LEWIS HAMILTON’S end-of-season recovery continued with a second place finish in Mexico.
The Brit, who finished second in the US GP in Austin last weekend – only to be disqualified due to a worn skid plate – was once again the best behind winner Max Verstappen.
The Dutchman has now won 16 of the 19 races this season in a tireless display of overwhelming dominance.
But there are green shoots of optimism in the Mercedes pit that the team may be fighting with him for victories next year.
Verstappen’s victory came as his teammate Sergio Perez suffered a first-lap accident that left him fighting for his Red Bull future.
And Haas’ Kevin Magnussen hit the barriers at 140mph, causing the race to be stopped as marshals repaired them.
Verstappen got off to a great start, separating the two Ferraris of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz, who started ahead of him, into turn one.
He started to make slow progress while his teammate Perez made a bold attempt on the left side of the track.
But there wasn’t enough space for the Mexican, he hit the brakes too late, leaving Leclerc with no way out.
The Ferrari man was crushed by Perez and the front wing pierced the Red Bull, ripping the bodywork and throwing the Mexican into the run-off area, causing a huge collective groan from the home fans.
He limped back to the pits, but his team decided to retire his car.
The incident left Leclerc with a damaged front wing, which played into Verstappen’s hands as he opened up a 1.5-second lead at the end of the first lap.
Ferrari were the last leaders to pit, and by the time Leclerc stopped for new tires on lap 32, Verstappen had opened up a whopping 17-second lead.
But this race was turned upside down on lap 33 when Magnussen crashed into the barriers, breaking his rear suspension.
Magnussen climbed out of his cockpit with a sore wrist, but race stewards red-flagged the race to repair the barriers.
An angry Verstappen snapped over the team radio: “This is a joke! Red flag for what? I saw that the car was a little on fire, but everything has already been put out.”
The stewards opted for a standing restart, but Verstappen shot away from the chasing group while Hamilton took his time assessing an attack on Leclerc.
The seven-time world champion took his chance in turn one on lap 40 and used the DRS to race past the Ferrari and into second place.
However, Hamilton was no match for Verstappen’s pace as the Red Bull man left the rest of the field to dust.
Lando Norris delivered the ride of the day with a sensational performance from 17th to fifth place.
Like Mercedes’ improved performance, McLaren’s late form has been one of the talking points of the season.
Perez’s DNF, meanwhile, will only fuel speculation that he could get the boot at the end of the year – although Red Bull insist they will hold on to him.
The Mexican said: “I had a great start and the gap was there.
“I would be really disappointed if I were on the podium knowing that I had a chance to take the lead and didn’t take it.
“I have fully decided on it. I’m very sad about the result, but on the other hand I’m also very proud of myself because I achieved it.”
His teammate Verstappen said: “It was incredible. Of course, Checo was eliminated in Round 1, but the crowd stayed and they were great. Incredible.”
“We are having an incredible season. Today we started from third place, but the car’s pace was very, very good.”
“We tried to have a different strategy than everyone else, but unfortunately we couldn’t show it with the red flag, but still we were very strong on the hard tires.”
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Hamilton said after the race: “I feel fresh, we didn’t have to push so much out there. But this is a great result considering we started sixth.”
“Really proud of the team. These have been really difficult weeks and to bounce back after a difficult weekend last weekend with the final result is a really good job.”