The whole story for Charles Leclerc can be packed into the start at the grid and that flying battle into Turn 1.
Charles Leclerc had shocked the racing world and won pole in glorious fashion showing he can still out-race world champion Verstappen, no matter the Red Bull car’s engineering advantage.
But winning pole in Mexico can be a poisoned chalice because of the long straight off the grid into Turn 1. Having the best in the world behind you waiting to slipstream past you is agonizing … though Leclerc at least had team-mate Leclerc in P2 to protect him.
As destiny would have it, Verstappen in third place on the grid and Perez fifth place on the grid had flying starts for Red Bull. By the time they hit Turn 1 they sandwiched Leclerc round the turn.
What happened next was hugely eventful but first let’s look at how Ferrari’s Leclerc won pole.
Ferrari Wins a One Two in Qualifying
Leclerc indeed took that sensational pole ahead of Sainz and Verstappen. So Ferrari by surprise locked out the front row in Mexico City.
Reigning world champion Max Verstappen had only managed third in Qualifying even though he had been the best of the field throughout practice.
As for Leclerc, in Free Practice he was even outside the top 10 as Ferrari looked like fourth fastest at best. Not a good omen for Ferrari ahead of qualifying and the race.
But Ferrari came up trumps in Qualifying, Leclerc putting in a sensational 1m 17.166 in Q3 just 0.067s ahead of Sainz on the first runs with Verstappen limping in third.
The trio headed back to the pits for fresh soft tyres but neither of the Ferrari drivers could improve on their second runs. Verstappen alone of the three did go quicker, but it still wasn’t enough to snatch pole from Leclerc’s magnificent performance.
The Battle at Turn 1
In the race proper on Sunday, Perez had a superb getaway from fifth on the grid for this Mexico City Grand Prix. He drew level with both Leclerc and Max Verstappen for the potential lead of the race coming out of Turn 1. Verstappen was just as determined to come out of that turn ahead.
With Leclerc stuck in the middle of a Red Bull sandwich, Perez made contact with the Ferrari ace. That catapulted Perez up into the air, with the heavy landing damaging his floor. Add the sidepod and wing damage on the Red Bull and that proved terminal on the day for the Mexican with his fans booing wildly.
Leclerc had his own challenges running with a damaged front wing for his first stint before the mid-race red flag enabled him to change it, but Perez was “toast” eliminated by the destruction that his mechanics were unable to fix.
Leclerc’s Podium At Risk from a Stewards’ Enquiry
Leclerc went on to take a podium finish. However the Ferrari ace had to deal with a succession of boos – with a section of furious Checo fans believing he was to blame for the early exit of their beloved Mexican.
Leclerc just had nowhere to go. He was sandwiched in between the two Red Bulls.
It’s life and it damaged his car too but unfortunately it ended Perez’ race.
And then came a Stewards’ Enquiry … but it was less the question of the collision with Perez which was deemed a normal racing incident. No negative finding against Leclerc there.
It was more the case of the fact that the front left endplate of Leclerc’s front-wing became loose and was flapping before detaching on Lap 5, leading to a brief Virtual Safety Car.
With Leclerc continuing, the stewards felt this was a breach of Article 3.2 of the Sporting Regulations – the competitor ensuring that the car complies with safety criteria.
In the verdict, the stewards cleared Leclerc – using a precedent set in 2022.
Using an agreement from October 2022 – after the United States Grand Prix in which Haas protested Fernando Alonso’s damaged Alpine after a mirror fell off following the high-speed collision with Lance Stroll – between the teams and the FIA, it was deemed that the detachment of the end-plate did not cause the car to become “unsafe” and that no further action was warranted.
And so Charles’ third place podium finish was protected, even though he was upstaged by 7 time world champion Hamilton for second place. So in terms of a wider battle in the Constructors’ standings, Leclerc and Carlos Sainz were both overtaken by the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton who leapfrogged both drivers for second place behind Verstappen. This means the elated Hamilton is still in with a chance to pip Perez for second place in the Drivers Championship, with just 20 points to catch up.
1: Max Verstappen, Red Bull
2: Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes
3: Charles Leclerc, Ferrari