The Mexico City Grand Prix saw the F1 circus live up to its reputation as the Greatest Show on Earth. PETER COSTER reports on the exploits of the daring young men and a couple of older ones.
Daniel Ricciardo, driving the lowest-rated car on the grid, qualified on the first row of the Mexican Grand Prix alongside triple world champion Max Verstappen.
In a phenomenal performance in the final qualifying session, Ricciardo in his second race in following surgery on a broken hand and fellow Australian Oscar Piastri were on the front row.
Piastri in the McLaren started the race seventh on the grid and Ricciardo a stunning second.
Ricciardo finished seventh and would have passed Mercedes driver George Russell in another lap after a red flag caused the field to concertina following a huge crash by Kevin Magnussen in the Haas. Piastri finished eighth.
The Haas hit the barriers after its rear suspension broke, Magnussen climbing from the wreck unharmed before it caught fire.
Mexico’s Sergio Perez crashed out of the race on the first corner of the first lap at the Autodromo Herman’s Rodriquez.
Perez in the Red Bull was launched into the air as he cut in on pole sitter Charles Leclerc in the Ferrari.
Leclerc was in a Red Bull sandwich between Perez and eventual winner Max Verstappen, who was on the other side.
It was a heroic move by “Checo” but, do the math, three into two doesn’t go.
Perez limped back to there pits but the damage when the car crashed nose-first back onto the track and the rear when it came to ground meant the car had to be retired.
Behind his visor Perez visibly wept, his retirement as a driver by Red Bull likely if he can’t turn his season around in the remaining three races.
The Mexican has a year to run on his contract but Ricciardo is now heavily favoured to move from the Red Bull sister team to a seat with Red Bull where he is a reserve driver.
It was a stunning performance by Ricciardo, who put in one off the best races of his career after losing his seat with McLaren to Melbourne rookie Piastri, who has emerged as s ready-made F1 star after winning all the junior championships.
Ricciardo would have won driver-of-the day had McLaren’s Lando Norris not stormed through the field from 17th to fifth after being forced to abort his qualifying lap when Fernando Alonso made an unusual mistake in the Aston Martin.
Even so, he was assisted by Piastri who obeyed team orders to let him past in the final laps when it appeared he was the faster of the two McLarens.
The Perez incident at the first corner brough an audible gasp from the crowed, many of whom left the circuit named after the two Rodriquez brothers, who were Mexican stars in the 60s and 70s.
The volatile Mexican fans hold Perez in the same emotional regard as Pedro and Ricardo Rodriquez, who both died on the track in the years when Formula One lost some of its greatest drivers.
Following Sunday’s race, pole sitter and podium finisher Leclerc was booed by those who had not left the track in their disappointment.
The Ferrari driver explained that he had nowhere go as Perez ranged up alongside him after the start. But he won points for diplomacy when he said putting Perez out of the race was the last thing he wanted to do.
“Of course, I’m disappointed to end the race of Sergio like that,” he said, “but I really didn’t do it on purpose and I had nowhere to go.”
Now, it may be a case of where does Perez go next year?
The Mexican driver has won two races this year, in Saudi Arabia and Azerbaijan, but has underperformed since then while Max Verstappen has racked up16 victories, including the Mexico race, a Formula One record.
Not that Super Max dwells on statistics. He starts, he wins, he moves on to the next race.
Meanwhile, it is worth reflecting on just how impressive is the turnaround in Daniel Ricciardo’s misfortunes.
The Perth driver has won eight Grands Prix, seven at Red Bull and a surprise eighth at Monza in 2021 with McLaren.
He left Red Bull when he considered the team was being built around the younger Verstappen. It was clearly a mistake and led to a dejected Ricciardo to seek the psychologist’s couch as well as as new F1 seat.
At times, it looked as if a driver long ranked among the top five on the grid might drift into retirement.
Instead, he has turned the lights back on in what Sky commentator and former Indycar and Nascar driver Danica Patrick remarked was the “twilight” of his F1 career.
Now, it looks a star has been reborn with AlphaTauri boss Franz Tost singing his praises and Red Bull’s Christian Horner joining in the chorus, saying “Fighting a Mercedes in an AlphaTauri for their best result of the year was a great performance. That’s the Daniel we are used to seeing.”
Lewis Hamilton, older than the 34-year-old Ricciardo by four years, was back to his best in the Mercedes in Mexico.
As well as finishing second, the 38-year-old Brit stormed past Leclerc towards the end of the race on the edge of the straight, dirt flying, in what Martin Brundle on Sky said was a “very brave overtake.”
The seven-time world champion was back on the podium after a second-place at the US Grand Prix the previous week, where he was later disqualified because of excessive wear on his car’s skid board, a technical breach over which he had no control. Leclerc was also disqualified in the same race over the same issue.
The third race of the triple-header is at the Interlagos circuit at Sao Paulo in Brazil on Sunday before a showbiz extravaganza in Las Vegas and the final race in Abu Dhabi.