MEXICO CITY (AP) — Two perfect starts made for a record 16th win of the season for Formula One champion Max Verstappen on a wild Sunday for Red Bull at the Mexico City Grand Prix.
While Verstappen was cruising to another victory in a season of domination, a first-corner crash ruined the home race of his teammate Sergio Perez, who now finds himself barely clinging to second in the season championship ahead of Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton with three races left.
Verstappen started from third and won from the same spot as he did in 2021. Back then, he used the slingshot effect of the draft down the long starting straight at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez to whip to the outside and pass two cars.
This time, Verstappen’s quick bolt off the starting line allowed him to squeeze between the two Ferraris of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz and into the lead.
He was in total control over the next 35 laps but still had work to do. A hard crash by Haas driver Kevin Magnussen at the halfway point forced the race into a halt and a restart. Verstappen nailed that one as well and was never threatened for the checkered flag.
“Everything I did, I had to start over,” Verstappen said.
Verstappen earned his third consecutive win in Mexico City and fifth overall at the track since 2017. He also collected career win No. 51, tying him for fourth place in F1 history with Alain Prost. He is two shy of Sebastian Vettel for third. Hamilton holds the record with 103.
What other goals does Verstappen have this year?
“Seventeen (wins)? Eighteen? I don't know,” Verstappen said. “It’s been another incredible season. The car has been unbelievable to drive.”
Hamilton finished second on Sunday. Leclerc was third.
Leclerc started on pole position for the second consecutive race but again failed to turn it into a win. In 22 career starts from pole, he has won just four times.
Perez's race was over quickly. The Mexican driver was knocked out of the race just seconds after the start when his car clipped tires with Leclerc and bounced high into the air.
Like Verstappen two years ago, Perez tried to pass Leclerc with a sweeping move from the outside that pinched the Ferrari between himself and the other Red Bull car. Verstappen said he understood the temptation to try such a move.
“It's his home grand prix. If it worked, you would have looked amazing," Verstappen said. “This time, it didn't work out.”
The crackup silenced the massive crowd that had greeted Perez with thunderous cheers all weekend. Much of the crowd left after the crash, but some who stayed booed Leclerc during the postrace interviews before the podium celebration.
Leclerc said he felt bad for Perez, but added, “It's life. It damaged my car and it ended the race for Checo ... I really didn’t do it on purpose, but I had nowhere to go."
The crash allowed Hamilton to close a 39-point gap behind Perez to just 20 heading into the Brazilian Grand Prix next week. Hamilton would be even closer if he had not been disqualified from second last week at the United States Grand Prix for a technical rules violation on his car.
Hamilton is a seven-time champion. He shrugged off a duel with Perez for second, but said he'd try to get it for the Mercedes team.
“This is a great result,” Hamilton said. “I didn’t think I would be in shooting range, but after today, we’ll give it our best shot.”
Perez was crushed.
He came to his home race amid rampant speculation that his tenure with Red Bull is in jeopardy despite a contract that runs through next season. Team principal Christian Horner has said Red Bull wants to finish 1-2 in the driver’s championship, something it has never done.
Perez' late-season drives are putting that in jeopardy. He won two of the first four races this season, but he has not won since April and has not been on the podium in the last five races.
“The opportunity, the dream of winning, to live my race with passion, that took me to risk something that maybe was too risky,” Perez said. “I’m going home calm because I gave everything."
MCLAREN PODIUM STREAK ENDS
McLaren's streak of four consecutive podium finishes ended when Lando Norris finished fifth and Oscar Piastri was eighth. It was still an impressive drive for Norris, who started 17th and charged through the field after the restart.
DEAD END ASTON MARTIN
Aston Martin had another bad race as Fernando Alonso and Lance Stroll both retired early and did not finish. Aston Martin looked like a clear No. 2 to Red Bull with six podium finishes in the first eight races, but now has just one in the last 11 and has dropped to a distant fifth in the team standings.
Associated Press reporter Alejandra Zuniga in Mexico City contributed to this report.
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