Nico Rosberg has controlled the Mexican Grand Prix ahead of is largely ineffectual teammate Lewis Hamilton.
Rosberg, who secured his fourth consecutive pole position on Saturday in knowledge that he had failed to convert any of the previous three to wins, fired from the line faster than Hamilton and managed to keep him confidently at bay thereafter.
The German survived the meagre two flashpoints throughout the grand prix — a late-race safety car, for which he managed the restart expertly, and a precautionary second pit stop, which Hamilton temporarily attempted to game in a ploy for the lead.
With the pair having established a significant buffer to the rest of the field, Mercedes converted both cars to a two-stop strategy to guard against late-race tyre wear.
Rosberg, leading the race, was called in first on lap 47 for a new set of medium tyres, but Hamilton, called in the next lap, questioned whether a change was necessary.
The world champion stayed out an extra lap, arguing with his pit wall, which eventually resorted to calling the stop necessary for “safety”, at which point the Briton pitted and resumed second place.
But Rosberg was in perpetual control regardless, and even a brief surge from Hamilton during the last 10 laps wasn’t enough to put the German off his game.
“Amazing,” exclaimed Rosberg, happy to be soaking in his first win since Austria. “An amazing day, a great race great battle with Lewis, and really happy to get the win.”
Hamilton, who had implied after qualifying that his car was set up for maximum race pace, said he had no explanation for his subordinate pace.
“Nico drove a fantastic race,” he said, leaving it at that.
Valtteri Bottas collected his second podium place of the year after an ambitious safety car-aided strategy had him jump from sixth to third.
The Finn started behind Red Bull Racing’s Daniil Kvyat and Daniel Ricciardo, but unable to get past them on the track given the high temperature cost to the tyres and engine when following other cars at the high altitude of Mexico City, he stopped early on lap nine to get out of the dirty air.
“I have to say a big thanks to the team,” said the Finn in his first podium interview since Canada. “We did a mega job today — we were racing like a race-winning team.”
As he attempted to move the field, however, he came up behind Russian Grand Prix nemesis Kimi Räikkönen, with whom he tangled on lap 22 for sixth.
They raced side-by-side through the first three corners, but at turn four Räikkönen cut across the apex and ran his rear right tyre over Bottas’ front left, immediately destroying his Ferrari’s suspension and retiring himself from the race.
Miraculously Bottas’ Williams survived unscathed, allowing him to maximise his one-stop race.
“It was not that easy a race, a bit of contact with Kimi,” he reflected. “It did not have to end like that, it was a shame, but there was nowhere for me to go.”
Pushed up the order after the frontrunners stopped, Bottas then had to keep his tyres, which were more than 10 laps older than those on the Red Bull cars were, against which he was racing for the podium.
A fortuitous lap 52 safety car saved Bottas the trouble, giving him a free second stop and ensuring his podium finish.
The safety car was called to end Vettel hitherto woeful race, his Ferrari resting in the barriers as the German attempted to make up ground from P12.
His afternoon was virtually ended at the first corner when he came together with Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull in a clash that ended with a puncture.
Vettel switched to the medium tyre at the end of the lap and exited the pits last, but he hampered his own race with a spin on lap 18, dropping him from eleventh to fifteenth, flat-spotting his tyres.
A change to a new set of medium tyres on lap 36 did little to improve his pace, which was blighted by what appeared to braking issues — though Vettel denied his car had any problems — and eventually his day came to a crashing halt.
The DNF puts Vettel 21 points behind Rosberg in the battle for second in the championship standings with two races remaining.
Daniil Kvyat spent most of the race keeping his teammate Ricciardo at bay to claim fourth, which he admirably achieved to withstand the increasing internal pressure on the Russian’s place at Red Bull Racing.
Ricciardo was stuck behind his teammate by his RBR11 that was marginal on cooling rather than for a lack of trying, however, and almost fell into the clutches of the chasing Williams of Felipe Massa as he tried to keep his distance to bring home the car.
Force India duo, adopted as the home team due to resident Mexican driver Sergio Perez, finished seventh and eighth, with Nico Hülkenberg leading the crowd favourite home.
Perez, famous for his ability to maximise tyre life, one-stopped his way through the race after changing tyres on lap 19, but he felt the team missed a track by not pitting him behind the safety car like it did his teammate, but admitted Williams was unlikely to be reachable either way.
Max Verstappen didn’t have the pace to hold his P8 grid position, succumbing to a battle with the Mercedes-powered Force India of Sergio Perez after his first pit stop.
Romain Grosjean scored the final point of the afternoon in tenth, withstanding late pressure from Lotus teammate Pastor Maldonado.