Lewis Hamilton has recovered from a first-lap crash and floor damage to win Mercedes’s 100th grand prix victory and put one hand on the drivers championship.
Hamilton started third but a moment of oversteer at turn two and a bump with Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen sent both over the grass, damaging the Briton’s floor and the Dutchman’s front wing.
With polesitter Charles Leclerc and Ferrari teammate Sebastian Vettel leading with superior straight-line speed, Mercedes put Hamilton on an ambitious one-stop strategy, pitting him on lap 23 for a long 48-lap stint on the hard tyre.
The Briton spent most of the race protesting that he wouldn’t be able to make it to the end, but the points leader perfectly judged the second half of the race, controlling his pace to ensure neither the Ferrari drivers nor teammate Valtteri Bottas could make it back through despite theoretically faster strategies.
“Today’s an incredible result,” he said. “I have to say a huge thank to my team — the guys have just continued to work incredibly hard and stay focused.
“We had quite a bit of damage on the car, so the race was quite a bit of a struggle. I had to keep my head down. It seemed like a long second stint, but I am so grateful for today.
“I’m incredibly humbled by today’s opportunity and the car holding together as it did and the team executing the strategy.”
The win extended Hamilton’s title lead to 74 points, just four shy of the total he needed to claim the crown in Mexico — but he need only hold a 52-point advantage by the end of next week’s race in the United States to win his sixth championship in Austin.
“I don’t mind [waiting],” he said. “I love racing. I just take it one race at a time.”
The race could so easily have been over for Hamilton on the first lap. Starting from third, he sized up the slipstream from Vettel and the leading Leclerc on the long run down to the first turn, but the German squeezed him off the track and briefly onto the grass on the straight, forcing him to lift off the throttle.
Verstappen was quick to capitalise on the slowed Mercedes, diving down his inside at the first turn. The pair went side by side into turn two when Hamilton suffered a snap of oversteer, sending both onto the grass with damage.
Hamilton lost only one place to Carlos Sainz — soon recovered after a brief virtual safety car intervention to clean up the debris — but Verstappen dropped to eighth. Things went from bad to worse for the Dutchman shortly thereafter, with a chop down Bottas’s inside in the stadium section causing a right-rear puncture that sunk him to the back of the field.
He eventually recovered to sixth, stopping only once to replace his damaged tyres on lap five.
The frontrunners settled into a rhythm, sizing each other up before choosing a strategy. Alex Albon was the first to make a move, replacing his worn medium tyres with a new set on lap 14 and thereby committing to a two-stop race. Leclerc did likewise from the lead on the following lap.
Vettel, Bottas and Hamilton were left to consider their options, with Mercedes pitting Hamilton for the hard tyre on lap 23, expecting Ferrari to follow suit. Vettel stayed out in the lead, however, and the Silver Arrows left Bottas out behind him as cover.
It wasn’t until lap 36 and 37 that Bottas and Vettel eventually made their sole stops for the hard tyre, leaving Leclerc with the lead, but by then the Monegasque was complaining his tyres had reached the end of their life. He stopped on lap 43 for his own set of hards, but the stop was slow due to a problem with the right-rear, costing him 6.2 seconds.
He emerged with a 17-second deficit to the lead with 28 laps to close and began making rapid progress. Albon followed him into the pit on the following lap but was unable to make a similar impression on the time sheet.
But up the road Vettel and Bottas were already making in-roads on Hamilton’s lead with their fresher rubber, and by lap 55 the Finn was attempting to find a way past the German to be the first to besiege his teammate.
He couldn’t make the move as Leclerc menaced behind, and their challenges faded as the trio hit lapped traffic. Leclerc suffered a lockup on lap 59, costing him valuable time he couldn’t recover, and the best of Vettel and Bottas’s tyres were used navigating around slower cars, allowing Hamilton to control the gap to the chequered flag.
Vettel was left to wonder what could have been for Ferrari had it executed a more astute strategy from second place.
“I think surprisingly the hard tyres worked really well,” he said. “I think Lewis was just cruising for most of the second stint. I guess he had enough tyres left.
“It was a good race but I think here and there with strategy we could’ve been a bit sharper.”
Bottas couldn’t stem the flow of championship points to Hamilton, but he was nonetheless pleased to finish on the podium after his qualifying crash on Saturday.
“It was a good result,” he said “Very happy about the pace I had in the race. I don’t think we could’ve done much more today from where I started.”
Leclerc was left to finish fourth ahead of Red Bull Racing teammate Albon and Verstappen finished fifth and sixth.
Sergio Perez finished a popular seventh in front of his adoring home crowd after defending from a hard-charging Daniel Ricciardo in the final phase of the race.
Ricciardo’s Renault teammate, Nico Hulkenberg, was set to finish behind him in ninth, but a last-lap crash with Daniil Kvyat sent him spinning into the barrier at the penultimate turn.
The Russian was penalised 10 seconds for the mistake, promoting Toro Rosso teammate Pierre Gasly to ninth and Hulkenberg, who limped over the line with a broken rear wing, to 10th.