Nico Rosberg put his Texas blues behind him on Sunday to win the first Mexican Grand Prix in 23 years and show triple world champion Mercedes team mate Lewis Hamilton how it feels to finish second.
The German’s fourth victory of the year, and 12th of his career, ended Hamilton’s three-race winning streak a week after the Briton secured his third title.
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On a sunny afternoon, with the 135,000-strong crowd creating a party atmosphere, the Briton was left feeling sore after questioning a team instruction to pit for fresh tyres after Rosberg had already done so.
The German, whose late mistake in Austin handed Hamilton the victory that clinched the title, led cleanly away from pole position and finished 1.9 seconds ahead after also setting the fastest lap.
It was Mercedes’ 10th one-two in 17 races.
“This is really the best podium of the year, what a place to win” said Rosberg, addressing a cheering mass of more than 100,000 from a podium overlooking the stadium complex.
“Amazing day, great race,” added the German.
With both championships already decided, Mercedes having retained their constructors’ crown in Russia last month, the race win was all that mattered for the dominant duo at the Hermanos Rodriguez circuit.
Rosberg’s win lifted him to second in the championship, 21 points clear of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel who failed to score after a crash that brought out the safety car on the 52nd of the 71 laps. The German was unhurt.
Finland’s Valtteri Bottas finished third for Williams.
The last winner in Mexico before Sunday was Britain’s Nigel Mansell, in 1992 when he was with Williams.
Mansell, who now has the last corner named after him, conducted the podium interviews on Sunday.
Hamilton had hoped to follow on from his fellow-Englishman but had to concede that his team mate had won fair and square in a race with none of the first corner wheel-banging that triggered a controversy in Austin.
“Nico drove a fantastic race. No mistakes, no gust of wind,” he said, a dig at Rosberg’s U.S. error that the German blamed on windy conditions.
Hamilton had clearly opposed the team’s decision to bring him in for an unscheduled second pitstop, with sceptics inevitably speculating about team orders, and ignored it initially.
“Can I ask why?,” he enquired. “My tyres feel good.”
He obeyed when it was made clear that it was for safety reasons due after an inspection of the tyres used in the first stint showed excessive wear.
The high-altitude Mexico straight is one of the longest and fastest on the calendar with cars reaching speeds in excess of 360kph.
Neither Ferrari finished the race, ending a run of 20 in the points, with Vettel’s team mate Kimi Raikkonen breaking his suspension after colliding with Bottas for the second time in three races.
Bottas, who had been trying to pass on the inside when they tangled wheels, raced on to take a revenge podium.
In Russia last month, Raikkonen wrecked Bottas’s hopes of third place when he tried to pass on the last lap and sent his compatriot into the barriers.
“That is what you call payback,” commented former F1 driver David Coulthard on the BBC. The stewards investigated and decided to take no further action.
Vettel had a nightmare afternoon, picking up a puncture on the first lap after banging wheels with Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo and then spinning.
Russian Daniil Kvyat was fourth for Red Bull, ahead of Australian Ricciardo with Brazilian Felipe Massa sixth for Williams.
The Force India pair of Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez, the local hero and crowd favourite, finished seventh and eighth.
Perez, whose every appearance in the baseball stadium area had the crowd leaping in excitement, became the first Mexican to score a point in a home race since Pedro Rodriguez in 1970 and only the second ever
“I will remember this weekend forever,” said the 25-year-old. “I think everybody has enjoyed the energy of the crowd and this must surely be one of the most popular races on the calendar now.”
Toro Rosso’s Dutch teenager Max Verstappen was ninth and Romain Grosjean 10th for Lotus. McLaren’s Fernando Alonso lasted just one lap before having to retire with a loss of power.