Victory in Mexico City brought Lewis Hamilton another seven crucial points closer to Nico Rosberg, and drew him level with Alain Post’s tally of 51 wins in the all-time league. Yet curiously, such were the machinations elsewhere in the race, he drew little of the attention as he went about doing the job he’d gone to do.
Many felt he could count it as a victory, however, not to have been penalised at the start for locking a brake, running off-course on the entry to Turn 1, and heading all the way down on the grass to Turn 3 as he missed out Turn 2.
For a start, he didn’t lose the lead. He actually stretched it, though he backed off slightly thereafter to enable Rosberg to close back in.
That was put into focus when a five-second penalty was added to Max Verstappen’s race time for a similar offence on the 68th lap when he was under very heavy pressure from Sebastian Vettel. It dropped him from third to fifth.
Both Red Bull drivers - Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo - were vocal in their belief that Hamilton, too, should have been penalised.
But if a five-second penalty had been added to the world champion’s race time, he would still have won by 3.5s.
It wasn’t until the final run in qualifying that Nico Rosberg finally got a handle on the track where he had dominated last year’s race. And he admitted that all weekend Hamilton had just been too fast for him.
But he avoided the challenge off the line that everyone had expected from the supersoft-shod Red Bulls, survived Verstappen’s attack in the first corner on the opening lap, and another on the 49th in which the young Dutchman ran wide after squeezing alongside him in Turn 4, and thereafter he had a relatively easy run to the second place he needed to keep his title aspirations on course.
They have already clinched their third consecutive world championship for constructors, and here they took their sixth 1-2 of the season, but it was the fact that this was their 17th win in 2016 that was the big deal this time. That set a new record, to put just another little chunk of cherry atop an already well iced cake.
Finishing third might not count as a victory in most peoples’ books. But the fact that he had to fight through from 17th place on the opening lap after switching from his supersoft Pirellis to mediums under the safety car, and then pit again for softs on the 50th lap when almost everyone else was doing a single-stop race, shows how much Daniel Ricciardo was charging.
When his challenge to Vettel failed to come off on the 70th lap it appeared he had to settle for a valiant fifth, but penalties for both Vettel and his own team mate Verstappen elevated him to the final podium slot, after both of those rivals had held it and lost it.
Last year 335,850 spectators flocked into the revamped Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, in celebration of Formula One racing’s return after 23 years.
This year there were 91,243 of them on Friday, 113,968 on Saturday and 135,026 on Sunday, giving a total of 339,967.
The Mexican Grand Prix: a winner again.
It’s a question everyone’s asking: what is going on with Sebastian Vettel?
First he made a bad start, and got stuck behind Felipe Massa. Then he began making progress and took the lead for an impressive 15 laps after the leading Mercedes and Verstappen’s Red Bull had all changed their tyres much sooner - in Mercedes’ case, similar soft-compound Pirellis.
Okay, he then dropped to sixth, but soon he was pushing hard again with Verstappen in third place as his target. But then it all went wrong.
He had been complaining about traffic and blue flags all race - and at several others this year - and now he started doing it all over again. But it was when he tried to pass Verstappen on the 68th lap, and the Dutchman ran wide, stayed ahead and refused to surrender the place, that he really ignited.
First he abused Verstappen over the radio to his crew. Then he was profane towards FIA race director Charlie Whiting, who said that Verstappen didn’t need to hand the place back as the incident would be investigated afterwards.
Then there was the clash with Daniel Ricciardo on the 70th lap as the Australian attempted an opportunistic pass going into Turn 4 - Vettel squeezed the Red Bull under braking and they collided, albeit quite gently.
He was all smiles when Verstappen was penalised off the podium - but then the axe fell when the stewards gave him a 10-second time penalty for driving in a potentially dangerous manner, making an abnormal change of direction, and causing another driver to take evasive action - thus breaching Article 27.5 of the Sporting Regulations which had been amended after the drivers’ briefing in Austin and in Whiting’s Mexican Grand Prix briefing notes.
"I don't know how many times he is using very bad language in general,” Verstappen said of him. “I think he has to go back to school or something to get some language. I will speak to him, because this is just ridiculous the way he is handling it. He's always so frustrated, the whole weekend, he's shouting on the radio. In the end, he's just a very frustrated guy at the moment."
It’s hard not to agree with that assessment.
Verstappen himself was also another of the race’s losers.
He didn’t get the thrust off the line that had been expected with the supersoft tyres that both Red Bull drivers were using, and he nearly lost a place to Nico Hulkenberg’s Force India, but he hung tough and, typically, he tried to dive inside Nico Rosberg going into the first corner as he saw a gap open up. On the exit, however, he slid wide and made contact with the Mercedes, pushing it wide. He was lucky to get away with that, and later actually squeaked ahead of the German in Turn 4 on lap 49, only to overcook the corner and surrender the position.
Thereafter, he was being caught by both Sebastian Vettel and team mate Daniel Ricciardo. When Vettel challenged him on the 68th lap, Verstappen again ran wide and refused to give the position back despite missing out Turn 2, as Hamilton had done on the opening lap. He held on to finish third but was escorted from the podium room when a five-second penalty was handed down and dropped him from third to fifth.
He subsequently went up to fourth again when Vettel was penalised, but the young Dutchman was not a happy boy afterwards.
Poor Sergio Perez so desperately wanted to deliver for his countrymen, but instead had a gruelling race trapped behind Felipe Massa’s Williams. He did 20 laps on the softs he started with, then ran mediums to the finish, but just couldn’t do better than 10th for the final point, a second adrift of the Brazilian.
“Even though I scored a point today, it was a very frustrating race being stuck behind the Williams cars and unable to overtake,” he said. “I tried everything I could, but it’s not easy because they had a straight-line speed advantage. There were a few occasions when I was very close to making the move stick on Felipe, but in the end it just wasn’t possible.
“Even with the tenth place today the fans were cheering for me. They are so loyal; always behind me and they have given me so much positive energy all week. Although I wanted to give them a better result, this has still been the most enjoyable race of the year.”
Esteban Gutierrez also wanted to impress in front of his fellow Mexicans, but he and team mate Romain Grosjean had races to forget.
The Frenchman started from the pit lane after his team had changed his VF-16’s floor in parc ferme in an attempt to civilise its behaviour after qualifying. Sadly it didn’t, and he struggled for the rest of the afternoon with “no rear downforce.”
Gutierrez survived a first-corner brush when Pascal Wehrlein hit his front wing, but his two-stop strategy didn’t play out either, leaving him 19th and Grosjean 20th.