5 things we learned from Friday practice at the Mexico City Grand Prix
The atmosphere was electric at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez as practice got under way for the Mexico City Grand Prix, with teams – for the second successive weekend – giving up FP2 to tyre testing for 2023 to pile the focus onto the data gathering in Friday’s opening one-hour session. So what did we learn?
1. Red Bull pace gives Mexican fans hope of dream result
Red Bull arrived in Mexico as the early favourites, the RB18 finding pace on every kind of circuit this year and their two drivers Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez in a fine run of form, having combined to give the team their first constructors’ championship win since 2013.
The early signs were positive, with both drivers saying they felt comfortable with the car quickly, and that while there was still work to do, the car was in a good spot upon which to build.
Usually, low fuel pace has been Ferrari’s domain on a Friday this year, but it was Red Bull who edged it in Mexico, albeit by 0.01s. In race trim, they fall behind Ferrari, but only by 0.03s. Given they have had better degradation on Sunday, that is unlikely to faze them, and instead give Perez hope he can delight the fans by fighting for a win on home soil.
2. Ferrari in the mix to fight for pole and victory
Charles Leclerc’s crash aside, this was one of Ferrari’s strongest Fridays of the year in terms of pure performance, with Carlos Sainz looking very quick straight from the first lap.
The Spaniard was very quickly able to find the right spot with the balance of his car, with the focus now on adapting the package to cope best with the high altitude.
There’s nothing to choose between them and Red Bull in either qualifying or race trim, with the F1-75 the strongest of all through the high-speed turns. Pole – and maybe the fight for the win – is very much on.
3. Mercedes quickest through slow corners
Mercedes took up their now customary position in P3 in both low fuel and race pace metrics on Friday, but they do appear to be at least 0.2s – if not a little more – closer to Red Bull and Ferrari versus Austin.
Trackside chief Andrew Shovlin said they were “bumping into a few limits on system temperatures” in the first session, but got things under control for FP2, when George Russell was back in the car after lending it to Nyck de Vries.
They feel the car is working well on both single lap and long run pace and, according to our data, they seem to have gone hard on the downforce, which has helped them top the slow corner performance charts. As a result, though, they are vulnerable on the straights – so it’s likely they will take a little downforce off ahead of qualifying.
4. Alpine sharpest of the midfield runners
Alpine are in a strong position to put some air between themselves and McLaren in the battle for P4 in the constructors’ championship, based on their competitive pace in Friday practice.
While Jack Doohan’s maiden Grand Prix weekend track appearance was limited by a power unit issue, it was smoother for race drivers Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon – and that meant they have enough data to prepare for the weekend.
In low fuel trim, they are fourth best, making Q3 a target for both cars. The race pace is less impressive, as while they are still fourth in the ranking, the data suggests they are just over a second off the pace.
5. Tight fight imminent for lower end points
The midfield has been close all year, and that is especially the case here, with Alpine in P4 to Alfa Romeo in P8 – with AlphaTauri, Aston Martin and McLaren in between – separated by just 0.19s in the long runs.
Looking at the low fuel efforts, just 0.16s separates the same quintet, with McLaren showing a better turn of pace in this metric and AlphaTauri dropping back from fifth to seventh.
Key to success this weekend will likely be who takes the right steps overnight and makes the most of what is sure to be a busy final practice hour – to make up for a loss of FP2 running because of Pirelli tyre testing.