Verstappen's bold stride toward F1 title

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Max Verstappen has taken a huge stride towards a first Formula One title by winning the Mexico City Grand Prix with a start that showed all his bravery, skill and aggression.

With four races remaining, the 24-year-old Dutch driver surged 19 points clear of seven-times world champion Lewis Hamilton.

Red Bull's Verstappen started from third after struggling in qualifying while the Mercedes duo of pole-sitter Valteri Bottas and Hamilton earned their first front row lockout of the season.

Running three abreast on the long run down to the first corner, Verstappen displayed precision and nerves of steel as he braked late and took the two Mercedes cars around the outside to seize the lead.

Hamilton's cause was further hurt when teammate Bottas was tapped by Australian Daniel Ricciardo and spun on the opening lap, leaving the Englishman sandwiched between Red Bull cars and without Bottas to help defend his position.

With his car clearly faster, Verstappen pulled away to take the chequered flag a hefty 16.555 seconds clear of Hamilton, who was only 1.197 seconds ahead of Red Bull's local hero Sergio Perez and might have lost a place had they gone another lap.

"I knew the start was going to be really important and we went three wide towards turn one and it was all about who was going to brake the latest," said Verstappen.

"Basically that made my race because after that I could just do my own pace and control it from there.

"There was not much they could do. They were already side by side and I just went three wide," added Verstappen, who now has nine wins for the season to Hamilton's five.

"I naturally feel I need to be winning every race," said Hamilton.

"Because we need those extra points, not to lose those points, to try and regain, that was the goal going into the last race and the race before that and here this weekend.

"But ... they're just too quick. So (we were) giving it absolutely everything we've got but unfortunately it's not enough at the moment to compete with them."

The points haul left resurgent Red Bull just one point behind defending champions Mercedes in the constructors' standings.

They would have been equal had Bottas not snatched the fastest lap from Verstappen right at the end, denying Red Bull the bonus point.

"Today's been a massive day, a fantastic drive by Max. The most important part was the start. He nailed the start," said team boss Christian Horner.

"I thought Max had missed his braking because he was so late on the brakes at turn one but he made it stick and from there really controlled the race. It was a very straightforward race for him."

Despite the points gain, Verstappen was still refusing to get carried away.

"There is a long way to go. It's of course looking good but also it can turn around very quickly but I'm looking forward to Brazil (the next race)," he said. "I have also very good memories there."

- with The AP

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