Ready to toast no. 6

Lewis Hamilton tossing a sombrero on the podium as he celebrates winning the Mexican Grand Prix, his second victory here. He can seal the title with an eighth-place finish in Austin. PHOTO: REUTERS
Lewis Hamilton tossing a sombrero on the podium as he celebrates winning the Mexican Grand Prix, his second victory here. He can seal the title with an eighth-place finish in Austin.PHOTO: REUTERS

Perfect Mercedes strategy helps Briton earn unlikely win to be on verge of his sixth crown

MEXICO CITY • The fiesta amid the glorious colour and noise of this packed circuit belonged emphatically to Lewis Hamilton.

The British driver took a consummate victory here after starting third on the grid. But much as he revelled in a win scored completely against the odds, the championship champagne remains on ice for one more week at least.

With his Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas finishing third, Hamilton must wait until the next round in Austin before, surely, sealing his sixth Formula One world championship.

The Briton produced a perfectly controlled drive exploiting a race strategy called to perfection by Mercedes.

"We came here thinking we were on the back foot, knowing it was a difficult race for us, but we pulled through," said Hamilton, who had not finished on the podium in Mexico for the past two years.

"I had quite a bit of damage on my car so the race was quite a bit of a struggle," he added, referring to an opening lap clash with Red Bull's Max Verstappen.

No stranger to winning, the Briton seemed for once almost a little shocked by the remarkable feat he and his team had achieved.

Hamilton made his car's hard tyres last for 48 laps to the finish on a one-stop strategy despite questioning the wisdom of that approach. Without regular race engineer Peter Bonnington in the paddock for the first time in seven years, the driver felt he had pitted too early, with chief strategist James Vowles reassuring him over the radio that the win was possible.

And the defending drivers' champion made it his 83rd career win and second in Mexico, having also triumphed in 2016.

Coming after his recent victory in Sochi, Russia, he now has 10 wins this season, a remarkable run with closest challenger Bottas on just three victories.

Hamilton now leads Bottas by 74 points, with 78 available from the final three meetings. The Finn has to win in Austin with a fastest lap to stay in the mathematical reckoning while Hamilton needs just four points - an eighth-place finish - to be sure of the title whatever his teammate does.

Sebastian Vettel was second for the Scuderia, with his teammate Charles Leclerc fourth. The Red Bull pair of Alexander Albon and Verstappen were fifth and sixth.

The race winner was not concerned, though, at not securing the title in Mexico, saying: "I don't mind, I love racing and I take it one race at a time. This is a race I've wanted to win for some time.

"I'm incredibly humbled by today's opportunity, the car holding together as it did and the team executing their best strategy."

Taking his unlikeliest victory in Mexico, Hamilton displayed enough control to show how the drivers' title is equally secure in his grasp.

THE GUARDIAN, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 29, 2019, with the headline 'Ready to toast no. 6'. Print Edition | Subscribe