“This has to be one of Lando’s best drives of his career.”
That was the description offered by longtime Formula 1 analyst, and former driver, Martin Brundle during the closing laps of Sunday’s Mexico City Grand Prix. Despite failing to advance to Q2 on Saturday and being forced to start at the back of the grid, Lando Norris charged through the field on Sunday. Not only did Norris get into the points after starting 17th, but he made his way up to P5, bringing home ten points for McLaren.
With teammate Oscar Piastri finishing eighth, despite suffering damage earlier in the race, McLaren banked another 14 points, extending their current lead over Aston Martin to 20 points.
When I talked with Zak Brown, McLaren’s CEO last week, he praised Norris and Piastri as the best driver duo on the grid. Of Norris, Brown outlined how he is a future world champion driver, who just needs the right car to complete the story.
“First, he’s obviously naturally very fast and very talented,” said Brown about what makes Norris a great driver. “He’s very mature. He’s very precise. He’s got all the natural talent in the world and then the patience, maturity, aggressiveness, technical ability, and is great in the team environment to get the most out of the team.
“He’s just a complete racing driver. If we had a car capable of winning the world championship right now, he would be competing for the world championship.”
Norris showed on Sunday that such a day could be in his future.
Winner: Lewis Hamilton
In his own words, it took every button on the steering wheel to pull it off.
But thanks to a dramatic mid-race overtake of Charles Leclerc, Lewis Hamilton was able to power up to the podium, after starting the Grand Prix in sixth position. While it was certainly not the first podium of his storied career, Hamilton’s second-place finish in Mexico City must have felt a little sweeter after last week’s P2 was taken away following a post-race disqualification.
“This weekend we’ve been very, very slow on the straight,” he explained in the post-race press conference. “In general, we’re quite draggy on the straights, more often than not, but this weekend, like yesterday we were losing two and a half tenths just into turn one before we even started braking.
“[Ferrari] were very slippery on the straights so trying to follow a closely through turn 16 and 17 was really the only way that I could get close enough and have an opportunity to make the DRS impactful.
“Finally I pressed every button on the steering wheel, maximum power. I didn’t know how far across he was going to go but in a split second decision I decided to go to the right. There was just enough space there but Charles was really fair but great racing.”
Here’s how it looked on the track:
Shortly after Hamilton crossed the start/finish line, Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff sang the driver’s praises:
✨ perfection ✨ pic.twitter.com/Wd0N9SdLCI— Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 Team (@MercedesAMGF1) October 29, 2023
Interestingly enough, things remained status quo in the battle for second between Mercedes and Ferrari. With Hamilton finishing second (and banking a bonus point for the fastest lap of the race) and teammate George Russell finishing sixth, the Silver Arrows banked 27 points on the afternoon.
Meanwhile Leclerc’s third-place finish — and a podium of his own after his DQ in Austin cost him P3 — coupled with the fourth-place finish from Carlos Sainz Jr. netted Ferrari ... 27 points.
As such, 22 points remains the gap from Mercedes to Ferrari.
Losers: Aston Martin
McLaren has scored 141 points since just the Singapore Grand Prix.
Over that same stretch, Aston Martin has scored just 19.
If this season does conclude with McLaren atop Aston Martin in the Constructors’ standings — and recent form shows no sign of that trend reversing — this portion of the schedule will be a huge reason why. On a day where Norris powered up to fifth after starting 17th, and Piastri found himself in the points again, Aston Martin saw both of their drivers start at the back of the field, and fail to finish the race.
Fernando Alonso started 13th, but picked up damage on the opening lap and was forced to retire on Lap 47.
Teammate Lance Stroll lasted a little longer, but not much. He was running in 13th place after starting from pit lane due to changes made overnight, but contact with Valtteri Bottas spun him out, and he was forced to retire on Lap 66.
Following the race, Team Principal Mike Krack seemed to shift his attention to 2024.
“We have not been competitive this weekend and we did not give Lance and Fernando the car they needed to compete for points,” said Krack. “We made changes to Lance’s car ahead of the race because our focus is on big-picture learning for 2024.
“Nobody in the team is happy with our current form, but we are a strong unit and will continue to all work together to push for improvements,” added Krack. “It is fair to say the circuit characteristics did not play to our strengths today, but we will work hard to be more competitive at Interlagos [Brazil] next weekend.”
Aston Martin’s dream start feels like a lifetime ago.
Winner: Daniel Ricciardo
The man called his shot on Friday, and delivered over the weekend.
After a strong FP2 on Friday, Daniel Ricciardo declared that he had a “top ten” car. He went out and showed it on Saturday, putting his AlphaTauri on the second row alongside Max Verstappen. But as he admitted after qualifying, the job was not done.
He finished the job on Sunday, coming across the line seventh to score his first points since not just coming back from injury, but since coming back to the grid midseason.
“There’s a lot of emotions, and I’m definitely feeling better than good,” said Ricciardo after the race in the team’s post-race media report.
The mid-race restart had him a little nervous, particularly when he was starting on the hard compounds with those around him on the medium, but Ricciardo lost just one spot, and was in the fight for an even better finish until the end.
“Two starts on this track hold your breath because it’s such a long run until Turn 1, and anything can happen. The first start, we went into Turn 1 fourth and came out of it fourth as well, so I was happy,” said Ricciardo. “For the second start, I knew the Red Flag would hurt our race, but I’m happy to hear that Kevin (Magnussen) wasn’t injured after the big crash he had. Restarting on the hard compound, with others opting for the medium tyre, and only losing one position, was close to the best scenario, and we did well.
“We tried to settle into our rhythm, where I had a little fight with Norris but then let him go. We thought if he could catch George (Russell), he’d bring him closer to us, and he did. On the last lap, we got close but didn’t quite make it. Regardless, to be fighting with a Mercedes at the end is exciting. Overall, it was a good weekend during which we scored six important points. Now let’s keep the ball rolling.”
Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner was among those singing his praises following the race:
Christian Horner praises Daniel Ricciardo— RBR Daily (@RBR_Daily) October 29, 2023
"Fighting a Mercedes in an AlphaTauri for their best result of the year was a great performance."
"That's the Daniel we are used to seeing."#F1 #MexicoGP pic.twitter.com/D3nlZeXFkv
The finish also propelled AlphaTauri into eighth place in the Constructors’ standings. The team sits tied with Alfa Romeo with 16 points on the season, but Ricciardo’s seventh-place finish is the best from either team this year, and breaks the tie.
Loser: Sergio Pérez
Every moment in the cockpit of an F1 car is a “heart in your throat” moment, but the start of the Mexico City Grand Prix is near the top of the list. Drivers and teams talked all week about how on the long straight into Turn 1 anything can happen, and it did on Sunday.
And it ended the home race for Sergio Pérez before it even really began.
Verstappen got off to an incredible start, pulling even with pole-sitter Leclerc. But Pérez got off to a strong start of his own, and the three approached that first turn three-wide, with Leclerc in the middle of a Red Bull sandwich.
He and Pérez came together, and the contact lifted Pérez’s RB19 off the ground, and off the track:
It was an aggressive move, and he just ran out of space.
After retiring, Pérez spoke about that aggressive move with the media.
“To be honest, I wasn’t expecting Charles, that he was in the middle, he had less room for maneuver and to brake that late, as late as I did or Max did,” he said. “I think simply there was no room for three cars. It was a total racing incident.
“In hindsight, I shouldn’t say this, but maybe I should back off ... [But you do not want to] especially at your home grand prix
“Especially being two times in a row on the podium, I went totally for it. I’m very sad with the end result, because I mean on the first lap to end the race of your home grand, it’s definitely really sad.
“But on the other hand, I’m proud of myself because I gave it my all. Very proud of my team, we gave our all the whole weekend. We had probably the best start of the year so we just went for it.”
Perhaps more worrisome for Pérez is this: Hamilton’s second-place finish saw the Mercedes driver close to within just 20 points of Pérez for second place in the Constructors’ standings. With three races — including an F1 Sprint race at Interlagos next weekend — there is more than enough time for Hamilton to close that gap.
Winner: Max Verstappen
Another race, another record:
Yeah, we’re running out of ways to describe this season from Verstappen.