As is becoming increasingly common in Formula 1 in 2022, the drama off the track eclipsed the action on the track in Mexico. The continued fallout from Red Bull’s cost cap breach dominated the build-up, as did news that the newly crowned constructors’ champions would be boycotting Sky Sports F1 in the wake of Ted Kravitz’s supposed “disrespectful” comments made about Max Verstappen.
Also in the news was the announcement that the 2022 Mexican Grand Prix would remain on the calendar until at least 2025. It was welcomed by most as the atmosphere generated by the hordes of fans that turn out to the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez circuit is one of the best of the year.
It will have been disappointing, then, for the F1 bigwigs that this year’s edition turned out to be a bit of a damp squib. There were, however, a couple of talking points and feel-good stories, so let’s unpack the 2022 Mexican GP.
How Verstappen won in Mexico
It might end up being one of his more forgetful race victories when all is said and done in the Dutchman’s career, but that’s not to say it wasn’t impressive. In qualifying, he looked to be on the back foot a little before once again proving he is a driver for the big time, pulling out a lap in Q3 good enough to secure pole position by a shade over three tenths of a second.
But lining up first in Mexico is far from a sure thing on the long run down to Turn 1. Just last year, Verstappen used the tow to vault into the lead from third on the grid.
However, no such fate was to befall the world champion, who got a tremendous launch off the line to hold off the challenge of George Russell. The straight-line speed of the RB18 is no joke.
That really was the key move of the 71-lap shootout. From there, he was largely untroubled and systematically increased his lead until he took the chequered flag by more than 15 seconds from Lewis Hamilton.
He has now won more races and registered more points in a single season that any driver in the history of the sport. Ominously, there are still two rounds to go.
Wrong strategy costs Merc
No matter what Mercedes did on race day, the win was probably out of reach, but they could have pushed Verstappen more than they did. Alas, hindsight is wonderful thing.
While most of the front runners opted to start on the softs, Hamilton and Russell strapped on the mediums. It’s been a feature of their strategy this season in a bid to create enough of a tyre delta to offset the gulf in car performance at the end of a race.
It worked well for Hamilton in Hungary en route to finishing second and could have yielded legitimate shots at victory at Silverstone and Zandvoort but for the arrival of late safety cars.
In Mexico, however, tyre wear was nothing like the team expected, and in the end, the medium-hard strategy proved far slower than going from softs to mediums. Track position was key, especially with Red Bull’s speed on the straights, so the five-lap tyre delta created in the first stint was negligible, leaving Hamilton in a battle to hang on to second from Sergio Perez.
Whether an alternative would have made a difference is a moot point, but seeing how the race played out, a runner-up finish is likely the best Mercedes could have hoped for.
Still, the gap to Red Bull is ever closing, while the Silver Arrows were far and away better than the struggling Ferraris.
Ferrari form concerning
Speaking of Ferrari, what is going on there? The horses are no longer prancing; rather, they are trotting towards a slow demise after showing much promise early on in 2022.
The F1-75 was arguably as good as the RB18 in the first half of the season; since then, the drop-off has been stark, culminating in a Mexican GP in which Carlos Sainz finished the best part of a minute behind Verstappen in fifth.
Charles Leclerc complained of engine issues during qualifying and the race en route to sixth, which could be some sort of explanation for the Monegasque, while the team will be hoping the misery is track specific.
If it isn’t, respective leads in both championships could be under threat from a resurgent Mercedes challenge. More concerning is the outlook for next year.
“A tricky one,” Leclerc told Sky Sport F1. “Unfortunately, I wish I could say for sure [that it is a one-off] but the thing that hurts is that I felt like we’ve maximised absolutely everything today and even though we’ve done that, we are one minute away from Max, which is a huge difference.
“So we need to look into that and make our bad days better because whenever we have a bad day, especially on the Sunday, it seems to be a really bad day.
“Today I felt like there were a bit of explanations. It’s a bit of a one-off here, different conditions so I hope we can come back to our performance in Brazil.”
Ricciardo rolls back the years
Daniel Ricciardo gave the F1 world a timely reminder of his ability behind the wheel in Mexico, and it came from nowhere.
With little over 20 laps to go, a clumsy clash with Yuki Tsunoda threatened to derail his charge that was in its infancy, but not even the resultant 10-second penalty could slow his progress.
As the majority struggled to pull off an overtake, the Australian rolled back the years, picking off challengers at will and nearly passing the two Alpines at once for the second time this season.
After snatching seventh from Esteban Ocon, such was his pace that he built an advantage bigger than his 10-second penalty in just nine laps to ensure he hung on to a much-deserved seventh-place finish.
With Fernando Alonso retiring and Lando Norris picking up an additional two points, McLaren have closed to within seven of Alpine in the battle for fourth in the constructors’ championship.
A continuation of this form in Brazil and Abu Dhabi could make Ricciardo a more attractive prospect for 2024…
F1 flatters to deceive… again
Once again, Formula 1 overpromised and under-delivered. It has been a symptom of the season, especially since the summer break.
It’s clearly too early to be critical of the new regulations, but the lack of action has been disappointing. Processional has been the way of things in the absence of lap-one drama or late safety cars, while the dispersion from front to back feels as big as ever.
That the sport is still so heavily reliant on such things should be of concern to F1 bosses, especially after such a box-office 2021 and on the back of technical rules that were supposed to close the pack up.