Why Checo fever will make this year’s Mexico City Grand Prix unmissable
Driving from the airport to our hotel on arrival in Mexico City, I saw a staggering 22 billboards featuring home hero Sergio Perez’s face advertising an array of products. The Red Bull driver is big time in his home country, and you’ll struggle to find a soul who doesn’t want to see him upgrade his third-place last year to victory this time around.
Fortunately for his loyal faithful, Perez arrives in Mexico not only with a car that has just won Red Bull their first constructors’ championship in close to a decade but with some impressive momentum to boot, having won Singapore, finished second in Japan and crossed the line fourth in Austin.
I sat down with him for an extended interview that will run on Sunday in F1 TV’s Pre-Race Show and the overwhelming takeaway is that Checo is a man oozing with confidence, loving life at a top team and absolutely convinced that he can fight for the world championship – and by default beat Max Verstappen – next season. It’s a huge ask, of course, but it’s clear he’s in a much better place mentally after an up-and-down mid-season, where the development of the car moved away from his style.
Before 2023, his focus will be on Sunday and delighting what is expected to be a 350,000-strong weekend crowd – many of whom will pack into the former Foro Sol Baseball Stadium to create a cacophony of noise and explosion of colour in what is one of Formula 1’s most spine-tingling atmospheres.
The track is cool, too, as I found out when our new analyst and experienced IndyCar racer James Hinchcliffe took me for a spin in a buggy around the 4.304km Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez (also for a feature on F1 TV’s Pre-Race Show). The run from pole position to the braking zone is the longest on the calendar at 811m, making for a spicy first corner on the opening lap of the race.
Very quickly come the Esses – a five-corner sequence that is as thrilling and daunting as Suzuka’s Esses, the Circuit of The Americas Sector 1 sequence and Silverstone’s epic Maggotts-Becketts-Chapel run.
And before you know it, you’re in the Stadium section, that features four turns – including the tricky Turn 13 where you’ll often see brake discs glowing. That’s just one piece of evidence to show how tough this circuit is on braking, largely because of the high altitude.
Mexico City is the highest event on the calendar at 2,220m above sea level. That means the air in thinner, which in turn means there’s less molecules to transport less energy away from hot systems like the power unit and the brakes. As a result, cooling is a big challenge, and you’ll see different bodywork – specific for this race – in place to cope with the conditions.
Honda have traditionally delivered a very efficient power unit – and that remains the case this year. While the others have caught up, it's clear that the Honda-Red Bull unit will be a formidable package around here.
Ferrari, though, should still be a force in qualifying – as they have been all year. Their challenge is to wrestle control of their degradation on Sunday, an issue that has impacted them all year and is unlikely to be cured in the final three races.
Instead the Scuderia will be experimental and try and learn as much as they can in a bid to develop this frustrating trait out of their 2023-spec car, which they've already had full focus on development-wise for several months.
Mercedes are dark horses. Depending on who you ask, some feel like they will be stronger around Mexico than in Austin, others – including their drivers Lewis Hamilton and George Russell – reckon the stiff Silver Arrows will not enjoy the high kerbs which need to be ridden to get the best out of the car.
Carlos Sainz, pole-sitter last time out in Austin, thinks it could be a six-way fight for the lead, between F1’s current top-three teams. It would be quite some race if that turns out to be the case. Key to success will be coping best with the altitude and cooling, plus finding a way to get the tyres into the right window. Bring. It. On.