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Verstappen has maximum advantage as season winds down

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Red Bull’s Max Verstappen celebrates on the podium after winning the race at the Mexico City Grand Prix, Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, Mexico City. Picture: Reuters, Andres Stapff, TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

Victory at the US GP and in Mexico, coupled with an immensely important second-place finish in Turkey, have surely made Max Verstappen and Red Bull the favourites to win the world driver’s championship.

JOHANNESBURG – If the Mexico GP was all about attitude at altitude, then Max Verstappen and Red Bull not only dominated the Silver Arrows and Sir Lewis Hamilton, they subjugated the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez to their will.

The Honda-powered team put in a commanding performance to claim first and third, while Pierre Gasly of AlphaTauri added to the misery by securing fourth in Red Bull’s sister team.

Mercedes had no answer, no plan B and no counter to overcome an impervious display from Verstappen; who cantered to his ninth victory of the season; while Sergio Perez seized third, with Gasly coming in behind some 46 seconds later.

Only Yuki Tsunonda of the foursome failed to score any points for the Red Bull-owned teams.

The Dutchman now has a 19 point lead and this weekend in Brazil could add to that pain at a track that could once again be advantageous to his team.

By the end of Sunday night he could open up as much as a 28-point lead – if he also secures the points on offer in the sprint race, completes the fastest lap, wins the event at Interlagos and Hamilton finishes behind him in all of those.

ALSO READ: Red Bull’s car was far superior, says Hamilton

That will be a handy buffer as the race calendar leads into the final three races thereafter; two of which – Qatar and Saudi Arabia – will be the great unknowns where any variable outcome could occur, before ending in Abu Dhabi, arguably another Red Bull stronghold.

Victory at the US GP and in Mexico, coupled with an immensely important second-place finish in Turkey, have surely made Verstappen and Red Bull the favourites to win the world driver’s championship, despite the protestations of the 24-year-old to the contrary.

The constructors’ title – where they trail by just one point after this most recent race thanks to a poor outing for Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas – is also within their grasp.

“It was an incredible day for the team and also for the fans,” said Verstappen on the Red Bull website after the race.

ALSO READ: Sergio Perez lives the dream on his home podium

“To have Checo (Perez) on the podium here in Mexico at his home GP was great, so it couldn’t have been better. I knew the start was very important on (Sunday), we were three wide at one point and I was on the more ideal race line, so I could brake later and get into the lead.

“After that I could do my own thing, the pace was very good (Sunday), so I could just keep building and creating a gap, the pitstops were seamless and the car was good throughout the race which was crucial today.

“Checo, for the last few races has really picked it up, he’s been up there and he was really pressuring Lewis towards the end. I’m still not thinking about that trophy, we’ll try again in Brazil and just keep pushing.”

Speaking of Checo, it was a wonderful occasion for Perez and Mexico on the day as well. The Mexican became the first driver from that country to claim a podium at his home race.

The scenes of unfettered jubilation that followed were heart-warming, Checo’s father embracing his son, and the nation embracing both with wild celebrations.

Said Perez afterwards: “This is a great result for my country, I really wanted more but unfortunately we didn’t get that.

“It was so messy in turn one,” he continued, “so to avoid incident there was critical and then I wanted second place, but we didn’t get the chance because it is just so difficult to overtake around here.

“I was really close to getting Lewis but the Mercedes are so quick on the straight lines so I didn’t get an opportunity to go for it but I gave my best. I could feel the fans’ energy when I was going through the stadium sector and I was thinking about how many people were here for me, I could actually hear the crowd when I was driving through Foro Sol (the stadium section of the track).

“I wanted more but I am just very happy to be on the podium of my home country, the Mexicans were so happy (Sunday). We are so competitive as drivers that when we finish third, we aren’t happy but today I had to enjoy it. Everyone who has been there since the start with me was there at the end of the race and that was an amazing moment for me.

“I think (Sunday) we were the fastest team, but that is going to swing around for the remainder of the season, so we just have to keep our focus and keep pushing.”

Hamilton, who finished second, could only watch on from his Mercedes as another race unfolded in the favour of his rival.

“Their car was far superior this weekend and there was nothing we really could do about it,” Hamilton said after the race.

“I naturally feel I need to be winning every race, because we need those extra points, not to lose those points, to try and regain, that was the goal going into the last race and the race before that and before that and here this weekend.”

The biggest concern for the seven-time world champion is the possibility that he will need to take another power unit during the closing stages of the season. Hamilton incurred a penalty for a power-unit change in Turkey – now three races ago – but the general consensus is that his engine will not last another four races.

It will then be fascinating to see if Mercedes decide to make such a season-defining play this late in the game, or stick with a unit that could possibly fail at a crucial moment. As it stands now, the Silver Arrows must seek out every advantage to beat a charging Verstappen and Red Bull.

As always, Hamilton might be down right now, but he is never out, and if his team can bounce back, then the 2021 season is far from over.

@FreemanZAR

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