The Ferrari Owners’ Club
of Great Britain

GRAND PRIX : Mexico : Rosberg Still on Track

11-11-2016

Report by Paul Robinson

 

F1 headed straight from Austin to Mexico in another back-to-back potential title-deciding Grand Prix weekend.  The track has an extremely long straight to the first corner and some twisty, slow-speed corners around the stadium section, which means you can feel the atmosphere and hear the roar from the passionate Mexicans and travelling fans in the crowd.

Rosberg only required two 2nd places and a one 3rd place to secure the Driver’s Championship in three races at which he won last season. From the press and media interviews, you can tell he is calm and confident and knows as long as he keeps out of trouble and is consistent with the Mercedes car, he should wrap up his first World Championship.

The three practice sessions went generally to plan for most teams, without any accidents or car issues, however most drivers were struggling to get their super softs to work efficiently. As with practice sessions, you shouldn’t read too much into the positions, however it was good to see Vettel’s Ferrari on top of the timesheets in the second practice.

Onto qualifying, and it was bad luck for Palmer who had a cracked Renault chassis and was ruled out of qualifying. The British driver is in need of some good results to help him stay on the grid for next season with only one seat remaining with his present employers who have signed the talented Hulkenberg.

Gutierrez, another driver under pressure to secure his race seat, and in his home country, had a poor qualifying along with his Haas team mate, Grosjean, which saw them  both eliminated after Q1.  After a great start, the team is now really struggling with the grip and balance of the car.  The other home favourite, Perez, also had a disappointing day, only qualifying 12th in his Force India.

As expected title rivals Rosberg and Hamilton were set for a front row duel, with Hamilton narrowly pipping Rosberg for pole, with both Red Bulls on the second row. Another disappointing day for Ferrari saw Raikkonen 6th and Vettel 7th.

The race had a scruffy start with Hamilton missing the first turn and Verstappen punting Rosberg onto the grass. I feel Hamilton was lucky that there was a safety car (due to an incident that saw Wehrlein crash out, after being hit by Gutierrez), because it prevented him from being seen to gain an advantage.   Alonso showed his masterful  car control at the start, with a huge save when pushed off track by Sainz, which resulted in a penalty for the Toro Rosso driver.

After the safety car period the race settled down. With the track difficult to overtake on, pressure was on the teams’ pit wall to make vital decisions to overcut or undercut other cars. Rosberg had to stay out longer to ensure that, when he took his pit stop, he stayed ahead of Ricciardo. Verstappen found himself behind his team mate Ricciardo on newer medium tyres. Luckily, Ricciardo followed team orders and let him through to give his team mate a chance at catching Rosberg.

Vettel managed to stay out in front until Lap 32 on soft tyres. His plan was to overcut Hulkenberg and Raikkonen. He managed to get in front of Hulkenberg and his team mate Raikkonen who had to pit again shortly afterwards. Vettel should get his payback later on in the race with newer tyres.

Perez was having a frustrating race stuck behind Massa. He felt the team had boxed him too late and he was now losing valuable time.

The best overtaking point was at the end of the long straight at turn 1. However due to the tight and twisty turn 2 and 3 it was difficult to stay on line, which was shown with drivers finding themselves  on the grass or going wide, seeing them losing more time behind their competitor if they got the move wrong. Verstappen tried a move on Rosberg, but it didn’t stick and it looked as if his opportunity had gone which could be so important for Rosberg come the end of the season.

As the race drew to an end it was setting up to be a thrilling finish between Vestappen, Vettel and Ricciardo for the final podium place behind the two Mercedes.

Just behind this battle Raikkonen passed Hulkenberg to send the Force India car in a spin to take sixth place. It seemed a clean move from the Ferrari driver.

With only four laps to go the drama unfolded.  Vettel went for the pass on Verstappen who outbrakes himself and ends up over the grass, but is still in front of Vettel.  The Red Bull team feel he must give the position back, however the feisty teenager maintains his position while Vettel starts to get angry and frustrated on team radio. Race Control decides to investigate this incident after the race. The problem for Vettel is that Verstappen is also backing Vettel into Ricciardo who is looking the quickest of the three drivers.

Ricciardo then goes for the pass on Vettel, who seems to turn in on him under braking, contravening a rule brought in for safety from the Austin GP due to Verstappen’s recent defending tactics which annoyed fellow drivers.  Whilst Hamilton and Rosberg finished first and second for Mercedes, Vettel’s  tension and emotions rise as he directs his anger at the Race Director with a series of expletive filled rants.  He now has the possibility of a penalty, whereas he felt he should have finished 3rd.

As the drivers chat in the pre-podium room, Verstappen is informed he has been given a post-race five second penalty which puts him back to fifth. He then says his goodbye to the Mercedes drivers and disappears out of the room like a naughty schoolboy back to the paddock. Vettel is informed that he now has finished third and has a long jog with his team to the podium within the stadium section.

Later, the stewards penalised Vettel for moving under braking, promoting Ricciardo to third and relegating Verstappen to fourth and Vettel to fifth.  As much as it became an exciting action-packed race at the end, in my opinion, the stewards made the right decisions. Of course we all want hard wheel-to-wheel to racing but where do you draw the line? If you have movement in the braking zone then it’s difficult to race. I’m sure this will be a debate that will run on for a long time.

Moving on to Brazil, Rosberg only needs one more win to be crowned champion. I’m sure Abu Dhabi promoters and neutral fans will be hoping it goes to the wire.