Hamilton Wins in Mexico Amidst Heated Controversy
The 2016 Mexican Grand Prix perfectly exemplified why someone might watch Formula 1 not just for the racing but also for all of the drama surrounding it.
Nico Rosberg, the current championship leader, headed into the weekend knowing he could win the whole thing on Sunday, provided he won the race and his teammate Lewis Hamilton finished 10th or lower. But that was unlikely to happen and it never came close to that; in fact, the championship battle between the two Mercedes drivers was the last thing on anyone’s mind at the Mexican Grand Prix.
The race was marked by incidents at the start and end of the race, with relatively little wheel-to-wheel racing in the middle. Lewis Hamilton, who started on pole, locked his brakes in the first corner of the first lap and instead of trying to make the corner simply went off-roading into the grass, cutting two corners and gaining a hefty chunk of time. More importantly, that allowed him to hold on to track position when he arguably would have lost several places. Controversy #1.
Just behind him, in attempting to overtake the championship leader, Max Verstappen pushed Rosberg wide, who consequently cut the track as well, which helped him stay ahead. The stewards decided that because Verstappen pushed Rosberg and because the gap had remained the same, neither of the drivers deserved a penalty. This is the least debated incident of the race, but some still disagreed. Controversy #2.
In the final stages of the race, Hamilton and Rosberg had essentially locked down first and second place, respectively, but the final spot on the podium was still all to fight for. Verstappen in the Red Bull was running third, with Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari quickly catching him on fresher tires. Meanwhile, Daniel Ricciardo’s was catching the both of them even more quickly on even fresher and softer tires.
Vettel caught Verstappen and positioned himself to overtake him the first corner of the circuit. Verstappen locked his brakes, went too deep, and cut the track just as Hamilton had done. This allowed him to stay ahead and when he refused to hand the position back as traditional rules dictate, Vettel became enraged. The Ferrari man was waiting for the stewards to tell Verstappen to let him by but they instead decided to investigate the incident after the race, causing Vettel to let loose on the radio. Controversy #3.
The issue with that, from Vettel’s perspective, was that it allowed Verstappen to slow him down enough for Ricciardo to quickly close in and get a shot at overtaking him. When he did, Vettel moved under braking to block—which was made illegal prior to the United States Grand Prix—and stayed ahead, though I must say that it was a brilliant piece of wheel-to-wheel action from a spectator’s perspective. Vettel was not penalized. Controversy #4.
The top five cars crossed the finish line in the following order: Hamilton, Rosberg, Verstappen, Vettel, and Ricciardo. But while Verstappen was in the cool-down room getting ready to step on the podium, the call came that he was given a five-second penalty for cutting the corner to gain an advantage, so Vettel was rushed to the podium in his stead—and this was after he had told race director Charlie Whiting to “f*ck off” while still racing, just minutes before. The race might have been over, but it was hard to look away!
In the post-race interviews, Ricciardo spared criticism for no one. He said all of the track-cutting and Vettel’s blocking move should have been penalized and added that it should have been he that stood on the third step of the podium. It was hard to argue with him.
As it happens, he almost got what he wanted. A few hours after the race had ended, FIA officials reviewed the incidents and gave Vettel a 10-second penalty, dropping him down to fifth behind Verstappen, and moving Ricciardo up to third in the overall race results. He didn’t get to stand on the podium but he got the points.
Ultimately, I think the stewards made the right calls on almost all the incidents, though they should have immediately told Verstappen to hand the position back to Vettel. Had they done so, the incident with Ricciardo would never have occurred.
The most glaring omission in the list of penalty awardees, though, is Lewis Hamilton. If a driver fails so spectacularly to make the first corner at the start of a race, there should be some sort of consequence—instead, Hamilton simply ignored track limits to completely negate his mistake. It doesn’t matter if he was forced to slow down afterward anyway because of the safety car; had he actually tried to make the corner, it’s likely we would have had an entirely different race winner at the Mexican Grand Prix.
That being said, I’m not a steward and what’s done is done. Now we look forward to the last two races in the season: first in Brazil and then in Abu Dhabi. If Rosberg wins in Brazil, he will secure his championship title, so we can expect a hard fight at the front. Meanwhile, who knows what controversy Vettel and Verstappen will whip us for us again? I can’t wait.
Kurt Verlin was born in France and lives in the United States. Throughout his life he was always told French was the language of romance, but it was English he fell in love with. He likes cats, music, cars, 30 Rock, Formula 1, and pretending to be a race car driver in simulators; but most of all, he just likes to write about it all. See more articles by Kurt.