10 things we learned from F1's 2021 Mexican Grand Prix

Max Verstappen again extended his points lead in the 2021 Formula 1 world championship standings with victory in Mexico after a stellar first lap move around the outside of the Mercedes pair at Turn 1. Autosport picks out the key turning points as Red Bull turned the screw on Mercedes, while one driver's personal purgatory was prolonged

10 things we learned from F1's 2021 Mexican Grand Prix

Max Verstappen took another step towards winning his first championship with a dominant victory on Sunday as Formula 1 made a vibrant return to Mexico.

While the on-track event lacked the excitement of some recent races, it nevertheless saw the momentum swing back and forth between Red Bull and Mercedes across the course of the weekend.

Momentum, too, swung Ferrari's way in the battle over third in the constructors' championship, while there was yet more stewarding inconsistency after a first corner collision resulted in no sanctions.

Here are 10 things we learned from the 2021 Mexican Grand Prix.

Verstappen controlled the race after seizing the initiative at the start

Verstappen controlled the race after seizing the initiative at the start

Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images

1. Verstappen’s stunning drive and Turn 1 pass were champion-worthy

On numerous occasions this season, Verstappen has proved he has what it takes to become the 2021 world champion and finally end Lewis Hamilton’s streak of title wins.

But Mexico was perhaps his most convincing display to date, with the headline moment being his incredible double-pass around the outside at Turn 1 to grab the lead, having started third.

Verstappen admitted afterwards that he was “really on the edge” making the move, but used the extra grip afforded by the racing line to leave it incredibly late before hitting the brakes. Red Bull boss Christian Horner conceded afterwards he thought Verstappen had actually missed the braking point, so late was the move.

If that was Verstappen taking the race by the throat, then the stint that followed was him squeezing the life out of it. He quickly opened a gap to Hamilton, dropping the Mercedes into the clutches of Sergio Perez behind, making second place the focus for the team.

PLUS: Why Verstappen was untouchable after "crucial" Mexican GP Turn 1 pass 

Verstappen managed the race at the front perfectly, and even had the mental capacity to thwart Valtteri Bottas’s push to get the fastest lap, forcing Mercedes into an extra stop to find track position.

With nine wins on the board, Verstappen is looking all the more like a champion-in-waiting.

Hamilton's target soon switched to fending off Perez rather than depriving Verstappen of the win

Hamilton's target soon switched to fending off Perez rather than depriving Verstappen of the win

Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images

2. Mercedes stood no realistic chance of winning in Mexico despite scoring pole

Just as Austin yielded a surprise when Red Bull beat Mercedes to pole on Saturday, Mexico looked like it could yield a similar upturn of the form book after Mercedes locked out the front row of the grid.

Given Red Bull had sat six-tenths of a second clear - to Hamilton's astonishment - in final practice, the swing in qualifying came as a big surprise. Despite Red Bull’s misplaced anger at Yuki Tsunoda (which we’ll get to later) the advantage was always with Mercedes when it mattered in Q3.

But the race was a different story. Red Bull’s edge when it comes to high downforce set-ups shone through again, meaning Verstappen had both a pace and tyre advantage over Hamilton, who instead had to scramble to cling on to second against Perez in the closing stages.

Toto Wolff admitted after the race that Verstappen could have “driven circles” around the Mercedes even without taking the lead at the start, saying Red Bull’s pace was on “another level”. 

Second place, when third was really the maximum Mercedes should have got in Mexico, makes it something of a success. But that is little solace given the title picture that has grown considerably bleaker in Mexico.

If Red Bull can continue its strong form, Mercedes will have cause for concern

If Red Bull can continue its strong form, Mercedes will have cause for concern

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

3. At this rate, Verstappen could be champion with time to spare 

Red Bull is unquestionably the form team at the moment. Amid a season in which Red Bull and Mercedes - and by association, Verstappen and Hamilton - have frequently battled over the same part of the track, Mexico displayed a tremendous swing towards the team in blue. This wasn't entirely unexpected, since the high-altitude characteristics of the Mexico City circuit has frequently played into Red Bull's hands.

But in the context of the last few races Red Bull's advantage feels decisive, and F1's visit to Brazil presents another circuit at which the team should thrive.

Mercedes' deficit at Interlagos shouldn't be as big as it was in Mexico and thus Hamilton could reduce the championship arrears - but if Verstappen continues to extend his current 19-point lead over Hamilton at the same rate as the past three rounds, the title could be wrapped up by Saudi Arabia.

Qatar and Saudi Arabia are the two wildcards in the mix, and the outcome of 2021 will depend on which team they swing toward. The season, however, is fast approaching the point where it's probably okay to say “it's Verstappen's title to lose”.

In fact, that time may now be upon us, even if Wolff insists that there is still “all to win”.

Perez takes the applause of the massed fans after his podium finish

Perez takes the applause of the massed fans after his podium finish

Photo by: Charles Coates / Motorsport Images

4. Perez has hit his stride at the perfect time

It's been a wild 18 months for the Mexican in the second Red Bull. With the team formerly known as Racing Point approaching its transition to Aston Martin, Lawrence Stroll wanted a star name to lead the team - leaving Perez as the fall guy as Sebastian Vettel came into the fold.

There was a very real chance that Perez could be left out in the cold for 2021 but, as Red Bull started to get cold feet about retaining Alex Albon in the second car, the veteran burst into the form of his life and signed off from Racing Point with a win on the Bahrain outer loop to convince Red Bull to bring him into the fold.

Like Albon and Pierre Gasly before him, it took Perez time to wrestle with Red Bull machinery. Designed for Verstappen's driving style, Perez admitted that he had to completely adjust his driving style to suit the RB16B, which proved to be a fairly lengthy process and resulted in a number of errors in the early season as the tail-happy bronco had to be tamed.

On the evidence of the past few rounds, Perez has cracked it. A trio of third places has been his reward in the past three races, and he's been in with a shout of pole at Austin and Mexico - crucially giving Verstappen a wingman in his battle against Hamilton.

The Guadalajara-born driver put heavy pressure on Hamilton at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, enthralling the Mexican crowds, and probably would have taken second off the seven-time champion had the race been a lap longer.

With a continued late-season surge, Perez could realistically pinch third off Bottas in the championship standings, such is his form.

Ferrari seized back third place in the constructors', cementing the turnaround in form in recent events

Ferrari seized back third place in the constructors', cementing the turnaround in form in recent events

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

5. Beating Ferrari looks like a big ask for McLaren now

Daniel Ricciardo's lock-up approaching Turn 1 wasn't just disastrous for his and Bottas's races, but also for McLaren's hopes of holding onto third place in its ongoing constructors' championship battle with Ferrari.

The Australian had split the red cars in qualifying, but any chance of scoring points was wiped away - along with his front wing - when he clattered into poleman Bottas, allowing Ferrari's Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz Jr a free run to fifth and sixth.

Their combined 18-point haul, compared to the solitary point picked up by Lando Norris after his grid penalty left him mired in the pack at the start, has given Ferrari third position back for the first time since Zandvoort.

The 1-2 finish at Monza had swung the pendulum back in McLaren's favour, and its advantage could have been widened further had Norris not been outfoxed by the late downpour in Sochi.

But Ferrari's revamped power units have turned the tide in the Scuderia's favour, and over the past six races it has averaged 17.16 points, compared to the 14.3 of McLaren (with over half of the 86 points it has totted up in that time, compared to Ferrari's 103, drawn from the 45 it took away from Monza).

The 13.5 point advantage Ferrari holds isn't insurmountable - but if current trends continue, its looking like an increasingly difficult task for McLaren to hold onto its best-of-the-rest tag.

Gasly claimed a third top-four finish of the season to level Alpine's points tally

Gasly claimed a third top-four finish of the season to level Alpine's points tally

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

6. “Lonely” Gasly excels once again to pull AlphaTauri level with Alpine

You’d be excused for forgetting what happened to Gasly in the Mexican race, such was the lonely nature of his afternoon.

But arguably it was the performance of the weekend, with the AlphaTauri driver leading ‘the best of the rest’ behind the Red Bull and Mercedes drivers in both qualifying and the race – which is why he earned a maximum score in our Driver Ratings.

PLUS: Mexican Grand Prix Driver Ratings 

After maximising his potential in qualifying with fifth place, aided by a tow from team-mate Tsunoda, Gasly avoided the first-corner tangle to move up to fourth where he effectively held station to the chequered flag.

Gasly had to be mindful of a late Ferrari charge when the team switched positions for Leclerc and Sainz to allow the Spaniard to attack with his fresher tyres.

But the French driver kept comfortably clear to seal fourth and draw AlphaTauri level on points with Alpine's fifth place in the constructors’ championship. It marked Gasly’s seventh top-six finish so far this season and his 86 points account for the vast majority of his team’s haul, only behind Alpine on countback due to Esteban Ocon’s Hungarian GP victory.

“It was the perfect weekend,” Gasly said. “The pace was good from the first laps to the end and the Ferraris were never really able to attack me. It was a bit lonely but it was still enjoyable.”

It has kept the momentum firmly with the Faenza-based squad, for whom fifth would be an all-time high having previously peaked with sixth in 2008 and 2019. It would be a wonderful achievement for the Red Bull junior team, fighting against works squad Alpine and big-spending Aston Martin. And if it happens, the majority of credit will go to Gasly.

Tsunoda incurred Horner's wrath after his slow Q3 inlap hampered Perez and Verstappen

Tsunoda incurred Horner's wrath after his slow Q3 inlap hampered Perez and Verstappen

Photo by: Charles Coates / Motorsport Images

7. Red Bull was wrong to make Tsunoda the scapegoat over missing pole

Horner certainly didn't mince his words when asked how qualifying had gotten away from Red Bull - which ironically set Verstappen up for victory by putting him in position to get the tow down to Turn 1.

“I think we got Tsunoda'd,” was his response.

It's true that Perez had been distracted by the dust cloud thrown up by Tsunoda's slow-moving AlphaTauri running straight on ahead of him at Turn 10, resulting in the Mexican following him off in sympathy. And it's also true that Verstappen had backed off, in anticipation of a yellow flag that never came.

But Red Bull wasn't blameless in its qualifying defeat either - having lost out to Mercedes on the first soft tyre runs in Q3.

Although Horner subsequently claimed that his comments had been 'exploited' by social media, the backlash that resulted was hardly surprising. Among those compelled to respond was AlphaTauri boss Franz Tost, who leapt to the defence of his driver in a rare instance of the two sister teams at odds in public.

“We told him on the radio that the Red Bulls are coming, and he just went off the track so they could pass easily,” he said. “Perez followed him. It is not Yuki’s fault.”

As forensically detailed here by Adam Cooper, Tsunoda followed the instructions of his team to the letter.

Horner would, perhaps, have been better advised to take his qualms up with Tost and the management directly, rather than knock the confidence of a rookie driver who may one day find himself in a Red Bull cockpit.

Ricciardo wasn't punished for spinning Bottas at the start

Ricciardo wasn't punished for spinning Bottas at the start

Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images

8. No action on Ricciardo/Bottas clash again questions stewarding consistency 

Mercedes may have lacked the pace to fight Red Bull on Sunday, but its cause was hardly helped by losing Bottas from the lead fight at Turn 1.

Hit from the rear by Ricciardo, Bottas was sent into a spin, while the McLaren driver sustained front wing damage that forced him to pit.

The stewards noted the Turn 1/2 incidents, but ultimately decided there was no investigation required, leaving Ricciardo to get off scot free.

The Australian said after the race that, after initially feeling bad about the collision, watching the replays made him feel better as he believed it was “just a first lap incident” as there was not much room.

Wolff said post-race he was surprised the stewards did not investigate, and it definitely raises questions about consistency. The Gasly/Fernando Alonso clash from Turkey that ended in a five-second penalty for Gasly is the bar that has been set this season, and that surely looked like far more of a racing indecent than what happened in Mexico.

The push for consistency is a continued battle for the FIA stewards, and a hard balance to strike. But to not even investigate this clash seemed like an oversight.

Poor strategy that dropped Giovinazzi into traffic thwarted his efforts to score points

Poor strategy that dropped Giovinazzi into traffic thwarted his efforts to score points

Photo by: Charles Coates / Motorsport Images

9. Giovinazzi in limbo both on and off track with Alfa Romeo

The first 19 of the 20 places on the F1 grid in 2022 have been confirmed for a while now. But the fate of Antonio Giovinazzi has remained under great uncertainty since the end of the summer – when he had originally hoped to know what his future would hold.

We're now in November and Giovinazzi remains in the dark on what he’ll be doing next year, but the team has hinted a decision will belatedly be made during the next race in Sao Paulo.

The delay has been entwined with Michael Andretti’s takeover bid of the Sauber-owned F1 squad, with Colton Herta linked to the race seat as an Andretti driver if the deal came off.

However, last week Andretti confirmed a late change to team control stakes “killed the deal” leaving negotiations to stall and duly drop Herta’s name from the equation.

Giovinazzi still has competition for his place from a few Formula 2 stars – namely points leader Oscar Piastri and nearest rival Guanyu Zhou – while the Italian’s F1 results continue to show hints of potential without delivering.

That was the case in the Mexican GP, as for a third consecutive race Giovinazzi finished an agonising 11th place, but this time blame to deliver his first points since the Monaco GP fell on his team’s strategy.

The 27-year-old avoided first-corner carnage to jump up to sixth place and despite dropping behind Sainz at the safety car restart, a healthy points haul looked on. But an early pitstop on lap 16 dropped Giovinazzi into traffic and wrecked his hopes as Vettel, team-mate Kimi Raikkonen and Alonso all leapfrogged him by staying out, with Norris getting by too.

“I'm really disappointed because we had the chance to score points with two cars,” he said. “But on my side, the strategy was completely wrong.

“We pitted too early but I don't think [that] was the issue. The issue was that when I came out, I was in traffic. The strategy didn't work.”

Giovinazzi knows a big result could tip the scales to keep his place at Alfa Romeo next year, alongside the incoming Bottas. But failing to grab these opportunities will only sustain his life in limbo.

Perez's pursuit of Hamilton brought out the best in the fans

Perez's pursuit of Hamilton brought out the best in the fans

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

10. Mexico again proves to be a spectacle like no other 

Formula 1’s return to Mexico served as a reminder of what we missed in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancelation of the race at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez.

To see the Foro Sol stadium section rocking once again was truly one of the highlights of the F1 season so far, proving the atmosphere offered in Mexico is unique.

It helped give some more colour to a fairly drab race, particularly in the closing stages when local hero Perez closed on Hamilton for second place. The roars from the grandstands were audible on the TV broadcast, and even to Perez in the car as he gave his all for his country.

While he could only finish third, the wild celebrations - led by Perez’s father - showed just how much it all meant. Mexico can be proud not only of its driver, who became the first Mexican to lead a grand prix at home on Sunday, but also of the event it puts on and the welcome it gives Formula 1 each year.

Much like Zandvoort and Austin, the Mexico weekend was a reminder of the ‘good old days’ for F1 before the pandemic started. Talk of a “post-COVID” remains premature, and F1 must continue to take precautions. But this was another heartening reminder of the power our wonderful sport holds.

By Luke Smith, Jake Boxall-Legge, Haydn Cobb and James Newbold

Passion of Mexican fans was a tantalising reminder of the atmosphere lost during the 2021 behind-closed-doors races

Passion of Mexican fans was a tantalising reminder of the atmosphere lost during the 2021 behind-closed-doors races

Photo by: Charles Coates / Motorsport Images

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