The 2016 Mexican Grand Prix will be better remembered for what happened in the Stewards’ office and over the radio than it will be for what happened on-track. Lewis Hamilton stormed away with a boring victory having escaped a penalty on Lap 1. All the real fun happened behind two Mercedes as a late battle between Sebastian Vettel, Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo stole all the headlines.
Hamilton and Rosberg started at the front of the field but probably shouldn’t have been there at the completion of Lap 1. Hamilton lit up his right-front under braking into Turn 1 and skipped Turns 2 & 3 as a result. Nico Rosberg ended up skipping turns as well after being bumped off the track by Verstappen.
It was entirely possible that both could have received penalties. Rosberg was saved by Verstappen’s argey-bargey that forced him off track. For Hamilton, if not for the safety car as a result of a collision that ended Pascal Wehrlein’s day, it’s entirely likely that Hamilton’s advantage gained by skipping the first corners would have resulted in a time penalty.
After the safety car, strategy started to come into play. Daniel Ricciardo made a quick stop from super-softs to mediums. After the safety car, Verstappen’s super-softs allowed him to stay glued to Rosberg’s gearbox but also meant he was the frontrunner who had to make his mediums last the longest. Vettel stretched his softs longer than anyone which allowed him a relatively short stint on mediums. Ricciardo went to the two-stop that allowed him to haul ass on fresh softs at the end of the race.
Verstappen melted his mediums trying to catch and pass Rosberg which caused him to fall back into Vettel’s clutches. However, Max put in a stellar drive to back Seb back into a charging Ricciardo. It was a smart tactical drive to drive slow enough to allow a charging Daniel to catch while being fast enough to hold Seb at bay.
Vettel had an opportunity to make a move for third but Max was far too deep on the brakes and cut Turns 2 & 3 similar to Hamilton on Lap 1. Later on, Max’s delay tactics allowed Daniel a run into Turn 4. He and Seb went side-by-side through T4 & T5 but the Ferrari stayed out front.
It seemed as simple as that from the outside. Inside the cockpits, garages, pitwalls and stewards’ office, things were anything but calm and simple. Vettel and Ricciardo were literally yelling about their missed overtaking opportunities. Vettel claiming that Max should cede his position and that he was illegally holding onto 3rd to back him into Ricciardo. There may have been a message to tell Charlie Whiting to “fuck off.”
For his part, Daniel claimed that Vettel had moved under braking for Turn 4. The two did touch into the turn and Ricciardo seemed to be squeezed a little into the turn. Ironically, it was Vettel’s complaining about these moves, especially about Verstappen, that resulted in a new rule being implemented at the US GP that allows stewards to review data of cars alleged to move under braking.
At the chequered flag, Verstappen was third followed by Vettel and Ricciardo. While he was in the podium room, Max was tapped on the shoulder and asked to leave as the stewards gave him a five-second time penalty for cutting corners to defend his position. The result was a Vettel podium and podium interview. However, hours later, the stewards gave Vettel a ten-second time penalty for dangerous driving as a result of moving under braking.
The win was Hamilton’s 51st career win which brought him level with Alain Prost. He can move past Prost by two and there is a good chance that he won’t win the World Drivers’ Championship. Rosberg finished in 2nd to keep the championship in check as the lead dropped to 19 points. A second and third is all he needs to win the championship. After all the penalties, Ricciardo finished third without standing on the podium so podium interviewer Juan Montoya missed out a shoey.
Despite his five-second penalty, Verstappen was classified fourth while Sebastian Vettel may have been screaming “Fuck off, Charlie” into the night as he was dropped to 5th. Kimi Raikkonen had a quiet drive to 6th. Nico Hulkenberg converted his 5th place start into a 7th place finish as the best of the rest. The Williamses did their best to stay in touch with Force India in the Constructors’ Championship with Bottas and Massa coming 8th and 9th, respectively. Sergio Perez rounded out the points in front of his home crowd in 10th.
Silly season now might pivot around that second Renault seat. With Nico Hulkenberg locked into one seat for 2017, at least one current Renault driver will be out of that ride next year. As mentioned last week, Jolyon Palmer is getting a look from Renault and Force India but Martin Brundle isn’t ruling out either Sauber or Manor.
Kevin Magnussen has added another interested American team to IndyCar’s Andretti Autosport. Haas has reportedly put a two-year deal on the table for Magnussen. His options appear to be limited to waiting on a Renault offer or taking the deal from Haas. Ferrari may not be happy with that as they would prefer a development driver like Gutierrez in that second seat. For his part, Gutierrez and Haas are engaged in a game of chicken over the second seat and Haas will be the winner if Magnussen signs.
Other than the new offer to Magnussen, there wasn’t much news in the driver market for 2017.
However, there is a schedule change that can be expected soon. Malaysia is talking about ending its Grand Prix after the 2018 season when its contract with FOM expires. Organizers report that ticket sales are declining and the TV audience for this year’s GP was the lowest local number ever.
Interestingly, the organizers also said that they were expecting a sellout for last weekend’s MotoGP race at the Sepang Circuit while F1 sold about 60% of tickets. That being said, the Malaysian GP is currently in the worst possible spot in the calendar coming two weeks after Singapore and four weeks before the Moto GP race at the same track.
I realize that the move to October 2016 was to accommodate the repaving and reprofiling of the circuit. However, the 2017 calendar leaves Malaysia in roughly the same spot though it will be before Singapore and therefore well before Moto GP. Considering weather concerns in the spring and proximity to other races in the fall, perhaps Malaysia is destined to not be on the calendar for much longer.
Meanwhile, Canadian Grand Prix organizers are looking to secure a deal with Mr. Ecclestone to keep the race on the calendar until a new paddock complex is constructed in time for the 2019 GP. The Canadian race is currently listed as provisional on the 2017 calendar along with Germany and Brazil while Imola was tossed off the calendar after securing a deal with Monza. A replacement for Canada might be hard to come by, especially with a replacement for Malaysia likely needed soon as well.
One reason why we shouldn’t expect Mercedes to suddenly leap further ahead of the Red Bulls again is because focus is turning to 2017’s new rules package so development for this year’s challengers is on the backburner.
AMuS has obtained some data from Pirelli about next year’s cars and the simulations that the teams have been running on their 2017 challengers that was provided to the FIA. Teams are expecting downforce gains of between five and thirty percent. Generally, forecasts expect a 30% increase in downforce thanks to the new rules package.
Power unit output is also expected to jump thanks to the removal of the upgrade token system. Honda is doing simulations based on a 22% power gain from this year while the low-end sees a 10% increase in power output. It’s believed that the ten teams on the grid with 2017 power units will be running over 1,000 horsepower when the power units are at absolute maximum power.
In simulations of the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, the most optimistic team believes that they can lap around 1:16.4 while most teams are in the 1:17 and 1:18 range. This year’s pole speed was 1:22.0 (it was exactly 1:22) which means that an almost six-second gain is expected for next season. At 1:16.4, the 107% cutoff time, about 1:21.748, would actually be faster than this year’s pole speed.
The next round of the 2016 Formula One World Championship comes in two weeks’ time. It’s the lone trip to South America as Formula One goes to beloved Interlagos Circuit for the Brazilian Grand Prix.
While it’s the penultimate race on the 2016 calendar, it very well could be the final race in the Championship. With a 19-point advantage, if Nico can leave Brazil with a 26-point lead, he will be the 2016 Formula One World Drivers’ Champion. There are a couple of different permutations to the finishing order that will allow Rosberg to clinch the title but the most likely to happen are Rosberg wins or Lewis retires and Nico finishes 6th or better.
It seems as though this race can go either way. Lewis comes into this race with the momentum but also the pressure. Nico has won the last two Brazilian Grands Prix and you wouldn’t be surprised to see him make it three in a row. He also doesn’t have to do more than stand on the podium to keep the pressure on Lewis. If ever there was a race that Lewis needs help from Red Bull to play spoiler, it’s this one.