2021 F1 Race 18: Autódromo Hermanos Rodriguez
High above sea level would see the power units given more stress, a test that Honda appeared more than capable to passing. The home fans made themselves heard boosting Perez's spirits and giving Redbull what felt like a second home track, or should that be a third.
Ferrari and McLaren are tussling for third place in the constructor's championship, but don't tell Gasly that, the Frenchman beat the best efforts from both teams whilst Ferrari clinched a critical fifth and sixth place. Most attention was heaped on the front three after Bottas had his race scuppered in the first corner. A double Redbull podium was almost inevitable, but Hamilton fought for fifteen laps at the end and managed to make sure it wouldn't be a first and second spot for the team from Milton Keynes.
It was a dusty and slippery beginning to the first free practice session which caught out both Perez and Leclerc. Both spinning as they exited the stadium and putting their mechanics under pressure to get a quick fix for broken rear spoilers. Valtteri Bottas was fastest in the slippery conditions of FP1, while teammate Hamilton was called to the stewards after misjudging his braking, exciting the track, and then reentering the wrong side of a bollard. The circuit rubbered in during FP2 and lap times progressed, with Verstappen fastest, a half second ahead of Bottas who lead Hamilton and crowd favourite Perez. Further down the order Russel and Ricciardo were forced back into the pits with gearbox trouble, and Mick Schumacher managed to lap faster than Lance Stroll, ending the session a respectable 16th. In the final practice session, we witnessed the Honda power unit prove that having an aeronautics arm to the company may make a big difference this weekend, turbochargers and engines need air, the more refined the turbine technology the more power and efficiency achieved at higher altitudes and this track at 2,200 meters seems to lend itself to the Honda engine. This was proved as the times came in and the battle between Ferrari and McLaren for best of rest hotted up, only to see Pierre Gasly go faster than both of them. Verstappen was fastest and Alpine found themselves struggling to find the performance needed.
Onto Qualifying and Lance Stroll, who was already starting at the back caused a red flag as his Aston Martin got caught out and spun into a wall after he moved off the racing line and found a dusty and slippery surface. On the restart there was disappointment for Alpine as Alonso was unable to escape Q1, Ocon however did manage to do so, but will start at the back of the grid for a power unit change. Onto Q2 and Tsunoda pushed hard despite also having a grid penalty for a new engine meaning he would be starting from the back, this appeared to be a team decision as he was able to give Gasly a healthy tow along the main straight. Vettel found himself in P11 unable to get the extra few tenths for a Q3. Up to this point, a Redbull lock out on the front row was looking promising until Mercedes found some extra pace, Bottas going faster than Verstappen as they set down their early times. Ferrari's Carlos Sainz pushed with everything he could but the tow for Gasly along with the Honda power unit was too much for the Ferrari to overcome, giving them a six for Sainz and eighth for Leclerc. Ricciardo managed to sandwich his McLaren between the two Ferrari's, a vital split as his teammate qualified P10. Then the last few minutes arrived and that tow from Tsunoda for Gasly would come back to haunt Redbull. Perez was ahead of Verstappen for this run and although the first sector wasn't purple the Redbull's pace was building, then Perez found Tsunoda towards the end of the second sector, the distraction enough for him to send his Redbull off the track, compromising Verstappen behind. Bottas' earlier flying lap stood as the fastest time and Hamilton held on to his second place start. No doubt Redbull will be disappointed, not just because they were favourites for a front row, but because of how their hopes were dashed. Dr. Helmut Marko was seen marching off towards AlphaTauri's garage, whilst Bottas was presented with a special Fangio replica Helmet for his pole position.
Bottas would have hoped for another victory to add to his tally before the race, but Ricciardo's last of the late brakers move would see him lock a wheel and become a passenger in a collision with Bottas. Both drivers managed to continue on after a pitstop, the Mercedes team were however livid that Ricciardo didn't receive a penalty as he then preceded to keep Bottas behind him for the rest of the race, ruining any chance of a double points finish for Mercedes.
Tsunoda and Schumacher were out trying to get past Bottas as their rear wheels mounted the front tyres of Ocon, seeing all three drivers disadvantaged, but it was race ending for everyone but the Alpine man.
Further into the race we saw Ferrari push hard and reap the rewards, at one point they swapped their drivers around to see if Sainz could have a better shot at Gasly, but they weren't able to match him. Norris managed to grab the last point up for grabs in tenth during a weekend McLaren will want to move on from. Alpine had struggled in practice, in qualifying, and had an uphill battle in the race. Alonso's sharp reactions at the beginning keeping him out of trouble and managing 9th.
Once again Perez proved why he is so valuable, making his medium tyres last the longest extending his strategy and putting Mercedes under pressure as they pulled the trigger first to pit Hamilton. This fight really hotted up with fifteen laps to go as the Mexican was able to push more on his fresher set of hard tyres, but the Mercedes outright straight line speed and the difficulty of following another car meant that Perez inched closer and closer, but couldn't quite pass. Verstappen had a mostly lonely race after the first corner melee, trading fastest lap with his teammate several times, but ultimately losing it to Bottas, who found himself pitted four times in total, and held up on his last two stops, once due to a stuck wheel, the other a deliberate move to put him in clear air so he could steal away fastest lap from Redbull. How Bottas manages to keep a cool head and perform each week no matter how much bad fortune or poor support he gets is anyone's guess, but good on him, a P15 result not representative of his efforts.
Notable moments in the race outside of the turn 1 incident were confirmed to a couple of brilliant overtakes by Alonso, and the two Canadians of Stroll and Latifi having a short battle into turn 1 after the pitstops, with the Aston Martin driver coming out on top. Raikkonen showed his skills can still shine, making a wonderful move around the outside of Russel's Williams in turn 1 halfway through the race. The final celebration was also a party worth witnessing, F1 does a decent job of putting on a show but a country's spirit is really shown after a race. In Mexico a festival atmosphere nearly immediately broke out, partying no doubt went on late into the evening.
An interesting side note was the age combination, we'll mention it now as these opportunities will slim down next year. With a combined age of 4th, 5th, and 6th place coming in at just over 60 years old. The three cars behind them averaged just shy of 120 years old.