Defending champion Lewis Hamilton kept alive his world title defence on Sunday with a controlled and near-flawless victory ahead of championship leader and Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg in a controversial, stormy and dramatic Mexican Grand Prix.
The 31-year-old Briton came home eight seconds ahead of the German to trim his lead to 19 points with two races remaining after a fiery finish to the 71-laps race at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in front of a raucous crowd of more than 100,000 fans.
Rosberg, with a 19 points lead and two races remaining, can now win the title if he wins the next race in Brazil on November 13.
The finale saw four-time champion German Sebastian Vettel lose his temper during tempestuous radio exchanges following a clash with teenager Max Verstappen of Red Bull and aggressive defending of his position against Australian Daniel Ricciardo in the second Red Bull car.
This colourful conflict was settled by the stewards who, having swiftly handed the Dutchman a five seconds penalty for gaining an advantage when he went off the track at Turn One, thus giving Vettel third place, later promoted Ricciardo to third by handing Vettel a post-race 10-seconds penalty.
By then, the Ferrari driver had appeared on the podium during an episode of chaotic charges and counter-charges that left the final result uncertain and turned the post-race celebrations into farce.
Verstappen had already taken his place in the pre-podium room with the two Mercedes drivers before the first stewards’ decision was taken – while Vettel fumed and gave vent to a stream of profanities – but he made a hasty retreat when the German came to the room.
Vettel joined the Mercedes men on the podium, not knowing that soon afterwards a stewards investigation would deliberate on his defending against Ricciardo on the penultimate lap – and by giving him a 10-seconds penalty reconstruct the result in Ricciardo and Red Bull’s favour.
In the final result, the Perth racer finished third ahead of the demoted Verstappen and Vettel who were fourth and fifth.
But that final fury that followed the battle for third could not overshadow a near-flawless drive by Hamilton to his second win in succession, his eighth of the season and the 51st of his career.
“It’s my first win in Mexico and for that I am very happy,” said Hamilton. “Nico is doing a great job and I just aim to keep winning. It’s all I can do… This is the best crowd get anywhere – and I love it here. I have had tacos every night!”
Hamilton, however, also went off-circuit at Turn One on the opening lap, but without being penalised – in much the same way that Verstappen was to in the closing laps – before he settled and drove with his customary elan.
Rosberg said: “It’s been a good day. I haven’t been too fast this weekend so I have to accept second. I got shunted at the start and had a battle with Max Verstappen late on, so second is ok.”
Vettel said: “I was using a lot of sign language out there – you have to understand the adrenaline! He (Verstappen) left the track and didn’t move and so you can understand why I was annoyed. I was really disappointed when I crossed the line, but then I was told to come here (to the podium).”
His Ferrari team chief Maurizio Arrivabene later said the team were surprised at the decision to penalise Vetel. “We gained a podium on the track and they removed it with their bureaucracy,” he said. “Fantastic… When they give a five or ten-seconds penalty you cant appeal. You have to listen to what they decide.”
It meant, ironically, that the recent clampdown on drivers’ moving under braking to defend a position – dubbed the Verstappen rule because it was aimed at him – was used to promote Ricciardo, his team-mate.
An angry Ricciardo had also given vent to his fury after he finished fifth on track ahead of Finn Kimi Raikkonen in the second Ferrari and German Nico Hulkenberg who was seventh for Force India.
Finn Valtteri Bottas finished eighth for Williams ahead of his team-mate Brazilian Felipe Massa and local hero Sergio Perez who claimed the final point in the second Force India.
The Mercedes team’s one-two victory was a record 17th for the season and it was Hamilton’s 30th win from pole position. Only seven-time champion German Michael Schumacher has more on 40. Hamilton is now level with four-time champion Frenchman Alain Prost on 51 wins.
Rosberg can clinch his maiden drivers’ title if he wins the Brazilian Grand Prix at Interlagos, a circuit on which Hamilton has never won, on November 13. Rosberg has 349 points ahead of Hamilton on 330.