Lewis Hamilton won the Mexican Grand Prix but his Mercedes team-mate, Nico Rosberg, was second and leads the championship by 19 points with two races remaining
This years Formula One world championship may have been a two-horse race almost from the off but a win for Lewis Hamilton in the Mexican Grand Prix has at least ensured the protagonists must weigh in at least once more in earnest. The three-times world champion led his Mercedes team-mate, Nico Rosberg, from pole and, having already dominated the weekend, proceeded to do so again when it mattered.
A win was the minimum the British driver required in his attempt to defend his title and he delivered with almost flawless aplomb at the Autdromo Hermanos Rodrguez. Sebastian Vettel claimed the final podium spot, after an aggressive fight in the closing stages with Max Verstappen in the Red Bull, who was penalised five seconds after he gained an advantage by leaving the track during the battle, demoting him to fifth.
It was Hamiltons eighth win of the season, to Rosbergs nine, and, while it was exactly what he needed to keep the championship fight alive, his team-mate did what he needed to maintain his advantage. The German now leads by 19 points with a maximum of 50 available to Hamilton at the remaining two rounds in Brazil and Abu Dhabi enough for Rosberg still to take the title with a second and third place to wins from the British driver.
Hamilton had come to Mexico buoyant from his win at the last round in Austin and relaxed, having accepted that he could do no more than go for the win to keep his hopes alive. He was second to Rosberg here in 2015 but in a dead rubber having already secured the championship. With everything still to play for his focus has been absolute all weekend. He was quicker than his team-mate in all three practice sessions and out-qualified him by a distance on all but the final lap, where Rosberg was still two-tenths in arrears. The setup the British driver found early had worked well, even given some struggle to maintain the tyre temperatures within a very narrow operating window, and proved to do so again in a race in which he was untroubled by his title rival.
The thin air of Mexico City makes a combination of high top-speeds but lower aero downforce tricky to handle in the twisting sections between turns four and 11 and through the stadium but Hamilton was, bar overcooking it into turn one off the grid, almost on rails once he had held his lead.
Rosberg, in contrast, had struggled to dial-in his car from the off. Putting heat into the tyres in what have been relatively cool track temperatures had proved difficult all weekend and he admitted he brought it together only on his final lap in qualifying. Having failed to pass Hamilton from the start or on the long drag to turn one and knowing a well-consolidated and problem-free second place was all he needed, he suggested by his rhythm a driver who had calculated the percentages and whose push was more targeted at ensuring he did not surrender second to the ever-pressing Verstappen, who took the fight to him with the same fearlessness and impetuosity that has characterised the best parts of his season but which cost him the fury of Vettel at the end.
The opening of Hamiltons 51st career win was one on which he will not wish to dwell, however. He had the start he needed after some poor take-offs this season and led off the line. He looked comfortably clear but braked late and locked up into turn one, failed to make the corner and went across the grass to rejoin on the entrance to three. Rosberg had followed him, albeit to a lesser extent, which appeared to be caused after he took a knock from the Dutch driver. The stewards investigated but decided to take no further action against either man. Crucially Hamilton was also deemed not to have gained any advantage and could continue at the front.
The foray off the line did not seem to have damaged his car, bar the vibration from the flat-spot, and he had put a 3.3-second gap on Rosberg by lap 10, aided because the German was initially being hounded by the charging Verstappen, who would continue in that role for most of the race.
Hamilton, however, had already sprung away. When he took his first stop to fit the medium tyre he was 5.7 seconds clear. Rosberg stopped for mediums on lap 21 and rejoined 5.5 seconds behind the British driver.
It was a gap that was to be largely maintained around the three-to-four-second mark before he extended it further in the final third, with Hamilton in clean air and able to control his race. Rosberg was chased down again by Verstappen and the Dutch driver did dive past him at turn four on lap 49 but could not make it stick. It would have been enough, however, to ensure Rosberg was focused on maintaining second rather than catching Hamilton. Untroubled out front, the British driver was able to up the pace each time the gap came down and to maintain his advantage. By the flag he was 8.3 seconds clear, for his second win in a row, and while the absolutely packed grandstands were not treated to a classic, the lack of drama at the front will have been exactly what the world champion wanted to move one step closer to taking the title race to the final furlong.
Red Bulls Daniel Ricciardo was in fourth, the second Ferarri of Kimi Raikkonen in sixth, the Force Indias of Nico Hlkenberg and Sergio Prez in seventh and tenth respectively and the Williams of Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa completing the points positions in eighth and ninth.