Red Bull’s confidence ensured the defeat of conservative Mercedes – The Race | CarTailz

Max Verstappen certainly shattered some dreams with a flawless victory drive at the Hermanos Rodriguez circuit, which also made him the first man to win 14 grands prix in one season.

There were the dreams of the huge and wildly excited crowd hoping their hero Sergio Perez would make it ahead of them.

That was actually a very realistic dream: after clearing both the Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championships, the only remaining goal for Red Bull is a one-two in the Drivers’ Championship.

What better way to do that than planning a possible home win for Perez? Would Verstappen be willing to help with that? After all, Checo had helped him win Barcelona. Max said no, he wouldn’t give gifts. But then he would surely say so, whether he was ready or not.

But you can’t get a win for free if there’s a car between you and your potential benefactor. That’s the other dream that Verstappen’s flawless dominance shattered: that of a landmark Mercedes victory.

With races counting down to the end of the season, no wins on the books but an increasingly competitive W13, George Russell believes it was only his own mistake that cost him pole.

But all was not lost for him and Lewis Hamilton from second and third place. They would work together as a team, Hamilton stressed, which meant a kind of strategic scissor move for Verstappen.

But you can’t do that if you’re on the wrong tire, and Verstappen never really felt the Mercedes’ hot breath on his neck after taking the lead through the first few corners (the first time this is was here in ever made off the shelf in modern times).

His hold of Russell over the curb of the Turn 2 exit allowed Hamilton to instantly zap past the sister Mercedes and then slipstreamed Perez into Turn 4.

Verstappen Hamilton Perez Russell. That was basically the order from Turn 4, lap one to the end of the race.

Perez might have undercut Hamilton at stops if he hadn’t suffered a 2.5 second delay from a stuck wheel nut (and that would have paved the way for the Perez fairy tale gift). There was also a moment when Perez was within 0.03 of a second to get DRS on Hamilton. But that aside, even on the ‘wrong’ tyres, Hamilton has always been able to stay out of Perez’s reach.

Wrong tires? Mercedes came into the race believing the race would be between one stop and two and starting on the medium kept the one stop option open but the softs didn’t so believing it.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Mexican Grand Prix Race Day Mexico City, Mexico

Mercedes figured the medium would fall off after about 35 laps, the soft after about 16. There were 20 laps left. Also, it can usually do the hard work pretty well. That’s how it started with both cars on the medium. When Hamilton saw the blankets being removed from the Red Bulls, one in front, one to the side, and saw the red sidewalls, “I was like, ‘oh shit’.”

Red Bull also thought it was tight between one and two stops but wasn’t as conservative with great confidence. If it was a two then the soft tire would be a great opening tire. If it were a one, maybe it could get the soft to last long enough for the medium to finish.

Part of his confidence came from how exceptionally good Verstappen has become at going easy on the rubber but maintaining speed. Perez came into the team as a tire whisperer but Red Bull believe Verstappen has gotten even better at this game. It’s an especially valuable skill when the race is balanced between stops. Now you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Red Bull is more ambitious than ever.

2022 Mexico City Grand Prix, Sunday Steve Etherington

If it had been a two-stop, Mercedes’ strategy would have looked quite good. It could have switched to soft tires on the first few stops for the undercut (albeit a used set, just like the ones Red Bull used to start) and let the other run longer, ready for a fresher tire final stint, maybe around Putting Verstappen in an impossible situation.

But it wasn’t a two stop. The track temperature dropped very quickly from an initial 47 degrees to 39 degrees Celsius – giving the softs a much easier time and giving the Red Bulls very respectable opening stint lengths that were comfortably long enough to get onto the mediums for the rest of the distance. What also caused this falling rail temperature was that the hard drive never reached its working temperature.

The combination of a conservative mindset and a sudden drop in temperature, Mercedes lost any chance of pressuring Verstappen.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Mexican Grand Prix Race Day Mexico City, Mexico

Even if it could, it’s unlikely to have hit him. Taking fuel weight out of the equation and comparing the paces of Verstappen and Hamilton with medium tires suggests the former was about 0.15s quicker.

Perez made his stop on lap 23 of 71 (with a 2.5 second delay which initially turned into another delay as he came out behind the yet to be stopped Ferraris), Verstappen on lap 25.

Red Bull looked at the wear and tear on the softs that had just fallen off Verstappen’s car and realized it could have been a lot longer. This gave the team confidence that they could easily cover the rest of the distance on the media. It was definitely a one stop now.

Hamilton had held the gap behind Verstappen at around 2 seconds and stayed out until lap 29, only to switch to the ill-fated Hards. Russell thus took the lead and the plan at that point was to try to keep him out long enough to get onto the soft tires after Mercedes had seen how those tires held up against the Red Bulls for a split- Strategy.

But the longer Russell stayed out, losing up to 1 second a lap to the new-shod Perez, the further he was behind the second Red Bull when he came back. His mediums declined. He would fall too far back even for the switches to make up the difference.

Russell was desperate to stay out and was looking for a way to break the stasis he was in, but numerically it wasn’t going to work. Better limit the damage, Mercedes believed, get out – and go the hard way, just as Hamilton had already done. As it turned out, the feast was slow.

Also, Mercedes’ estimates were still on the conservative side, as it didn’t believe the soft would have lasted the remaining 37 laps when Russell pitted on lap 34. It would almost certainly have been the case. Sebastian Vettel then put in an opening stint of 38 laps and those who switched to it late (Daniel Ricciardo, Alex Albon) did well as the tank load was light and the track was rubberized.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Mexican Grand Prix Race Day Mexico City, Mexico

Mercedes believed Red Bull’s media would fall away before the end. Hamilton and Russell instead felt no support from the fronts and waited in vain for the mythical drop-off for Verstappen and Perez respectively.

During this strategic poker game, everyone had to improvise a combination of lift and coast and short attacking bursts – because, as usual, the thin air meant brake temperatures could get out of control very quickly. The air in front of Verstappen was clean, but still thin – and even he had a lot of car management to do.

So they all worked their way to the end, Verstappen in total control the whole time, Hamilton 15s helpless and always just out of Perez’s reach. Russell was finally able to test the soft tire – with a free pit stop with two laps to go to set the fastest lap.

Why was his pit stop free? Because the Ferraris were so far behind.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Mexican Grand Prix Race Day Mexico City, Mexico

There were two Ferraris in this race, but their presence was more reserved than usual. With their little turbos turned down to avoid the kind of disaster we saw when the wave went too fast in the heights of Austria (but not nearly as high as here), they had very little power. They didn’t treat you well either.

Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc (in that order) found themselves in no man’s land in fifth and sixth place: far from the duel between Red Bull and Mercedes, just as far from the midfield battle won on that occasion by… the McLaren of Daniel Ricciardo!

It was a result of how long Ricciardo was able to stay on his original medium long enough without undercut pressure from behind (unlike teammate Lando Norris, who was struggling with Pierre Gasly a few places up for a lower points score) long enough to get into the last 26 rounds to get on softs.

With these, he began sorting out cars – including the now hardened Norris – and even sidestepped an angry Yuki Tsunoda until there were no more cars in sight.

Great on the tyres, reckless in late attack, it was a repeat of Old Daniel despite the 10 second penalty for the Tsunoda incident that didn’t change his seventh position.

Fernando Alonso might have stayed in Ricciardo’s box if his Alpine hadn’t lost a cylinder and then retired.

Shortly before, Ricciardo had overtaken Esteban Ocon’s other Alpine, who finished eighth ahead of the struggling Norris and Valtteri Bottas, both of whom regretted their ‘Mercedes’ strategy with medium-hard tyres. Thank you to Albon who finished his grippy Williams in 12th ahead of five faster cars with a medium soft strategy.

In hindsight, Mercedes says he lost the chance to take on Verstappen because of his tire choice. But would anyone stop Max Verstappen in his current irresistible form?

Just with the same tires, winning the start and somehow avoiding an undercut, maybe they could have done it. But even that would have been a stretch.

This tire choice meant the race never quite broke out, but the result would certainly have been the same either way.

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