Max Verstappen took a record-breaking 16th win in a single season at the Mexican Grand Prix, with two huge crashes having taken place elsewhere on Sunday.
Sergio Perez had launched himself from fifth to challenge for the lead come Turn 1, but contact sent him flying into the air and into retirement at his home race, before an apparent failure on Kevin Magnussen’s car sent him into the barriers at high speed and the race being red-flagged, though both were thankfully able to climb out and walk clear.
Lewis Hamilton and Charles Leclerc rounded out the podium in Mexico City on Sunday, with their Ferrari and Mercedes colleagues Carlos Sainz and George Russell taking the final places in the top five.
Frantic Mexican Grand Prix start sees Sergio Perez take off into race retirement
A surprise Ferrari front-row lockout saw Leclerc start ahead of Sainz on Sunday, but the 811-metre stretch down to Turn 1 offered a huge slipstreaming opportunity possible for those behind in the longest such run of the season before the first braking zone.
But having gone from third on the grid to first at Turn 1 two years ago, Verstappen repeated that feat this time around – carving his way past Sainz and onto the inside of Leclerc into the first braking zone, who cut Turn 2 and had to let the Red Bull by.
But home hero Sergio Perez, who started fifth, was challenging for the lead as well – on the outside of Leclerc, but he tagged wheels with the Ferrari and was sent flying into the run-off area.
He spun his car around and was able to get back to the pit lane, but the damage was terminal to his chances in the race, and the Mexican was seen punching the steering wheel in frustration as he was told his race was over, with heavy sidepod and rear wing damage evident from the start.
Leclerc, meanwhile, carried on with front wing damage on his Ferrari (to be investigated after the race by the FIA for driving in an unsafe condition), this time in second place behind Verstappen, with Sainz, Daniel Ricciardo and Lewis Hamilton rounding out the top five in the early stages.
Red Bull carried on working on Perez’s car with the home driver still behind the wheel for several laps while the other drivers circulated, in the faintest hope he could get back out again – but it was not to be, and he looked understandably distraught after a phenomenal getaway in his home race.
Hamilton was looking to muscle his way into the lead battle, keeping Ricciardo’s AlphaTauri within DRS range in fourth, but the straight-line speed from the Australian appeared enough to keep the Mercedes driver at bay, with Hamilton reporting “the car is running hot” – and cooling a big issue for all the drivers around Mexico City.
At the back of the field, Lando Norris and Yuki Tsunoda both gambled on early stops in the hope of free air giving them the chance they needed to make headway later on.
Verstappen explained over team radio that his tyres were “giving up”, and ended up pitting on lap 19 of 71 in what was widely expected to be a one-stop race, with the Red Bull driver told to “be careful” by race engineer Gianpiero Lambiase over using up too much performance too soon, with him likely needing to coax 52 laps out of his hard tyres.
Hamilton, meanwhile, closed up to tbe back of Sainz in third and tried to pull the undercut on the Ferrari driver by pitting on lap 25, with Sainz opting to extend his opening stint for what Ferrari described as the “optimal one-stop”.
Verstappen, meanwhile, overtook Russell, Oscar Piastri and Ricciardo on track as he pulled back to within 10 seconds of the lead before the Ferrari duo pitted, setting the fastest lap of the race in the process in what only extended his net lead at the front of the field.
The Dutchman passed Sainz, who pitted by lap 31 – but while he emerged six seconds behind Hamilton, his tyres were several laps younger in the process. Leclerc followed a lap later, with Ferrari opting not to change his damaged front wing in order to save time, holding only a 2.5-second advantage over Hamilton in second place.
A second huge crash brings out the red flag, before Max Verstappen re-stamps his authority
But soon afterwards, the gaps became irrelevant as the red flag came out on lap 35. A huge crash for Kevin Magnussen at Turn 9 saw the Dane appear to have a part fail on his car, leaving him a passenger as he was sent skewering towards the barrier, with a high-speed impact causing enormous damage to his Haas.
He climbed out of his car and hopped over the Tecpro barrier, but his VF-23 caught alight at the rear and after an initial Safety Car, the race was red-flagged due to barrier repairs that needed to take place as a result.
The delays offered Ferrari a chance to change Leclerc’s damaged front wing and for other teams to make necessary repairs to their cars, but another standing start would follow, with Leclerc predicting a “huge mess” as the majority of drivers would start on hard tyres.
With that in mind, some drivers opted for mediums – including Hamilton, Piastri, Russell, Norris and Nico Hulkenberg, which would be a gamble, given the race was only at half-distance come the restart.
And Verstappen and Leclerc were both able to keep Hamilton at bay when the lights went out again, despite his compound and slipstream advantage. Sainz remained fourth but Russell nudged his way past Ricciardo into fifth, with the AlphaTauri driver dropping into sixth.
Hamilton kept in touch with Leclerc, though, and when DRS was re-enabled two laps later, the Mercedes driver was all over the back of the Ferrari – though he was robust in his defence into Turn 1.
The next lap, Hamilton was much closer to Leclerc on the start/finish straight and he almost went onto the grass in moving to the inside, and he made the move stick into Turn 1, putting him behind Verstappen, though Hamilton warned it was “going to be a tough stint” to the flag.
Elsewhere, Fernando Alonso was forced to retire his Aston Martin for the second race in a row, while Piastri and Yuki Tsunoda, who started towards the back of the field, tagged wheels as they fought over seventh place.
They caught each other once at Turn 2, before Tsunoda tried to fight the McLaren driver the next lap by going to the outside at Turn 1, but was sent spinning around with further contact, each driver blaming the other in the process.
Tsunoda was furious as he dropped to the back of the field, and Piastri was losing pace to McLaren team-mate Norris behind, with team orders being put in place to allow Norris through for a late attack on the top six, with his former McLaren colleague Ricciardo up ahead.
Ricciardo put up a stern defence and made him go the long way around at Turn 4, but Norris hung in there when the outside became the inside for Turn 5 and moved himself into sixth.
But the McLaren driver didn’t stop there, closing in on George Russell ahead, sizing him up and performing a switchback on the exit of Turn 5 to execute a lesser-spotted dive down the inside at Turn 6.
Elsewhere, birthday boy Lance Stroll received something of an unwanted ‘present’ when he was turned around by Valtteri Bottas in the final sector, which forced him into the pits to retire, with a double DNF capping a disappointing day for Aston Martin.
But at the chequered flag, it was Verstappen who eased clear once again to victory, taking his 16th of the season in typically untroubled fashion, matching the great Alain Prost’s career tally in the process.
Mexican Grand Prix 2023: Race classification
1 Max VERSTAPPEN Red Bull 2:02:30.814 71 laps
2 Lewis HAMILTON Mercedes +13.875
3 Charles LECLERC Ferrari +23.124
4 Carlos SAINZ Ferrari +27.154
5 Lando NORRIS McLaren +33.266
6 George RUSSELL Mercedes +41.020
7 Daniel RICCIARDO AlphaTauri +41.570
8 Oscar PIASTRI McLaren +43.104
9 Alexander ALBON Williams +48.573
10 Esteban OCON Alpine +62.879
11 Pierre GASLY Alpine +66.208
12 Yuki TSUNODA AlphaTauri +78.982
13 Nico HULKENBERG Haas +80.309
14 Valtteri BOTTAS Alfa Romeo +80.597
15 Guanyu ZHOU Alfa Romeo +81.676
16 Logan SARGEANT Williams
Did not finish
Lance STROLL Aston Martin
Fernando ALONSO Aston Martin
Kevin MAGNUSSEN Haas
Sergio PEREZ Red Bull