Lewis Hamilton has cut Nico Rosberg’s championship lead to 19 points with his second crucial win in eight days at the Mexican Grand Prix.
On a day Rosberg could have become champion had his team-mate retired, Hamilton ensured the title battle goes on to the penultimate race in Brazil with his 51st career win – drawing him level with Alain Prost for second place in F1’s record books.
Hamilton’s only scare came at the race’s first corner when he ran wide over the grass after outbraking himself. “I led from grass to finish,” Hamilton joked afterwards after winning by eight seconds.
Rosberg was second after overcoming two separate tussles with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen to keep the title race in his hands.
The German will clinch his maiden world crown if he wins the Brazilian GP on November 13.
Daniel Ricciardo finished fifth but was promoted to third several hours after the race had concluded after penalties for first Max Verstappen, the original podium finisher, and then Sebastian Vettel.
Verstappen had taken third on the road but stewards imposed a five-second time penalty while he was waiting to take to the podium after an extraordinary sequence of events in the race’s closing laps involving the Dutchman, Vettel and Ricciardo.
After a mid-race lunge on Rosberg resulted in him running off the track, Verstappen’s challenge for second faded and he instead came under attack from Ferrari’s Vettel, whose weekend came alive following a long first stint on soft tyres.
Verstappen hits back at “frustrated guy” Vettel
With three laps to go, Vettel tried to overtake the Red Bull into Turn One but Verstappen ran wide and across the grass, holding position ahead of the Ferrari. With the Dutchman deciding not to cede position, despite his race engineer suggesting he do so, an increasingly irate Vettel started ranting on the radio that the Red Bull driver should give him the place.
“He has to let me go!” yelled Vettel. “He has to let me go! Move, move for f*** sake!”
The four-time champion was also heard uttering an expletive in relation to FIA race director Charlie Whiting.
Verstappen crossed the line in third and headed for the podium holding room alongside Hamilton and Rosberg, but the stewards acted swiftly and handed him a five-second penalty. That dropped him to fifth behind team-mate Ricciardo.
However, in one final twist late on Sunday night, that eventually became fourth when the stewards added 10 seconds to Vettel’s race time for a tangle with Ricciardo. The former team-mates made contact at Turn Four while the Ferrari remained bottled up behind Verstappen. Ricciardo dived to the inside, with Vettel moving to cover.
Vettel dropped behind both Red Bulls to fifth, with Ricciardo third and Verstappen fourth.
The Red Bull duo hit out at Vettel’s driving and conduct after the race. The German had pulled alongside Verstappen’s car on the slow-down lap to wave his finger in the Dutchman’s direction, while he also said over the radio he wanted to “hit somebody”.
“He did what everyone has been complaining about – moving under braking,” Ricciardo told Sky F1. “He’s smiling now but for me he doesn’t deserve to be on the podium. He kept on closing the door under braking and in the end I had nowhere to go.”
Verstappen added: “It’s ridiculous what he did. Daniel was alongside him and he just turned into him. Then he is shouting and l don’t know how many times he is using very bad language. I think he needs to go back to school.”
In the championship battle, two more second places to Hamilton in Brazil and Abu Dhabi remain good enough for Rosberg to become world champion for the first time.
But Rosberg now knows a race victory in Sao Paulo in a fortnight’s time will settle the title fight in his favour and avoid a nail-biting final-race showdown.
Ricciardo: Hamilton should have had penalty too
“Lewis has been too fast this weekend,” said Rosberg. “I just have to accept second place.”
Meanwhile, Kimi Raikkonen finished a distant sixth in the second Ferrari after losing ground on a two-stop strategy, with Force India coming out on top overall in a tight battle with Constructors’ Championship rivals Williams.
Nico Hulkenberg finished seventh despite a late spin while battling Raikkonen, with Force India’s total of seven points edging them one more clear of Williams in the standings.
The rest of the field, including both McLaren drivers, were lapped, although Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson and, from the pit lane, Jolyon Palmer enjoyed strong races in the middle order.
Mexican GP result
1. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, 1:40:31.402
2. Nico Rosberg, Mercedes, +8.354
3. Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull, +20.858
4. Max Verstappen, Red Bull, +21.323*
5. Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari, +27.313**
6. Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari, +49.376
7. Nico Hulkenberg, Force India, +58.891
8. Valtteri Bottas, Williams, +65.612
9. Felipe Massa, Williams, +76.206
10. Sergio Perez, Force India, +76.798
11. Marcus Ericsson, Sauber, +1 lap
12. Jenson Button, McLaren, +1 lap
13. Fernando Alonso, McLaren, +1 lap
14. Jolyon Palmer, Renault, +1 lap
15. Felipe Nasr, Sauber, +1 lap
16. Carlos Sainz, Toro Rosso, +1 lap
17. Kevin Magnussen, Renault, +1 lap
18. Daniil Kvyat, Toro Rosso, +1 lap
19. Esteban Gutierrez, Haas, +1 lap
20. Romain Grosjean, Haas, +1 lap
21. Esteban Ocon, Manor, +2 laps
DNF Pascal Wehrlein, Manor
*five-second time penalty / **10-second time penalty