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Verstappen claims record victory to draw level with Prost

MEXICO CITY – World champion Max Verstappen drew level with Alain Prost on 51 Formula One victories on Sunday when he claimed his record 16th triumph of the season at the Mexican Grand Prix.

Starting from third on the grid, the Red Bull driver stole the lead at the start and then dominated the race, which was punctuated by a lengthy red flag stoppage when Kevin Magnussen crashed heavily in his Haas.

The 26-year-old Dutchman came home 13.875 seconds ahead of a revitalised Lewis Hamilton, who started sixth, with pole-sitter Charles Leclerc taking third place ahead of his Ferrari team-mate Carlos Sainz.

Lando Norris finished a glorious fifth for McLaren after an enthralling drive through the field from 17th on the grid, ahead of George Russell in the second Mercedes.

It was Verstappen’s fifth win in Mexico and his record-equalling 18th podium finish this year while the luckless Leclerc, who collided with Sergio Perez’s Red Bull at the first corner, endured his 11th successive failure to convert pole into a victory.

Perez spun off, recovered and retired, much to the disappointment of his home Mexican fans in a big crowd at the high-altitude Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez.

“It is just incredible,” said Verstappen. “To win from P3, is just amazing. I started P3 and the car was really great. It was a very strong race and now I don’t know -– more wins, maybe 17 or 18!”

Hamilton, who was disqualified after finishing second in the United States a week earlier, said: “I feel fresh. I was pushing, but not crazy hard. It is a great result, considering we started sixth. This is a great result for us in a difficult few weeks.”

Leclerc noticed “a lot of booing” from the crowd and explained his part in Perez’s exit.

“I had nowhere to go. I was between the two Red Bulls. Checo damaged my car and it ended his race. It was not on purpose.”

Daniel Ricciardo finished a creditable seventh for Alpha Tauri ahead of Oscar Piastri in the second McLaren, Williams’ Alex Albon and Esteban Ocon of Alpine.

– Verstappen’s fast start –

Verstappen made a sensational start, powering between the Ferraris to take the inside line after the 800-metre rush from Turn One.

Sensing a chance, Perez went three abreast with Verstappen and Leclerc, but clipped the Ferrari’s front wing and bounced off.

To loud groans, he rejoined, limped to the pits and retired, beating his steering wheel in frustration while Leclerc continued with a flapping front wing which soon fell off.

The stewards noted he was driving in an “unsafe condition” and decided to investigate after the race.

“I went for it,” said Perez, accepting the blame. “There wasn’t room for three cars. In hindsight, I should have backed off, but it’s my home race.”

By lap 20, Verstappen led by 4.6 seconds before pitting for hards, handing the lead to Leclerc.

He rejoined seventh behind Russell and swiftly rose to fifth as his rivals pitted before Kevin Magnussen crashed heavily at Turn Nine to prompt a safety car.

The Dane escaped, apparently unhurt, but his blazing Haas was wrecked, as Verstappen led a charge for cheap pit-stops and retained his lead before the race was red-flagged.

After a 20-minute interlude to clear the debris, the race resumed with a standing start, which Verstappen, on hards, nailed ahead of Leclerc as Hamilton on mediums looked for a gap.

It appeared on lap 40, when he dived inside the Monegasque at Turn One in vintage style to take second.

“It’s going to be a tough stint,” said Hamilton, assessing his chances as Verstappen pulled four seconds clear and built a luxurious cushion.

Behind them, several entertaining scraps and a dazzling drive by Norris thrilled the crowd, the McLaren driver charging through the field.

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