Hamilton's Fourth As Verstappen Dominates
Autosport|November 02,2017

MAX VERSTAPPEN COULD NOT HELP BUT BE FAST IN MEXICO. WITH THE RACE in the bag, and his Red Bull team monitoring the gap back to Valtteri Bottas, he could only say “I’m really sorry” when admonished for his lap times having stayed the same after agreeing to ease off.

Edd Straw

At that point, early in the second stint of what was a one-stop race for the first and second place finishers, Bottas still had a vague hope of closing the gap after both had switched from ultra-softs to super-softs. That Verstappen could match or outpace Bottas seemingly without trying tells you everything that you need to know about his supremacy. It was a future champion’s drive on a day when Lewis Hamilton became the champion of the present.

Hamilton should have been part of that lead scrap, and momentarily was. After taking a scintillating pole position, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel found himself under attack from Verstappen on the outside line into the Turn 1 right-hander. Vettel pushed Verstappen wide, but not too wide, with the pair making contact out of the ensuing left-hander. Hamilton didn’t need another invitation, going around the outside of both at the Turn 3 right-hander.

Sandwiched between Verstappen and Vettel as he exited the corner, and knowing that this was his best chance to gain a track position advantage, Hamilton wasn’t going to back down. But he had to check up thanks to Verstappen’s compromised exit. Vettel did not react quickly enough to avoid hitting the right-rear corner of Hamilton’s car. The result: Vettel hurried back to the pits for a new front wing, while Hamilton crawled back for a new set of boots as Verstappen charged into the distance ahead of Bottas.

The world championship battle, such as it was, given Hamilton only needed to finish in the top five to clinch it regardless of what Vettel did, had effectively been decided by a collision. OK, in the circumstances, it wasn’t quite Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna at Suzuka 1989/1990, or Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve with Michael Schumacher in 1994 and ’97 respectively, but it was a moment that would have been far more controversial had there really been a championship at stake.

The stewards noted the event, but neither investigated nor took action on what was deemed to be a racing incident. Hamilton suggested it was deliberate over the radio, while Vettel, after the race, simply declared it to be “irrelevant”. He focused on Hamilton’s title, magnanimously congratulating him with a hug in the post-race TV interview pen.

“I knew that I couldn’t win the race, clearly, but I was [thinking], ‘You know what, I’m going to have the best race I can possibly have from wherever I am’,” said Hamilton. “I left a lot of room, so I wonder why the dude behind that I was fighting touched me. We’re great drivers, he’s a four-time world champion, it’s quite easy not to hit each other, but in the midst of things it can also be quite easy to touch. So I don’t really care and I don’t feel like analysing it.”

Even when forced to analyse it on Sky Sports F1’s post-race coverage, Hamilton held back when seemingly on the brink of emphatically blaming Vettel. In the end, given the clash didn’t affect the outcome of the title, both could get away with glossing over it.

“I feel like I positioned my car perfectly through those two corners and it felt a bit odd to be hit by the guy I’m fighting the championship for,” was as far as Hamilton would go. It was clear both felt some grievance.

But the stewards were right. Hamilton had been bold and attacking but not to excess, and Vettel would certainly not have hit him intentionally given he also came off badly from the incident. It all stemmed from Verstappen’s slightly slow exit from Turn 3, itself a consequence of the battle through Turns 1 and 2. That’s racing.

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