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Mexico preview - drivers braced for a brand-new challenge

29 Oct 2015

Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes may have clinched both world championships, but there is plenty of interest heading into Mexico this weekend.

For a start there is the fallout from the United States to deal with, with Nico Rosberg still disgruntled about the first-corner incident with his team mate, not to mention throwing away what should have been a great victory with his mistake on lap 48.

There is also the prospect of Ferrari pushing Mercedes ever harder with the latest version of their engine which debuted last weekend - remember that Sebastian Vettel was only half a second behind Rosberg in Austin and 2.8s behind Hamilton…

And then, for all but the most experienced members of the paddock, there’s the fun of going to a new and highly challenging venue.

It’s 23 years since F1 cars last raced at the 4.304 km Autodromo Hermanos Rodríguez - named after famed racing brothers Ricardo and Pedro - and since then it’s undergone a significant makeover by renowned circuit architect Hermann Tilke. There are now 10 right-handers and seven lefts, thanks in part to an interesting new section that takes the drivers through a baseball stadium.

Sadly, for safety reasons, the demanding Peraltada corner - scene of Nigel Mansell’s famous pass on Gerhard Berger in 1990 - is no more. However, much of the old track remains, including the very long, 1.314 km front straight, which is set to give the Mercedes- and Ferrari-engined cars an advantage over their Renault- and Honda-powered rivals.

Speeds on the stretch are expected to be around 330 km/h as the rarefied air at 2,200 metres above sea level is thinner and therefore there will be less drag, even if the cars will develop a little less horsepower as the oxygen at that level is only 78 percent of what it is at sea level.

“I had the chance to drive a lap of the new track layout recently and it’s a fantastic circuit,” says Force India’s home favourite Sergio Perez. “There are quite a few changes compared to the old layout when Formula One last raced there, but I don't think the circuit has lost any of its character. The new section in the stadium is spectacular and it will be such an incredible emotion to drive through there for the first time when it’s full of fans. There are a lot of fast sections, but at the same time you have a combination of fast, slow and medium-speed corners that make for a very varied lap.

“I am also happy to see the final corner has been named after Nigel Mansell. He is a hero to motorsport fans in Mexico and I admire all he has achieved. Nigel won the last race in Mexico in 1992 and produced one of the greatest overtakes of all times there, so it is right that he has been honoured in this way.”

The circuit has been repaved, and as such the new asphalt will take time to bed in, so car set-up is going to be an ongoing process throughout the weekend. There will be two DRS zones in operation this weekend, both sharing a single detection point at the exit of Turn 15. The first is on the long pit straight, while the second begins after Turn 3.

Pirelli are bringing their white-marked medium and yellow-marked soft compound tyres to provide traction out of the slow corners, and resistance through some of the faster ones.

“It’s very exciting for us to come to Mexico, to a brand new circuit but one that is steeped in tradition at the same time,” says Pirelli motorsport director Paul Hembery. “Nominating the compounds for a new track is not without its challenges, but simulation - one of the most important areas of growth in Formula One technology recently - is very accurate now, although it’s inevitable that we would incline towards a more conservative choice during the first year at a new track. As always, we are still aiming for two pit stops at the Mexican Grand Prix, but the uncertain weather that is affecting a large part of North America during the next week or so will clearly have a big influence.

“The track has been designed with overtaking in mind, so together with the different options for strategy that will become clearer during a very important free practice day on Friday, there is clear potential for an entertaining race that allows drivers to move up through the field.”

Two drivers who were absent for much of the entertaining race in Austin were Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa after damper failures cost Williams their record of finishing at least one of their cars in every race since Brazil 2012. The team have since taken steps to ensure they avoid a repeat in Mexico.

"We have already put plans in place, different action paths which we are going to try and take," says head of performance engineering Rob Smedley. “Once we have understood the problem and fully actioned these processes and designs, then the next stage will be to test new parts and make sure we are going into the race robust."

The feeling is that the bumpiness of the Circuit of The Americas may have played a role in damaging parts which had not hitherto given any problems.

Elsewhere, Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr have been on the naughty step after their first-lap touch in Austin. Team principal Monisha Kaltenborn said after the race that she was unhappy and disappointed and that, "The bottom line is that these kind of things simply must not happen. We will definitely have a word with both of them.”

The slick surface of course played a big part in some of those early race clashes in the United States, and unfortunately for those still drying their socks from Austin, it looks like there could be more wet weather this weekend.

Thunderstorms are predicted on all four days, with ambient temperature highs of 23-24 degrees Celsius on each of them.

Sunday’s race will run over 71 laps or 305.354 kilometres, and will start at 1300 hours local time (1900 GMT).