IT'S RACE WEEK: 5 storylines we're excited about ahead of the 2023 Mexico City Grand Prix
A thrilling race weekend in Austin has whet the appetite for more and we don’t have long to wait as the paddock sets up shop in Mexico for the second race of a triple-header. Here are some of the main talking points heading to Mexico City...
The fallout from Austin
A tense race unfolded on Sunday at Circuit of the Americas as first Lando Norris led the opening stint and then Lewis Hamilton moved to the front before Max Verstappen took over. Hamilton closing in over the final laps was brilliant to watch, but after falling just short he wouldn’t even get the 18 points for second place due to a technical infringement.
Both Hamilton and Charles Leclerc – originally classified sixth – were disqualified for having too much wear on the plank that is under the car, with the skids that are checked designed to measure how low a car is running to conform to the regulations.
Such complex machinery takes time to check, but it did mean many fans had left the circuit hours before the final result was known. It is also likely to have team members talking about the way post-race checks are approached, with the FIA selecting cars at random in an attempt to deter teams from pushing the limits too much, but two of the four cars checked on Sunday night failed on the same item.
There’s no simple solution, but expect plenty of opinions to be offered up about whether anything could be done differently in future.
Perez with home advantage
I call it home advantage, but when the interest is so enormous there must be a big dose of pressure that comes with being Sergio Perez in Mexico City.
The Mexican is a huge star and already enjoyed massive support in Texas last weekend, where his name was regularly being chanted from the grandstands. But it’s fair to say Perez has been going through a tough spell in the latter part of the season, and has not won since the fourth round in Azerbaijan.
A solid run in Austin saw him eventually pick up points in fourth on Sunday following a fifth place in the Sprint, and it was a step in the right direction that gives him some momentum heading into his home race.
Red Bull remain the team to beat and will hope the altitude in Mexico City doesn’t shake-up the pecking order too much, which would give Perez a chance to build on the two third-place finishes he has scored here in his past two visits. And a win would surely lead to something special from the crowd…
Can Aston hit back at McLaren?
McLaren’s impressive turnaround has made their overhauling of Aston Martin feel like an inevitability for a few races now, as Mike Krack’s team have struggled to match the development rate of their rivals.
On Sunday night, Lando Norris said that Aston Martin “seem to have managed to make the car slower and slower with every upgrade that they’ve brought”, but at that stage he might not have been aware of the progress that both Fernando Alonso and Lance Stroll had made in the United States Grand Prix.
The pair started from the pit lane as Aston wanted to learn more about their upgraded car so made changes to the set-ups and specifications, and both climbed through the field before Alonso unfortunately had to retire. Stroll did cross the line ninth and was promoted to seventh by the disqualifications that followed, pointing to potential in the latest developments.
While McLaren did move ahead of Aston Martin in the standings, the gap is just six points and having both Stroll and Alonso performing well in the Austin race was a good sign. This close to the season, while McLaren are looking at closing the gap to Ferrari as much as possible, it only takes one strong weekend for Aston and a poor one for their rivals to turn the whole scenario on its head again.
Sargeant’s signs of progress
There have been some real flashes of potential from Logan Sargeant at times this year, but they have tended to have been over one lap and usually followed by a moment that overshadows the improvements the rookie has been making.
Williams team principal James Vowles wants to see Sargeant match up well to team mate Alex Albon, and in Austin he certainly did that. The Floridian struggled in qualifying but was impressive in the race and shadowed Albon the majority of the way, crossing the line just over six seconds behind the lead Williams, a gap that was reduced to a second by a time penalty for track limits infringements.
That was originally for 11th and 12th in the race but Hamilton and Leclerc’s disqualifications promoted both into the points, delivering Sargeant his first ever score and the first for an American driver in F1 in 30 years.
More importantly, it showed why it can be important to have two cars more closely matched even if finishing outside the top ten, and that Sargeant could put together such a race even under the spotlight of one of his home races.
Now the challenge is to follow up that performance with another consistent outing in Mexico City. If he can do so, it might go a long way to securing the 22-year-old’s seat for 2024.
Rookie FP1 outings
Sargeant took part in FP1 in Mexico City last year as part of his preparations for the step up to a race seat, and this time around he will be joined by five other rookies in the opening session.
As part of the requirement for each team to run a rookie on two occasions during the season, Mercedes, Alpine, AlphaTauri, Alfa Romeo and Haas will all give track time to promising young talents.
Danish F2 driver Frederik Vesti will makes his FP1 debut for Mercedes and get a chance to show what he can do in modern machinery, taking over George Russell’s car.
At Alpine, Jack Doohan drove here a year ago and will do so again this time around, while Red Bull junior Isack Hadjar makes his first appearance for AlphaTauri.
Alfa Romeo reserve Theo Pourchaire will be getting a go in Valtteri Bottas's car and Ollie Bearman is also getting his first taste of an F1 weekend when he drives for Haas.
Bearman is part of the Ferrari Driver Academy and could also be targeting a reserve role with Haas following the news that Pietro Fittipaldi will race in IndyCar next season, so there is always plenty riding on these outings for rookie drivers.