Lewis Hamilton has won the 2017 Formula One Drivers World Championship despite a chaotic first lap dropping him and title contender Sebastian Vettel to last.
The championship-leading pair’s tangle opened the door to Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen, who slipstreamed his way past Vettel, drove around Hamilton and seized the lead before turn three, from where he drove off into the distance.
There was little jeopardy in the race thereafter. Vettel and Hamilton both pitted for softs, but it was the Ferrari driver who had pace, jetting off up the field knowing only second place would be enough to keep him in the fight for another round.
Hamilton, on the other hand, complained of being unable to get close enough to Renault’s Carlos Sainz to even attempt a pass. Mercedes denied the Briton was carrying any damage, but by lap 23 he was lapped by runaway leader Verstappen, begging the question.
The race slowly unfolded until lap 32, when Brendon Hartley’s Toro Rosso pulled to the side of the road in a plume of smoke. It was Renault’s third engine failure of the afternoon in the trying high altitude conditions and the first virtual safety car of the day.
Pit lane became a hive of activity, and both Vettel and Hamilton made second tyre changes, the former for ultrasofts and the latter for supersofts.
Vettel dropped from seventh to eighth; Hamilton dropped from 15th to 16th.
Both found extra performance. Hamilton began propelling himself up the field, but Vettel set fastest lap after fastest lap, each time shattering the lap record at Mexico City’s Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez.
Within 15 laps Vettel was up to fourth and behind teammate Räikkönen, but the gap to the second Ferrari was almost half a minute. Hamilton, meanwhile, had worked his way up to tenth, and by lap 69 he was up into ninth, meaning only victory, far out of reach, would keep Vettel in the hunt for another round.
The championship was over. Lewis Hamilton had won his fourth crown.
“I did everything I could,” Hamilton said after getting out of his car. “Obviously that’s not the kind of race that I want, but I never gave up, and I guess that’s what really important.
“I kept going right to the end. I tried so hard to come back.
“Honestly it doesn’t feel real. A big thank you to my family, my team — Mercedes has been incredible for the last five years and I’m so proud to be a part of it.”
The title permutations overshadowed a faultless performance by race-winner Verstappen, who gave no other competitor so much as a sniff of his lead after the first lap, beating Mercedes’s Valtteri Bottas by 20 seconds.
It looked like a cruise, but the Red Bull Racing pit wall was feeling the pressure of unreliability. Four of the six Renault-powered cars retired with power unit troubles before the end of the race, including Verstappen’s teammate Daniel Ricciardo, who had made a precautionary engine change before the race only to retire on lap five.
Verstappen, though, seemed unperturbed by the risk, and indeed vied for the lap record throughout the race despite warnings from his engineer to slow his pace.
“Of course the start was very crucial,” Verstappen said. “From there on basically I was looking after the tyres and the car. It performed brilliantly in the race.
“Big thanks to Red Bull because of course without them it’s not possible. It was cruise; that was great.”
Bottas finished second in a much-improved race performance after a string of uncompetitive race weekends.
The Finn did all the team required of him, holding P2 in preparation to defend against Vettel should the German have made it up the order, but he admitted his Mercedes car was no match for Max Verstappen’s machine.
“First of all, big congratulations to Lewis and massive congratulations to our team for winning both titles,” he said.
“Just Red Bull was too quick today. We tried everything we could, but we just couldn’t match them and this is the result.”
Kimi Räikkönen finished third, the older Finn likewise putting himself in position to play the team gave if required.
Ferrari could have switched him with Vettel to give the German the final podium place, but with Sebastian almost 30 seconds behind Räikkönen and Räikkönen the same distance behind Bottas, Vettel would have been unable to capture the P2 he needed in any case.
Two rounds of the 2017 Formula One season remain, with the Brazilian Grand Prix and the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on 13 and 27 November.