• INSIGHT: Mexico Musings...

Check out some of the stories you may have missed amidst the chaos of Mexico!

Meet 'The Differentiator...'

That was the assessment of Toto as he reflected on his driver's Fangio-equalling fifth world title, clinched in Mexico. While Fangio won the championship in 1951-54-55-56-57, Lewis has now done it in 2008-14-15-17-18.

Looking back at five successive Drivers' Championships for the team, Toto believes that 2018 was the hardest because the contest with Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel swung so many times.

"Lewis has been the differentiator," he said. "Our car was the fastest at times, but not at others. Sometimes, like today, it was an F3 car! But this is the best Lewis Hamilton that I have seen in the last six years. He's driven better and he's been better out of the car. Just very, very complete.

"One of his great strengths is keeping calm and holding his nerve. He was always stable. His race craft has always been one of his great strengths and this year it was key.

"Winning a fifth world title is a special moment. I didn't know Mr Fangio, only read about him. But what the greats have in common is an ability to combine talent with hard work, intellect and emotional intelligence.

"All great champions have all four and if one is missing you can still be a successful racing driver, but you're never going to achieve this greatness."

Amid the season of turnarounds, Toto believes that the crucial one was Monza and then the team's fabulous performance in following up with a win in Singapore, previously a bogey track, two weeks later.

Interestingly, when Vettel was asked whether Germany, when he crashed while leading, or Monza, where he spun on the opening lap after Ferrari had taken the front row, was the defining moment of the season, he said: "Neither of the two. For me it was more Singapore. We just didn't have the pace to keep up with Mercedes for a couple of races."

One of the lasting memories from Mexico will be the German breaking away from his immediate post-race TV interview with David Coulthard to go and congratulate Lewis on the achievement he himself had so badly wanted to accomplish. There was no mistaking the sportsmanship and mutual respect.

"I just congratulated him," Vettel said. "I think he drove superbly all year and was the better of the two of us. I told him it was well-deserved and to enjoy it - number five is something incredible. I asked him to keep pushing next year. I need him at his best to fight him again."

One Down, One to Go

Lewis' fifth Drivers' title may be in the bag, but a fifth consecutive Constructors' Championship for the team is still to be won.

In both Suzuka and Austin, Toto cautioned that motor racing is a fickle business and you can't start thinking about the trophy until it's in your hands. Mexico proved the truth of that as the team endured its weakest race of the season.

The harsh reality amid Lewis' Championship celebrations was that he finished fourth and lost 78 seconds to Max Verstappen's winning Red Bull over 71 laps. And Valtteri, fifth, was lapped.

Second and third places for Vettel and Kimi Räikkönen meant that Ferrari scored outscored us 33 points to 22 and closed the Championship gap to 55 points.

"While the Drivers' championship is the more visible, it's still the Constructors' that pays the mortgages, the colleges and the Christmas gifts!" Toto pointed out. "And that one is still out there and it's still open."

And, even in his moment of triumph, Lewis's awareness that F1 is a team sport, shone through.

"I'm a bit emotionally conflicted right now," he admitted immediately post-race. "I've had this tough race that I wanted to win, got a great start and then it went from good to bad. We've still got a team Championship to win, we lost some points to Ferrari and I really want to deliver for the team. I've still got two races to win!"

The spectre of Austria, where both Silver Arrows suffered mechanical retirements, keeps everyone on their toes until the mathematics cannot be denied. For that to happen at the penultimate round in Brazil rather than the season finale in Abu Dhabi, the team must leave Interlagos with at least a 43-point margin over Ferrari.

A further 31 points for the team over the remaining two races in Brazil and Abu Dhabi will get the job done come what may. The team's average points haul per race this season so far? 30.78.

Sunday Struggles a 'Head Scratcher'

There was nothing wrong with the baseline competitiveness of the W09 in Mexico. Lewis' qualifying time, just 0.14s from Daniel Ricciardo's pole position for Red Bull and almost a tenth quicker than the leading Ferrari of Vettel's, proved that.

As in 2017, Red Bull dominated the race. The 7,500ft altitude of Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez seemed to affect the Renault-powered cars less than their rivals and play more to the RB14's high-downforce strengths.

Beating the Red Bulls in Mexico was always going to be a tough task - but the problem for the W09 was tyre performance on all three Pirelli compounds - HyperSoft, UltraSoft and SuperSoft.

"I don't think we had one single lap where we actually switched the tyre on," Toto lamented. "Our car didn't drive the tyres at all and I have no explanation. These swings are just... difficult."

The engineering department confirmed that while there have been 2018 races where tyre performance on the W09 has been in-line or better than average, Mexico was an outlier.

While Friday practice had shown the HyperSoft to be a delicate tyre best avoided in Q2 if possible - which it was for the top three teams - the team headed into the 71-lap race planning a one-stopper with an initial stint on the UltraSoft and then a switch to the SuperSoft to the end.

Lewis made a fine start from P3 on the grid, emerging from the first sequence of corners second to Verstappen's Red Bull, with Ricciardo and Vettel behind.

The projected opening stint length was 12 laps worst case scenario and 14/15 laps best case, so the 11-lap stints run by Lewis and Valtteri were close. But Lewis was on the radio as early as lap 7 explaining that the tyres were 'fragile.'

On Lap 9, both Lewis and Valtteri's lap times dropped off significantly and it was evident that the Silver Arrows had lost UltraSoft performance earlier and more significantly than their rivals, hence the early double-stop, achievable because Valtteri had dropped 10s behind Lewis.

At this point, Verstappen's pace looked too hot to handle but after the first stops (the Ferraris ran to lap 17), Lewis still ran second, ahead of Ricciardo and Vettel, hoping that the performance on the SuperSoft would be better.

It wasn't. Just 10 laps into the stint Lewis was reporting that the tyre wasn't great: "I'm struggling, man!"

Almost simultaneously, Ricciardo was telling Red Bull that he could feel issues with the left front tyre.

Graining was a problem for everyone, but to different degrees. Factors such as track / tyre temperature, set up and driving style all influence graining which, put simply, occurs when the lateral forces are high enough that rather than sticking, the rubber starts to break up.

The fronts usually suffer worst because they are worked harder through the steering inputs, which leads to less grip and the feeling that the grippier rears are pushing the fronts on - understeer - with an attendant drop-off in lap time.

Typically, graining will start at the point of most load and then work its way across the surface of the tyre until it is relatively even again and a more neutral balance returns, which is what has happened when you hear drivers reporting that the tyres have 'cleaned up.'

But, if the graining is too aggressive, too deep, there is insufficient rubber left and the performance is gone for good. In Mexico, Lewis and Ricciardo's stints on the SuperSoft illustrated both ends of the spectrum.

While race leader Verstappen seemed to have no issues, Ricciardo's graining dropped him more than 20s behind his team mate by the time Vettel passed him on lap 34, and more than 5s behind Lewis. Vettel was then able to close in and take second place from Lewis five laps later.

By lap 40, however, Ricciardo's graining had cleared up and he was able to up his pace by almost a second and close on Lewis again, passing him under braking for Turn 1 as Lewis locked up his left front trying to defend.

"Jeez, these tyres have gone..." Lewis reported, immediately pitting to go onto a used set of UltraSofts as soon as the Red Bull had gone by.

Valtteri, meanwhile, had an almost carbon copy moment at T1 a lap later as he tried in vain to defend Räikkönen's Ferrari. Whatever was causing the team's issues, it was consistent across both cars, with Valtteri also making a second stop a lap after Lewis.

Around the same time, Vettel, despite his longer opening stint, bailed out of a one-stopper and pitted for a new set of UltraSofts. He came back out 4s behind Ricciardo.

Considering that he'd already passed the Red Bull once and was now on fresher rubber, you might have expected him to pass the Australian easier second time around. But it didn't happen in the following 13 laps before the Australian fell victim to a mechanical failure.

It proved both the extent to which tyre performance can recover after mild graining and the fact that a one-stopper was quite achievable for both Red Bull and Ferrari.

Red Bull had no downside in pitting Verstappen a second time as soon as Vettel had pitted again, but only did so as a precaution against a late-race Safety Car that would have left him vulnerable on older tyres. And Ricciardo too, was clearly going to make through with just the one stop. Third-placed Räikkönen also pitted just the once.

The W09, for reasons the team will explore in forensic detail in the forthcoming days, suffered much more aggressive graining and simply did not have the tyre range to compete in a race the team have labelled 'a head scratcher'.

Heroes and History

For the second successive season, Lewis clinched the championship in Mexico City and spoke of the passion, energy and enthusiasm of the place.

"I was just outside doing the TV pen (the post-race interviews), he said. "Everyone was smiley but the Mexicans were super-bubbly. There's a great spirit within the culture of the Mexican people, as you could hear with the music!"

Which brought to mind the first of the two and only Mexican Grand Prix wins courtesy of the late Pedro Rodríguez, the elder of the hometown heroes whose name the circuit carries.

When Pedro surprisingly won the 1967 South African Grand Prix, the organisers could not put their hands on a recording of the Mexican national anthem, and so played the Mexican hat dance instead! From that point until his death in a sportscar race at Germany's Norisring in 1971, Pedro travelled with a Mexican flag and a recording of the anthem in his briefcase...

Younger brother Ricciardo, many thought, had Championship-winning potential. After finishing second at Le Mans in 1960 and becoming the youngest driver to stand on the podium there, Ferrari offered him a drive in the tragic 1961 Italian Grand Prix.

He qualified on the front row at 19 years and 208 days - a record that stood until Verstappen beat it in the 2016 Belgian Grand Prix - and lost pole by just a tenth of a second to Ferrari's championship leader Wolfgang Von Trips.

Von Trips and a number of spectators were killed after an early race collision with Jim Clark. Rodríguez contested the lead with team-mates Phil Hill and Richie Ginther until a mechanical problem put him out.

When Ferrari did not enter the '62 Mexican Grand Prix, Ricardo drove a Rob Walker entered Lotus and lost his life in a crash at the daunting Peraltada corner after a suspected suspension failure. He was just 20.

The Rodríguez brothers apart, Mexico's roll call of F1 starters includes Moses Solana, Hector Rebaque, Sergio Pérez and Esteban Gutiérrez. The former Haas and Sauber driver was at the last weekend's race and, says paddock rumour, is now one of those in contention for the second Williams seat in 2019.

Mexico may not have quite the championship-winning pedigree of South American neighbours Brazil, but its passion for F1 is just as high. Some 334,946 people witnessed Lewis becoming a five time world champion over the three days of action at Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez!

Giving Back

The occasion of Lewis' fifth world title was an appropriate time for some reflection about his impact and responsibility as an undeniable global sporting megastar.

Lewis has transcended motor sport and is one of the world's most recognisable figures and a potential role model.

"I invited this one young female racing driver from Mexico this weekend when she didn't have tickets to come," he explained. "It's crazy for me to see the sparkle in these young people's eyes, who look at me like I used to look at Mika Häkkinen, David Coulthard, Damon Hill or Nigel (Mansell). It's a very humbling experience and a beautiful privilege to have."

With tennis star Roger Federer's foundation targeting educational improvements for a million children in his native Switzerland and South Africa, it's an area that Lewis has also identified as an opportunity for give something back.

"I want to keep on encouraging kids," he says. "I really do feel that F1, with the FIA, for example - and hopefully I'm going to have a meeting with (FIA president) Jean Todt at some stage - can have a positive impact with young kids. A lot who are racing don't get an education. Parents take the kids out of school to try and reach the ultimate and then when it doesn't happen, you can fall flat on your back.

"Hopefully I can work on that with Jean so that these kids, if they don't make it as a driver, can be engineers or work in other disciplines. There are thousands of people within these teams and so many opportunities, so that's something I want to get involved in."