WITH the 2015 title won and Lewis Hamilton still in celebratory mode, the remaining races in the Formula One world championship would never match the tension or importance of the earlier races. But in Mexico, Nico Rosberg was determinedly on a mission to show the world – and himself – that he could beat his world champion team-mate.
For the first time in 23 years, F1 returned to the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez circuit in Mexico, a venue with a chequered history of drama and memories and now back as an F1 venue following circuit re-profiling by Hermann Tilke and new pit and paddock facilities.
Three long straights, broken up by a demanding esses section, gave the bumpy, skatey track its specific challenges. The thin air – 23 percent less dense at a lofty 2285 metres – also ensured that engines, aerodynamics and drivers would be sorely tested. Speeds around 365km/h were not uncommon.
Having claimed the last two races there in 1991 and 1992 with Riccardo Patrese and Nigel Mansell respectively, Williams was on a hat trick of Mexican Grand Prix victories.
Hamilton thought the revised circuit more like a go-kart track in the slow areas. “It’s crazy how slippery it is. Because we’re so high up in terms of altitude, there’s even less grip than in Monza, so the car was just sliding around.”
And all were concerned about their brakes.
The grid assumed a familiar look at the front with another Mercedes shutout. Three ex world champions started at the rear – Kimi Raikkonen, Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button, the latter getting a ridiculous 70-grid spot penalty.
Before a boisterous capacity crowd, a fired-up Rosberg made a handy start and stayed ahead of the menacing Hamilton. But Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari collected a puncture from Daniel Ricciardo in a typical first corner scramble, an event deemed a racing incident.
No-one was sent to the Finn bin either when Valtteri Bottas and Raikkonen thumped together in the esses on lap 23, with the impact breaking the Ferrari’s rear suspension.
Vettel’s wretched race ended with a crash, bringing out a safety car which helped the possibilities of rubber-hungry Williams, struggling on tyres.
The bunching put Hamilton back on Rosberg’s tail followed by Daniil Kvyat, Bottas, Ricciardo and Felipe Massa. It was a 14 lap sprint to the flag.
Bottas jumped the “sitting duck” Russian in the Renault-powered Red Bull to take third as Rosberg led the Mercs to the team’s 10th one-two finish of the season.
The Red Bull pair Kvyat and Ricciardo held fourth and fifth, still hoping and waiting for a firm engine deal for 2016.