later. And that was pretty much that.
There will be little consolation in his spirited fight back to sixth from P20 that involved a marathon 66-lap stint on hard tyres. The Dutchman showed his age or lack of it. He’s still only 22 and so there is plenty of room for improvement. The important thing is to learn from one’s mistakes, which applies even if you’re 50 but perhaps a little more so at 22. You have to win the ones you should win and the ones you shouldn’t as demonstrated by Lewis - that is how you become a World Champion.
Ricciardo and Perez shine
Once again this weekend, the battle to be best of the rest was very interesting, with the honours eventually going to Sergio Pérez.
The Mexican not only made the most of being able to start on a better tyre than the four drivers ahead of him on the grid, thanks to qualifying in P11, but he also proved capable of doing a great job of managing his tyres, running the same strategy as Hamilton, going from Medium to Hard on lap 20 of the 71-lap race. Pérez got all the way up to seventh and then bravely fought off the attacks of the second driver I want to mention, Daniel Ricciardo.
The Australian also opted for a single stop, but with a different tyre choice, starting on the Hards before giving his all for 21 laps on the Medium. The mistake Daniel made as he tried to pass Perez going into Turn 1 at the end of the race should not take away from his great performance which, along with 10th place for Nico Hulkenberg gave Renault something to smile about at a difficult time.
It’s important that the French team picks itself up. Ever since it returned to the sport as a team and not just an engine supplier, this is the first year it has taken a step backwards. Now it must try and finish the season as best it can, while also concentrating on next year when I’m sure it will return to making better progress.
USA interest grows
The Formula 1 circus had to pack up in an intense rain storm after the race in Mexico City and it now heads north for the United States, a country which has always had a rather complex relationship with our sport.
Austin has been the USA’s home to Formula 1 since 2012 and the race at the Circuit Of The Americas has usually delivered plenty of action.
It’s no secret that we are firm believers in expanding Formula 1 in the USA and with that in mind, on Wednesday, just before the race weekend in Austin, the F1 engines will be fired up on the iconic Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles, with three stars of the sport, Valtteri Bottas, Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen all taking part.
This will be the second F1 Festival staged in the States in 2019, as back in June there was one in Chicago and we are beginning to see real signs of an increase in interest in F1 from American fans, starting with the TV audience.
For example, over the Japanese GP weekend, there was an increase of 156% in ESPN’s viewing figures compared to last year and a 225% increase over 2018 when the race was on NBC Nets. The Suzuka race has never before experienced such viewing figures in the USA.
Over the first 17 races of this season the average audience for ESPN’s live race transmission was 657,000, an increase of 24% over last year and 30% over 2018. These are relatively small numbers but there are other encouraging figures such as a strong increase in viewers between the ages of 18 and 34, 88% higher than in 2018 and 102% up on 2017.
The flowers are just beginning to bloom and they will blossom even more if in the near future we have a second Grand Prix in the States. We are working on this and we really hope to soon have some good news relating to another destination city in the States…