Max Verstappen chalked up his 16th Formula 1 win of 2023 at the Mexico Grand Prix, but his inexorable dominance has ceased to be a surprise.
There were, however, a series of other interesting threads that emerged during the weekend at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, as rumours over the drivers' futures in the Red Bull stable intensified in the aftermath; Sergio Perez's first-corner crash and Daniel Ricciardo's long-awaited return to the points underlined their contrasting fortunes.
Add into the mix a safety car, a driver's retribution for a qualifying mistake, and the unique conditions experienced in Mexico City, and there's plenty of intrigue despite a relatively tepid race at the very front.
Here's all the key talking points from Mexico, as F1's final triple-header of the year approaches its next stage in Brazil.
1. Perez's attempt to disprove a time-tested racing adage adds to the evidence
"You can't win a race into Turn 1, but you can certainly lose it". It might seem that some of Max Verstappen's wins have disproved that statement, having frequently stabilised a lead into the first corner and kept hold of it for the rest of the race. In truth, the wins have come from what happened after that; leading into Turn 1 is merely one of the first milestones.
Buoyed by the fervent support of his home crowd, Sergio Perez presumably wanted to debunk that theory. An excellent start spurred him on further, but the only option available to him was to follow the outside line and attempt to hang on through the first corner. If he got that right, he'd have the inside for the next corner and potentially enough elbow room to defend a lead that would send the Mexican fans into raptures.
Instead, the cry of disapproval echoed around Mexico City like a seismic shock when the hypothetical failed to come to pass. Verstappen held the inside line and was attempting to open up his corner entry, which kept polesitter Charles Leclerc in the middle of the road. Perez faded inwards and had not accounted for Leclerc having nowhere to go, which instigated a clip between wheels and effectively put the Guadalajara-born racer out on the spot.
"I had a very good start and I was only thinking of winning the race," Perez explained afterwards. "I didn't want to be on the podium. I've been on the podium two years in a row. I saw the opportunity and I went for it. In hindsight, I took a risk, but if I had pulled it off, I would have come out of Turn 1 in the lead."
It was a risk, yes, but certainly not a particularly calculated one going on previous first-corner happenings in previous races in Mexico. As a result, serious questions about his Red Bull future have escalated.
2. Like Harry Houdini, Norris can get himself out of tight spots
After a surprise Q1 exit having failed to stitch a convincing run on soft tyres together, albeit not entirely helped by Alonso's Turn 3 spin producing a lap-killing yellow flag, Lando Norris took the blame for his lowly 17th-place grid position. Early progress was tentative; having made his way up to 15th, he struggled to get past Yuki Tsunoda before the Japanese driver pitted, and running in clean air on the soft tyres ensured that the Briton could overcut the AlphaTauri driver.
A lap 11 stop for the hard tyre ensured that Norris had plenty of free air to work with, which pushed him up the order as the field went through its pitstop cycles, and McLaren then pounced upon the Kevin Magnussen-produced safety car to put the #4 car onto the medium tyre.
Having got up to eighth at that point, Norris was put down to 10th for the standing restart, which was not particularly successful as he fell to 14th. It was a difficult position to be in, but the Bristolian managed to unlock doors with a light touch on his tyres and through putting the cars ahead "into awkward positions". His move on Esteban Ocon through Turns 1-2-3 came while boxed in between the Alpine and Nico Hulkenberg's Haas ahead, but he managed to wriggle past the Alpine to get into the top 10.
His passes on George Russell and Daniel Ricciardo were in equally tight conditions, but he managed to create space for himself to make those moves. Russell had taken a deep exit after Turn 4 to defend an outside attack, but Norris took the normal line to switch back on the exit of the next corner and make a rare pass into the Turn 6 double-right. For Ricciardo, Norris decided to mix it up with a Turn 4 outside pass, with a micron of space between them as they went wheel to wheel. It was enough for them to avoid contact, earning Norris a hard-fought fifth place.
"That's one of the best of Lando," reckoned McLaren boss Andrea Stella. "If you read the quotes everyone was saying, it's so difficult to overtake. While managing power unit temperatures, and having to do lift and coast, I'm just impressed. One of the best days for a driver that I have been part of."
3. Ricciardo rolls back the years with a gutsy drive
AlphaTauri had been quick all weekend in Mexico. Head of trackside engineering Jonathan Eddolls had explained why the AT04 had excelled in the Mexico City conditions, divulging that "the car mechanically is very good".
"Everyone's struggling with grip, so if you've got a good car mechanically, that helps," he said. "We haven't quite got the aero efficiency of some of the others but for this track we've got the load in the corners."
This was a potent proposition in Daniel Ricciardo's recently recovered hands. His fortunes in Austin could be charitably described as low-key, but he's always been pretty good in Mexico - and his surprise run to fourth on the grid suggested that he had a role to play in the race.
One of Ricciardo's biggest strengths during his Red Bull pomp had lain in his controlled aggression, something that seemed to subside during his time at Renault and McLaren. But it was there for all to see in his defence of fourth against Lewis Hamilton during the opening laps; the Australian didn't have the tools to hang onto it long-term, but he'd proved his point during the first flurry of Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez tours.
With his McLaren replacement Oscar Piastri behind stalling George Russell's momentum, Ricciardo was able to keep fifth relatively well-protected until the red flag prompted a second start from the grid. Russell trickled through into the opening corners to demote Ricciardo to sixth, while the later assault from Norris cost a further position, but this barely took the shine off the Western Australian's impressive job at the wheel. By the end, Ricciardo had managed to put Russell's gearbox under renewed scrutiny and flashed across the finish line within a second of the Mercedes driver.
For AlphaTauri, it was a huge result; the six points thrust it above Haas and Alfa Romeo in the constructors' stakes. Just 12 points separate the Italian squad and seventh-placed Williams and, with more results like this, catching the British squad is looking a little less impossible.
4. Mercedes can now breathe easily in Mexico altitude
Since Mexico has been back on the F1 calendar, most are acquainted with the unique conditions of the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez: it's 2250m above sea level, yielding a 22% reduction in air density. That equates to a drop in outright engine power; in the 1980s, a naturally aspirated engine was at a significant disadvantage compared to the turbocharged cars as the forced induction helped to alleviate the problem of a sparser fuel-air mixture.
Every car these days runs to a forced induction specification, with the compressor squeezing the air together and feeding it into the intake system to create a cleaner burn in the internal combustion engine. The differences between each of the four powertrain manufacturers lies in the strength of that turbine-compressor dyad, which Mercedes has lacked relative to Honda in recent years.
Mercedes CEO Toto Wolff reckons that the powertrain division in Brixworth has been able to lessen that gap, cutting the disadvantage it has in Mexico relative to the Red Bulls: "HPP [Mercedes High-Performance Powertrains] has done a fantastic job over the past few years, that was always our Achilles' heel here that the turbo didn't breathe good enough. That's sorted and it's a strong weekend power unit-wise like all the others. I couldn't be more proud of what HPP has achieved with the power unit."
The new floor also seemed to be proving Mercedes' progress with the W14, Wolff stating that the revised version introduced for Austin offers "more downforce, more driveability".
5. Ferrari surprised by qualifying pace, as race undone by hard-tyre stint
Neither Charles Leclerc nor Carlos Sainz looked like pole contenders during free practice; they looked as though they'd be on the third row at best behind the Red Bulls, a McLaren, and a Mercedes. That the two locked out the front row came as a surprise to the team, as the conditions seemed to align for a brief moment in Q3 to grease their path to the front. Holding that lead was always going to be tricky, and the Red Bulls charged into Turn 1 with mixed fortunes: Verstappen took the lead, Perez took an early bath.
Leclerc's front wing was damaged in the first-corner incident, but his pace appeared to be strong enough to forego a wing swap in the pitlane. The Scuderia put its chips on a one-stop strategy, extending its medium-tyre stints to around lap 30, but the timing of the safety car just after both drivers had called in for hard tyres had left an opportunity to lead the restart begging. Not that Ferrari could have predicted that, of course; F1 strategists are talented, but they're not clairvoyants.
But Leclerc in particular struggled to fire up his hard tyres, which assisted Lewis Hamilton in his efforts to pass the Monegasque with a wheel just skirting the grass lining the circuit. Sainz's defensive efforts against George Russell helped the team secure a 3-4 finish, which team principal Frederic Vasseur reckoned underlined "a step forward" after mixed fortunes earlier in the season.
"My feeling from the pitwall is that the first stint was okay," said Vasseur, "and that we were three or four tenths off Max. With the damage on the car, it was I think almost a good stint. But with the hard, we were never able to restart the tyres, and we were always on the shy side, and it didn't work at all.
"When you are third and fourth I don't want to say that it's a bad race. We had a bad stint at the end, this is clear, it's the main issue today. But the first part of the race went very well. I think that we are doing a step for a while now, we did the four pole positions out of the last six races."
6. Tsunoda's strong drive undone by self-sabotage
A back-of-the-grid start for Yuki Tsunoda had, with AlphaTauri's pace in Mexico and an offset strategy, blossomed into the makings of a strong race. By the mid-race restart, he'd worked his way up to eighth place and managed to preserve it amid the jostling for position into the opening corners. This put him on the tail of Oscar Piastri, whom the Japanese driver had hoped to overcome to grab seventh and close in on team-mate Daniel Ricciardo.
But Piastri proved to be difficult to overtake. An effort through Turns 1-2-3 on lap 48 ended with a smidgen of contact between the two, and the Australian ultimately held the position having perhaps left Tsunoda with a little less room than he'd have ideally liked. This riled Tsunoda, who perhaps let anger dictate his next attempt into the first corner in the following lap.
He chopped across Piastri, precipitating further contact to leave the #22 car in the weeds. He was even more furious at this juncture and, although he managed to channel that into a strong turn of pace towards the end to mount a recovery, the damage had already been done.
"I think it was hard racing," Piastri mused afterwards, having sustained minor floor damage in the clashes. “The one in the end, I'm not really sure what happened for me, I was just braking and then we touched wheels. So nothing really more than that."
Tsunoda appeared to accept the blame for the incident later on, citing impatience to get a move done as his tyres began to wear; just as you believe that he's turned the corner, his impetuousness appears to resurface. It's something that he needs to get on top of, and quickly.
7. Aston Martin "has nothing to fight for" after sudden fall to the back
Fernando Alonso has experienced front-row starts in his time at Aston Martin, as the British squad enjoyed a surprising shift to the front of the grid at the start of the year. Since then, the team's fortunes have declined; in Mexico, both AMR23 cars took to the mid-race restart on the back row of the grid. Alonso suffered with floor damage in Mexico City, and endured a race in which he was lingering at the rear of the order before the team retired his car.
The team started Lance Stroll from the pitlane having made some set-up tweaks (for the second weekend in a row) in order to get the best out of the new upgrade package. The Canadian also struggled for pace, although was waved through by Alonso as the Spaniard was effectively treating his truncated Sunday afternoon as an extended test session. Stroll's race came to an earlier than expected end after a clash with Valtteri Bottas in the Foro Sol section of the circuit, with damage proving too heavy to limp on with.
Alonso reckoned that the understanding that Aston Martin was gathering from its recent races would give it the opportunity to enjoy stronger fortunes in the future, and that the team was looking deeply into reversing its current form.
"It is hard. We are working as much as we can. It's not that we are just happy with the situation," he said. "But it's not the position we wish we were, but at the same time, we are working very hard to reverse the situation. And sometimes you learn more from the difficulties than from the celebrations.
"So right now we have a difficult time. And we are trying to do as many tests as possible, giving as much feedback as possible to the factory in Silverstone. And hopefully, as I said, finish on a high, and not on a low."
8. The F2 five get their chance to shine... mostly
The final few races of this year's F1 calendar is skewed towards sprint races and new venues, so opportunities to hand the mandatory FP1 drives to rookie drivers have proved somewhat scarce as the season dies down. Most teams have elected to use their rookie allocations at the Abu Dhabi finale, while five rookie drivers got their chance to drive in Mexico City practice - with varying fortunes.
Current F2 title leader Theo Pourchaire took Valtteri Bottas' seat at Alfa Romeo for FP1, while main rival Frederik Vesti drove in place of George Russell at Mercedes. Alpine reserve Jack Doohan was in Pierre Gasly's car, Isack Hadjar covered for Yuki Tsunoda at AlphaTauri, and Ferrari junior Oliver Bearman drove for Haas as Kevin Magnussen sat the session out.
The quintet mainly stuck to the bottom of the pile as run plans were developed to mitigate any unnecessary risk, but there were impressive drives in among them. Bearman was only 0.3s away from veteran Nico Hulkenberg's best time from the session, although both Haas drivers had their ultimate pace scuppered by traffic and off-moments during the opening hour of running. Hadjar impressed the AlphaTauri team with his speed and his attention to detail, while Doohan and Vesti completed clean runs in their practice outings - although this was not their first outings for their respective teams.
Spare a thought for Pourchaire, though; a braking system issue restricted him to nothing more than a series of out-and-in laps as Alfa Romeo sought to find a fix. At least he got a free trip to Mexico out of it...
9. Pitlane impeding becomes a new problem to solve
When Max Verstappen was given nothing more than the lightest slap on the wrist for backing up the cars in the pitlane during Singapore qualifying, a precedent was set. During the Q1 tailbacks towards the end of the session as the drivers sought to create space for themselves among the final burst of flying laps, Verstappen held the field up once again - and George Russell did likewise as the queue was egregiously slow to move.
Both incidents were investigated, but action was not taken. This was to the frustration of many of the drivers and teams affected, and appears to have been a result of the crackdown on maximum lap times enforced by the FIA to stop drivers stacking up at the final corner and potentially ruining other drivers' laps.
"I think it's something again that we've said is going to happen, is going to be problematic," reckoned Lando Norris. "Before you didn't see too many bad scenarios, now you've seen some worse scenarios, because people are wanting the gaps to be even bigger. Everyone's kind of pushing the limits more and more because you can get away with it."
Verstappen reasoned that the situation was preferable to it happening on track, a sentiment that the stewards agreed with in their decision not to levy any further punishment.
"The thing I don't understand is everyone is trying to make a gap now in the pitlane, which is the only place where we can do so," he said. "So, I don't really understand how you can be impeding someone. For me, I think we have to be a little bit more lenient with that, knowing that it's a safe environment."
10. Magnussen okay after suspension failure caused heavy crash
When Kevin Magnussen ran wide on the exit of the Peraltada at the end of the 31st lap, it seemed to be an unusual off-moment to have at race pace. People have crashed there in qualifying before; Valtteri Bottas put it in the wall in 2019, while Edoardo Mortara suffered a slide at the line around the full-bore Peraltada in Formula E qualifying last year.
But at racing speeds? It suggested something was off - perhaps Haas had suffered another repeat of its now-infamous tyre management issues.
But this was a precursor to his heavy crash at Turn 10 on the following lap. While turning right and riding the kerb, a sudden snap forced his Haas to spear left and crunch the Tecpro barrier. The barrier required repairs during the subsequent red flag, while Magnussen's rear-left brake smouldered away amid the pile of flotsam that once resembled a racing car.
Slow-motion replays showed the Dane's left-rear wheel turn upon its normal axis, correlating with a trackrod failure that issued Magnussen with a one-way trip to the wall. The burning brake was a smoking gun, as hotter-than-expected temperatures caused the trackrod to delaminate. As per the high altitude, cooling is also an issue in Mexico and often prompts the teams into opening their inlets to bring the mass flow rate of air to more conventional levels.
"The timing of the red flag was not great, because we only had a new medium left, and our tyre life prediction was like 30 laps," Hulkenberg explained. "We knew at the start already it's got to be a stretch, and we needed a safety car or something to keep the tyres going. But also the pace was too high to follow the other guys, so I really had to push and eat into the tyre life even more."