Mercedes think Max Verstappen was “guessing and hoping for the best” with the way he tackled Turn 1 at the Mexican Grand Prix.
Starting third on the grid at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, Verstappen took the outside line on the lengthy run to the first corner and braked distinctly later than pole-sitter Valtteri Bottas.
Despite there being little margin for error, the Dutchman made the move stick and in taking the lead, he seized control of a race he went on to win easily and moved 19 points clear of Lewis Hamilton at the top of the World Championship.
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said afterwards the move had been pre-planned and even “rehearsed” by Verstappen during his installation lap on the way to the grid.
Bottas, meanwhile, was criticised immediately after the race by Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff and Hamilton for “leaving the door open”, although the seven-time World Champion has subsequently offered support to the Finn via social media.
"You may be able to beat us, but you can’t break us." pic.twitter.com/4UUq97sscs
— Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 Team (@MercedesAMGF1) November 8, 2021
Now, in the team’s regular post-race debrief, motorsport strategy director James Vowles has voiced the opinion that there was nothing particularly measured about Verstappen’s move into Turn 1.
“If you saw Verstappen’s comments afterwards it is quite clear he was going in there guessing and hoping for the best and it worked out for him,” said Vowles.
As well as being too far into the centre of the circuit, Bottas gave the impression of wanting to allow Hamilton through on his inside to gift him the lead in what would have been a boost to the Briton’s championship chances had it worked.
Vowles added: “Verstappen’s start being good meant he was alongside Valtteri very, very quickly. The result of that is they ended up three wide incredibly quickly and early on during the run down to Turn 1.
“Now it was just a question of braking. Valtteri wasn’t on the optimal line, nor was Lewis.
“The grip on the right-hand side of the circuit is slightly worse than where Verstappen was on the racing line. Even so, the differences in braking should have been a few metres, not perhaps the difference that you saw ultimately the drivers braked where they thought they could.”
Bottas was hit from behind and spun around by Daniel Ricciardo’s McLaren at the exit of Turn 1.
“We ended up losing out there as a result of it and more so as we went into it, as you saw,” continued Vowles. “Other cars perhaps locking up, Ricciardo being one of them, contact happened and Valtteri got taken out and pushed to the back of the [field].”
Max Verstappen can taste the championship
The Dutchman had the race wrapped up from the first corner, and Lewis Hamilton could do nothing about it.