Vettel was eventually given third place after Verstappen was penalised post-race for an incident on the 68th lap when the Dutchman ran wide in Turn 1 and then over the grass in Turn 2 to stay ahead of the Ferrari - a move Hamilton had already performed there on his own while leading on the opening lap, thanks to a glazed brake. Verstappen was told by Red Bull to give up the place but chose not to, and his intransigence enabled Ricciardo to close on to Vettel’s tail.
The supersoft tyres didn’t help the way Red Bull had expected at the start - and Verstappen was lucky to hold on to third as Nico Hulkenberg nearly got by in his Force India going into Turn 1. The Dutchman then dived inside Rosberg and they made reasonably heavy contact before the German managed to keep the place despite having to go on to the grass. Meanwhile, Ricciardo pitted to ditch his supersofts for mediums as early as the first lap, because of a safety car deployment, and began a doughty fight back from 17th place to contention. His race was aided by a second stop, for softs on the 50th lap, which set up his dramatic chase after Vettel and Verstappen.
Verstappen had always been in podium contention, but it was Vettel who took over the lead after Rosberg pitted to switch from softs to mediums on the 14th lap and Hamilton did likewise on the 17th. The Ferrari then ran another remarkable 15 laps before the former champion finally pitted for mediums on the 32nd. That set up his chase after the Red Bull youngster.
Verstappen himself had had an opportunistic go at Rosberg on the 49th lap when the German had lost time going over a kerb, and as the Red Bull got out of shape at the apex Rosberg got the place back, and the incident enabled a lapped Jenson Button in the McLaren to make his own opportunistic pass on Carlos Sainz’s Toro Rosso.
As the three contenders closed right up because of Verstappen’s off-road incident, and Vettel complained long and loud to his crew, Ricciardo got alongside the red car going into Turn 4, but couldn’t quite get the job done as Vettel was moving over towards the apex.
Thereafter the three, who had been nose-to-tail, spread out, and Verstappen crossed the line 0.9s ahead of the Ferrari to Vettel’s chagrin. The two men then exchanged gestures after the finish line. Back in parc ferme, Verstappen headed to the podium room, only to be told that he had received a five-second penalty for leaving the track and gaining an advantage, which dropped him to fifth. He was escorted from the room as Vettel took his place.
The race had also begun with drama, when Haas’s Esteban Gutierrez tagged Pascal Wehrlein in the heavy traffic in Turn 1, and speared the Manor across the road into Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson. Both Gutierrez and Ericsson were able to continue, but Wehrlein was done for the day. That was what necessitated the safety-car deployment as the Manor was taken away, but by lap four they were racing again and Hamilton pulled easily away from Rosberg to maintain the advantage he would hold - barring pit stops - until the end of the race.
After ditching their starting tyres - be they supersofts as in the case of the Red Bulls, the Williamses, Hulkenberg, Sainz and Jolyon Palmer’s Renault, or softs for Mercedes, Ferrari and the rest - barring Sauber's Nasr who started on mediums - it was a matter of trying to make it to the flag with mediums and no further stops.
Behind Verstappen, Vettel and Ricciardo, Hulkenberg looked likely to keep sixth despite strong pressure from Raikkonen, but the Ferrari driver finally made a move in Turn 4 on the 67th lap. The Force India was on 30-lap older tyres, and as Raikkonenn went by Hulkenberg spun through 360 degrees but got going again quickly and held on for seventh ahead of the distant Williams duo of Bottas and Massa. Home favourite Perez had a horrible race trapped almost the entire distance behind Massa, and couldn’t do better than 10th for the final point.
A terrific recovery from Ericsson saw Sauber finish 11th and the closest they’ve been all year to the points, as Button and McLaren team mate Fernando Alonso overwhelmed Palmer, who bravely made it through on a set of mediums after stopping to change from his supersofts on the first lap. Felipe Nasr was 15th for Sauber after running until lap 49 before switching mediums for supersofts.
Renault’s Kevin Magnussen, Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat, Gutierrez, Haas’s Romain Grosjean and Manor’s Esteban Ocon completed the finishers. Both Toro Rosso drivers were given five-second penalties, Sainz for easing Alonso off track on lap one, Kvyat for going off-track to gain advantage over Grosjean.
Hamilton’s 51st career victory thus saw him tie Alain Prost for second in the all-time stakes, but with two races left Rosberg’s 19-point standings lead means he is still on target for the crown even if he finishes second to his team mate in both of them.
Note - Vettel was subsequently penalised for 'erratic' driving, dropping from from third to fifth
WATCH: Race highlights from Mexico
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