Max Verstappen equalled Alain Prost’s tally of 51 victories with an emphatic triumph at the Mexican Grand Prix – as Sergio Perez’s home race came to a sorry end after just 14 seconds.
Verstappen’s remarkable winning sequence, which now includes a record 16 in one season, continued in the breathless Mexico City air following two pulsating starts after Kevin Magnussen’s high-speed crash resulted in a reg flag at the midway stage of Sunday’s 71-lap race.
Verstappen mastered both getaways to draw alongside four-time world champion Prost, with only Lewis Hamilton (103 wins), Michael Schumacher (91) and Sebastian Vettel (53) ahead of the all-conquering Dutchman in Formula One folklore.
Hamilton impressed to finish runner-up, ahead of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz. Lando Norris drove from 17th to fifth, passing George Russell with four laps remaining on a strong afternoon for the Brit, in an event that Perez will want to forget.
— Formula 1 (@F1) October 29, 2023
As Verstappen sliced through the middle of pole-sitter Leclerc, and his Ferrari team-mate Sainz on the 830 metre charge to the opening bend, 130,000 Mexican hearts sank when an over-eager Perez crashed into Leclerc.
Perez, who started fifth, ran line astern with Leclerc and Verstappen as the trio stamped on the brakes from 200mph for the opening bend – and Perez, occupying the racing line, sensed his opportunity for glory. But his banzai move was badly misjudged.
The 33-year-old turned into Leclerc, and was sent airborne before landing back on four wheels and spinning into the run-off area. Perez limped back to the pits but the damage sustained to his machine left his race in tatters.
Perez banged his steering wheel with both hands in frustration. Children were left seeking comfort from their parents in the grandstands.
Perez’s Red Bull mechanics attempted a quick fix to get their man back on track. But after a handful of laps they conceded defeat. Perez departed his Red Bull cockpit to watch team-mate Verstappen gallop to victory.
Question marks hang over Perez’s future at Red Bull. He has one year to run on his deal, but the paddock is awash with rumours that he could be replaced next year.
Daniel Ricciardo is mooted as a possible candidate, and Perez’s first-corner disaster – coupled with the Australian out-performing his modest AlphaTauri machinery to take the chequered flag in seventh in just his fourth comeback race, will do little to dampen the speculation.
Perez last won a race in Azerbaijan on April 30, and his failure to finish at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez leaves his second place in the championship under threat from Hamilton. Indeed, the seven-time world champion reduced the gap from 39 points to 20 with his strong display.
For Verstappen, this was his 32nd victory – remarkably the same tally double world champion Fernando Alonso has managed throughout his entire career – from his last 41 appearances, dating back to his controversial triumph over Hamilton in Abu Dhabi in 2021.
Hamilton, who has not won a race during that period, crossed the line a close second to Verstappen in America a week ago before he was disqualified for running his Mercedes too close to the floor.
He started sixth here, swiftly promoted one position after Perez’s crash. On lap 11 he blasted past Ricciardo for fourth.
Verstappen gave up his lead on lap 19 after he stopped for new rubber, with Hamilton in five laps later. Then on lap 34, the race was suspended.
Magnussen lost control of his Haas at 130mph through Turn 8. The Dane ended up in the wall following a suspected rear suspension failure. He swiftly emerged from his cockpit before his mangled machine caught fire.
The safety car was deployed but with significant damage to the tyre barrier, repairs were required, and the race was halted, leading to a 22-minute delay.
“That’s a joke,” complained Verstappen. “A red flag for what?”
The drivers lined up on the grid for the second standing start of the afternoon with Hamilton the sole man in the top five on the quicker, medium rubber.
But it was Verstappen who produced another scintillating getaway to leave the others trailing in his wake.
He set about building his gap, with Hamilton intent on taking Leclerc for second, and on lap 40, he did just that following a bold and gutsy move.
On the fastest straight of the year, Hamilton jinked to Leclerc’s right, dropping two tyres on to the turf and kicking up dirt at 225mph, before holding his nerve under braking for the first corner to make the move stick.
The British driver nursed his tyres to finish runner-up to Verstappen, 13.8 sec back.
What a performance that was! 👏 pic.twitter.com/ePxjXjdeWd
— Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 Team (@MercedesAMGF1) October 29, 2023
“It has been another incredible season and the car has been unbelievable to drive,” said Verstappen.
“I am very proud of my achievement. I felt if I could replicate the 15 wins I got last season this year, I would be very happy, and now I am here with 16.”
Hamilton said: “It was a great day, and I wasn’t expecting to be up here. I kept my nose clean at the start and tried to progress forward. I tried to close the gap to Max, but he was long gone.”
Prost was 38 when he claimed his 51st and final win 30 years ago. Verstappen turned 26 only last month, with Vettel’s 53 triumphs now on his radar before the close of the year with races in Brazil and Las Vegas to follow ahead of the final round in Abu Dhabi on November 26.