How Mercedes failed to make Verstappen fight for his record 14th win

2022 Mexican Grand Prix review

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Over his illustrious career, Lewis Hamilton has broken so many of the greatest records in Formula 1 – many of which once seemed unreachable.

From the career wins and pole positions record to the most laps led in history and matching Michael Schumacher for the ultimate accolade of most championships, Hamilton held a near-monopoly as the highest-achieving driver F1 has ever seen. Only the record of most wins in a season eluded him – joint property of Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel.

That was, until Max Verstappen blitzed the competition in 2022 to firmly establish himself as the driver to beat in the sport’s new ground effect era, winning 13 of the first 20 races to put him within reach of a new benchmark.

How fitting it was, then, that the world champion achieved something no driver has ever done before by beating none other than Hamilton to do so.

As Verstappen parked his car on the pole position spot at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez – the first time he had done so at this particular circuit – it was not Hamilton’s Mercedes which was sat alongside him on the front row, but George Russell’s. Verstappen’s three tenths advantage in qualifying flattered him, as Russell had been neck-and-neck with the Red Bull through 11 corners in his final Q3 effort before throwing it away in the 12th.

Race start, Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, 2022
Russell lost out after Verstappen beat him to turn one
With a 900-metre sprint to turn one, a good start was essential. But Mercedes raised eyebrows before the formation lap when they removed their tyre covers to reveal their cars were the only ones in the top five starting on the medium tyres. Hamilton later admitted he knew they were in trouble as soon as they saw the Red Bulls were on softs.

As the field made its way through the Foro Sol stadium and received the salutations of the roaring Mexican crowd, it was clear the thousands in the stands would be in for a fascinating opening stanza to the race, whichever car reached them first after the start.

When the lights extinguished on the gantry, Verstappen and Russell made equally decent getaways. Russell tucked into the Red Bull’s slipstream which kicked in once he breached 250km/h, pulling to the outside as they approached the braking zone for turn one. With the superior position, Verstappen swept through the chicane with his lead intact, but Russell’s line left room on the inside which Hamilton snatched without hesitation, taking second as they exited the chicane.

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With Russell hesitating on the throttle on the exit of turn three, Sergio Perez used a tighter line to get his foot down sooner, pulling alongside the Mercedes on the racing line approaching turn four. By the time they had rounded the next two corners, Perez had demoted Russell to fourth place, sending the crowd wild.

Sergio Perez, Red Bull, Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, 2022
Perez started the dash for the pits at the front
Verstappen led by almost 1.4 seconds as they crossed the line for the first time, with Hamilton, Perez and Russell behind followed by the two soft-shod Ferraris of Carlos Sainz Jnr and Charles Leclerc. With theoretically faster tyres than the Mercedes behind and Hamilton out of DRS range, it seemed Verstappen would just pull away from the Mercedes as he has done so often. Instead, Hamilton kept the Red Bull firmly in his sights, never allowing the leader to get more than two seconds ahead of him over the first 15 laps of the race.

As the clouds began to drift over the circuit, track temperature rapidly dropped from 47 degrees at the start of the race to just 40 degrees 20 minutes in. Hamilton was happy with his medium rubber. “Tyres are quite consistent,” he reported, as Verstappen began to edge ever so slightly away from him ahead. Meanwhile, Verstappen began to report the first signs of degradation. “Tyres starting to struggle now and lose heat,” the leader warned his team.

In third, Perez was not able to put any kind of pressure on Hamilton, with Russell closer to him behind than he was to the second-placed Mercedes. As he entered the stadium on lap 23, Perez was called in for his first stop. However, a delay on the rear-left turned a two-second pit stop into a five-second one, putting his third place under real threat to Russell.

However, Mercedes were content to remain on their mediums for the time being, with both Hamilton and Russell reporting they were happy with their tyres. Verstappen, however, could not say the same.

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“My front-left is dead, guys,” the leader relayed to his pit wall, who responded by bringing him in for a fresh set of mediums at the end of lap 25. This allowed him to conveniently rejoin in front of the two Ferraris of Sainz and Leclerc in third.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, 2022
Mercedes opted for harder tyres each time
Verstappen’s fresh mediums naturally offered more grip than the Mercedes’ old tyres and he was instantly faster than the two ahead. But with Pirelli having predicted a two-stop strategy would be quickest in a race uninterrupted by Safety Cars, the big question was whether Verstappen would be able to make his new tyres last the 46 laps he needed to get to the end of the race without a second stop.

Mercedes seemed to doubt that he could. When they called the leader in at the end of lap 29, they clearly committed to a one-stop strategy by bolting on hard tyres onto Hamilton’s car. When he emerged onto the pit straight, he was now five seconds adrift from Verstappen but, theoretically, could push harder than his rival ahead.

Russell inherited the lead and lobbied his team hard to extend his opening stint as long as they could to stretch him into the window of a switch to softs for his final stint. However, Mercedes could not be convinced having seen Hamilton set a personal best lap immediately after fitting the hards.

Just five laps after bringing his team mate in, Mercedes pitted Russell, handing the lead back to Verstappen. Despite Perez’s slow stop, he had made the most of his new mediums to reclaim any time he had lost, meaning Russell rejoined back behind the Red Bull in fourth.

With their driver back in the lead, any concerns Red Bull may have had about the life of Verstappen’s tyres were calmed after they analysed the set of softs they had removed from his car in his stop.

“Okay Max, so soft stint wear life was of no concern at all,” Verstappen’s race engineer Gianpiero Lambiase informed the race leader. “It’s just going to be about managing tyre slip and keeping them in the window.”

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Despite his orders to manage his tyres, Verstappen was pulling away from Hamilton in a way he hadn’t in the opening stint. At Mercedes, the feedback about the hard tyres was not glowing.

“This tyre is not as good as the mediums,” came Hamilton’s assessment. “This tyre isn’t good, mate.”

Perez caught up to just a second-and-a-half of Hamilton, but struggled to break through into the crucial one-second barrier that would grant him DRS and the ability to use the Red Bull’s superior top speed advantage to its maximum. That allowed Hamilton to keep Perez at bay, but Verstappen was ever-so-gradually creeping away.

“Are we on the wrong tyre, mate?” Hamilton asked, sensing another slim chance of the team’s first win of the season slowly escaping him. “No, Lewis. We think we’re on the right tyre,” race engineer Peter Bonnington insisted. Mercedes remained convinced tyre life would become a limiting factor for those attempting a long second stint on medium rubber. “We’ll get to the end on this, no sweat.”

Yuki Tsunoda, AlphaTauri, Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, 2022
Tsunoda was barged into retirement by Ricciardo
As Russell continued to circulate in fourth on hard tyres, Daniel Ricciardo had adopted the strategy the Mercedes driver had asked for and was making his way up the order on softs. “As soon as I got out the pits, the tyre was so much better. I could lean on it and I felt like I was in control,” said the McLaren driver

His exuberance at finally enjoying a strong race in 2022 got the better of him when he caught 11th-placed Yuki Tsunoda on lap 50, Ricciardo attempted to pass the AlphaTauri into turn six, but his poorly-judged move saw him bounce Tsunoda briefly into the air. Tsunoda’s car was so damaged from the impact that by the time he returned to the pits, AlphaTauri immediately retired the furious Tsunoda.

“How does he can think that he can overtake there!” he fumed. “I don’t know. Such a rookie guy.” The stewards agreed that it was an amateurish display, promptly handing the McLaren driver a 10-second time penalty reflecting the degree to which they viewed him as being at fault.

Despite Russell’s efforts to lobby for some kind of Safety Car intervention due to debris from the clash, the race continued uninterrupted. Over the next 15 laps, Verstappen continued to inch away out front while Perez gradually fell back from the first Mercedes and was slowly being reeled in by the second.

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Down in eighth place, Fernando Alonso had spent many laps struggling with a power problem on his Alpine. After trying various solutions suggested by his team in vain, Alonso was caught and passed by team mate Esteban Ocon before eventually grinding to a halt at the end of the main straight on lap 65, bringing out the Virtual Safety Car.

Russell, again, called for Mercedes to be aggressive. “I think we should box,” he declared as he slowed to his delta time. But despite a five-second gap to Perez ahead with six laps remaining, he was told to stay out.

“Why are we staying out?” Russell challenged his team. “Tyres have gone.”

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, 2022
Verstappen was 15 seconds ahead at the finish
If there had been a degree of doubt after pitting, it was now clear to the Mercedes drivers and their team that Red Bull had out-played them tactically. Verstappen had successfully managed his mediums and maintained his pace perfectly, the drop-off Mercedes had planned for never materialising.

When the race resumed, all Verstappen needed to do was nurse his car around the remaining laps and take the chequered flag to complete his mission and break new ground in Formula 1 as the only driver ever to take 14 wins in a single season.

“That’s mission accomplished, Max,” Lambiase congratulated his driver. “And a very, very special number 14. Fantastic.”

Hamilton, who had been around 1.5 seconds off the leader for most of the first stint, saw his gap to Verstappen grow to 10 times that by the chequered flag. With it, his pre-race hunch about starting on the soft tyres rather than the mediums appeared to have been validated.

“I was speaking in strategy about us taking a risk with one of the cars at least doing something different,” Hamilton later explained. “I had a gut feeling that they will be on the softs to start with and when everyone took their blankets off, everyone around us was on the softs and we’re on the mediums. At that moment, I thought that we may be in trouble.”

Hamilton had beaten one Red Bull, however, with Perez failing to chase him down despite his medium tyres. However, he did at least give the crowd packing out the Foro Sol stadium something to cheer with his second home podium in back-to-back years.

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Russell had more than enough margin over the Ferraris in fourth to pit on the penultimate lap and take the fastest lap on the final tour. At the end of a frustrating afternoon that had promised so much at times, Russell received some consolation from team principal Toto Wolff who admitted to him on the cool-down lap that “in hindsight, [that was] not the right tyre.”

“I think generally this weekend Pirelli brought too hard a compound,” Russell later assessed. “So the soft should have been a medium, the medium should have been the hard and the hard was like an ‘ultra hard’, effectively.

“I really felt like I could have continued on that medium at a good pace and we would have been flying at the end on that soft.”

Sergio Perez, Red Bull, Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, 2022
Perez gave the home fans something to cheer about
The two Ferraris of Sainz and Leclerc finished fifth and sixth having endured the kind of ‘no-man’s land’ race Mercedes had regularly experienced in the early phase of the season – too far from their rivals ahead but still ahead of the midfield. Behind them, Ricciardo demonstrated that the softs were the effective option for the end of the race by moving all the way up to seventh and pull out a 10-second gap over Ocon to hold onto the position after his penalty was applied.

Lando Norris secured more vital points for McLaren in their battle against Alpine in the constructors’ championship with ninth, while Valtteri Bottas converted his sixth position on the grid into a single point in tenth, which could prove vital in Alfa Romeo’s close battle with Aston Martin for sixth place.

But yet again, Verstappen had wielded an aggressive Red Bull strategy and successfully converted it into victory. “We chose to start on the soft and the tyre was holding on surprisingly well until four or five laps to the end of that stint,” he explained. “But I never really felt like I was under pressure, I was just managing my tyres to get through that number of laps.

“Then it was still a question mark, of course, when I went onto the medium to see how long they were going to last but within a few laps, it felt really good and we felt like we could go to the end.”

Verstappen could win 16 races by the end of the year
What was perhaps more remarkable than the world champion setting new benchmarks for most wins in a season and the highest points tally ever achieved was that he still has two grands prix and a sprint race still to come to inflate those astronomical figures even higher – something he fully intends to do.

“We have a sprint race in Brazil and hopefully we can score a few more,” he said. “But it’s not about that. At the end of the day, it’s all about trying to win a championship and it doesn’t matter with how many points you do it. But it does show that we are having an incredible year.”

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Author information

Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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25 comments on “How Mercedes failed to make Verstappen fight for his record 14th win”

  1. “Max Verstappen blitzed the competition in 2022 to firmly establish himself as the driver to beat in the sport’s new ground effect era”

    And in the sport’s new cost cap era amirite?

  2. Merc did not want to get George Russell on softs. I reckon he wouldn’t have won but would have been an easy 2nd, and increased Merc’s points haul by 3. No points for guessing why Merc wouldn’t do it.

    1. They also didnt want Lewis to start on softs.

    2. If Mercedes thought Russell would get an easy 2nd, then why not pit Russell & Hamilton (as they were on the same strat) for an easy 1, 2?

      1. It was GR who wanted the change and he was already behind Checo so there was nothing to lose. The other one would have lost position to Checo and Merc are always very reluctant to do this. Anyway I reckon that with a double change still they would not have won, would also have finished 2-3. Max was way too much ahead, 15 secs plus the time lost for the pitstop, even under VSC seems insurmountable. But the order of the 2-3 would have been less of a problem for Merc.

  3. BLS (@brightlampshade)
    31st October 2022, 14:41

    How Mercedes failed to make Verstappen fight for his record 14th win

    This article could have simply been a one sentence answer, they used the Hards….

    You’d think both their drivers telling them the same thing whilst others happily sped along on their softs would have been a bigger enough hint for the team.

  4. They started the race on Mediums, the end…

    1. Like Ricciardo, the driver who gained four places notwithstanding a 10s time penalty (and dropping two places at the start).

      1. How many rivals did Ricciardo have on the contra strategy of Soft to Medium?

  5. Mercedes as usual were just thinking too far ahead.
    They forgot the race was going to end that very Sunday and not a few days later.
    Their strategy was too linear, the least I expected of a team who wanted a win from either driver was for them to split the strategy early on.

  6. I don’t know why they didn’t split their strategies in the first place. Put one on softs at the start to maximise the opportunity to get past Max into the first corner, and have the other on what their model said was the optimum race strategy.

    1. Because unlike other teams they have stayed fair to both drivers regardless of who is where.

      Newer fans forget how many races Rosberg won through MB refusing to split strategies and allow what GR was asking for.

      Start that now and you get a war. They have given GR a few this year at the detriment of Hamilton due to SC etc. He should be happy with that.

      Round at Red Bull? Well Checo knows where his place is.

      Not sure I could race like that but he seems comfortable with it.

      1. Well, perez is currently in the best car: there’s no beating verstappen with his talent, he could go to ferrari or mercedes and would get destroyed, even more so than it’s happening, so I can see why he likes it there, at least he can go for some win, which as this season is going would’ve been impossible on merc and for his talent very unlikely on ferrari.

      2. “Because unlike other teams they have stayed fair to both drivers regardless of who is where.”
        yeah this is false. on the sky f1 commentary of the race, brundle said toto told him on the grid that mercedes was ready to sacrifice one driver, doesnt matter which one, in order to win the race.

  7. Softer tires makes perfect sense, if you think about it.

    Redbull knows there is a DRS advantage to the car within in 1 second of the leaders, so they do everything to break that advantage and then manage their tires from in front..

    Mercedes should have used their advantage and driven much longer on the Mediums, they didn’t. That’s when they lost the race. If they had driven as long on the Mediums, as Redbull did on theirs then the Mercs could have finished the race on soft and and we should have had the finish we were hoping for.

    1. Mercedes should have used their advantage and driven much longer on the Mediums, they didn’t. That’s when they lost the race.

      This has happened so many times this year. Some team starts on harder compounds, and then when the guy they’re fighting pits early they all seem to freak out that said driver is suddenly faster and in response they pit too, barely making using the slower tyre worth the extra handful of laps.

      You’d think that all these smart people in F1 would expect that new tyres are faster than older, maybe even harder, tyres. That’s normal, but it’s only a problem when that difference is enough to make up for the extra stop.

    2. Sure a much closer finish and some fight, it would have been more interesting no doubt. But still not enough for a win I reckon. Go h3ck for leather with the softs for a few laps and by the time you get behind Max they have already given the ghost.

  8. matching Mick Schumacher for the ultimate accolade of most championships

    Hmmm, not sure about that..

    1. It’s strange, it’s the 2nd time I see this michael vs mick typo on such articles.

    2. Ah, well, they corrected it already it seems.

  9. Does anyone really believe strategy would have made a difference? I suspect that RBR are masking their true pace a bit like Merc did in the early stages of the turbo hybrid era.
    Every time someone comes close to challenging them, they just seem to ease away from them. Yes, Max is a good part of that,but that car is a beast.

    1. Only not in the hands of Checo and he is a good driver. To ride a beast you need a master.

    2. Lewis has been close

  10. Why didn’t Mercedes go soft, medium know the other teams were doing the same but the opposite way around. Also the soft would have had less weight on them. Bizarre.

    Go for the win, no one cares about anything else

  11. I dont necessarily think Mercedes made an error here. Just look at the lap times pace of Max on the soft. Lap 27 to 71, all (but 65 &66 vsc) 1:22:xx. No exceptions. Balancing pace and reach. They were in control either way.

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