It’s been said that luck is when preparation meets opportunity. Haas F1 Team embodied this mantra in the Mexican Grand Prix Sunday at Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez in Mexico City.
After struggling to find speed and grip throughout the 4.304-kilometer (2.674-mile), 17-turn circuit in the practice and qualifying sessions on Friday and Saturday leading into the race, Haas F1 Team rallied to score a points-paying finish for the 11th time this season care of an eighth-place drive by Kevin Magnussen.
Magnussen qualified a disappointing 18th but rose to 14th before the race even started thanks to grid penalties incurred by others ahead of him. And when the green flag waved to send the field barreling into turn one, the aggressiveness of others also benefitted Magnussen.
Contact between title protagonists Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes and Sebastian Vettel of Scuderia Ferrari sent the duo to the pits at the end of lap one, allowing Magnussen and teammate Romain Grosjean to climb to 10th and 12th, respectively.
Soon, others needed to pit after sustaining damage from the carbon-fiber shrapnel left on the track from the dustup between Hamilton and Vettel. By lap five, Magnussen was eighth and Grosjean was 11th.
Magnussen climbed to as high as sixth by lap 20 after Sergio Perez brought his Force India to the pits on lap 19 and Nico Hulkenberg did the same with his Renault on the following lap. But by lap 30, Perez had caught back up to Magnussen, and he got underneath Magnussen on the inside of turn one to take sixth.
Shortly thereafter, the Virtual Safety Car (VSC) was displayed for Brendon Hartley’s stricken Toro Rosso. This allowed Haas F1 Team to pit Magnussen and Grosjean.
Both drivers came in for service lap 31. Magnussen swapped his Pirelli P Zero ultrasoft tires for a new set of Yellow softs while Grosjean ditched his Red supersofts for softs. Grosjean, however, had to serve a five-second time penalty for exceeding track limits at turn 14 during a preceding battle with the McLaren of Fernando Alonso.
While Magnussen was able to maintain his track position, Grosjean dropped to 15th.
With the VSC period over, racing resumed. Vettel and Hamilton, who were forced to the back of the field after their early-race pit stops, were now charging ahead. Hamilton made his way past Grosjean on lap 35, leaving Grosjean in 16th. Vettel caught Magnussen on lap 37, dropping him to eighth.
Magnussen had built up a substantial gap on ninth-place Alonso, and for the remainder of the 71-lap race, Magnussen pushed hard to maintain the advantage. While Alonso was able to chip away at the deficit to Magnussen and even get within his slipstream in the final six laps, Alonso soon had a different priority – holding off a determined Hamilton.
After some spirited running, Hamilton finally got past Alonso on lap 67 and promptly set his sights on Magnussen.
The final four laps were scintillating. Magnussen extracted everything available from his Haas VF-17 to hold off Hamilton and cross the stripe in eighth place to earn his fifth top-10 of the season. Grosjean, meanwhile, finished 15th.
Winning the Mexican Grand Prix was Max Verstappen. The Red Bull driver scored his third career Formula One victory, his second of the season and first at Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez. His margin of victory over second-place Valtteri Bottas and his Mercedes was a stout 19.678 seconds.
Despite finishing an uncharacteristic ninth, Hamilton clinched his fourth Formula One title. His 56-point lead in the drivers standings is unassailable with two races still remaining. The championship puts Hamilton in elite company. He joins Vettel and Alain Prost as four-time champions and trails only Juan Manuel Fangio (five) and Michael Schumacher (seven) for most all-time.
Eighteen rounds into the 20-race Formula One schedule, Haas F1 Team remains eighth in the constructors standings with 47 points, just one point behind seventh-place Renault and six points behind sixth-place Toro Rosso. Haas F1 Team holds a 23-point advantage over ninth-place McLaren. Grosjean is 13th in the championship standings with 28 points and Magnussen is 14th with 19 points.
Next up on the 2017 FIA Formula One World Championship is the penultimate Brazilian Grand Prix Nov. 10-12 at Autódromo José Carlos Pace in São Paulo.
“It wasn’t to be today. We started on supersofts and it was tough to follow the ultrasofts, initially. The contact with Fernando (Alonso) damaged my car. I haven’t seen the footage so I don’t know, but it was at turn one and I lost half of the floor. From that point it was almost over. I just tried to hang in there. Good job from Kevin and I’m happy for the team. We just need to sort our race pace a little bit. The next track, Brazil, is one I like, so I’ll be hoping for more. Hopefully, we’ll get a good race and try to get Renault back, and Toro Rosso is not that far either.”
“That was like a victory. It was incredible, and a great way to reward everyone for their hard work. It was a perfect race. It couldn’t have gone better. We could easily have given up and just thrown the towel into the ring yesterday – it was a very tough day for us all. Nobody gave up, and everyone knows we’re not the worst team, or meant to be on the last row. We’re meant to be in the points, fighting in the midfield and getting into the top-10. We pushed on and I’m very proud of the team for that. We’re going to continue to fight. It’s not going to be easy, we can see that, but we’ll continue to push in the constructors championship and have fun all the way to the end.”