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Getting up to speed for the Mexican GP

What can we expect from the 2021 Mexican Grand Prix?

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Formula One returns to the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez this weekend and with just 5 races to go in the 2021 season, it’s going to be a good one.

A three-continent tripe-header begins this week, with round 18 of the 2021 F1 season. With the Mexican Grand Prix usually providing plenty of late-season, title-deciding twists, we can expect the unpredictable. Having not raced in Mexico in 2020, drivers and teams are looking forward to returning to Mexico City.

Sitting at 2,240 meters above sea level, this weekend will provide tough challenges for the 20 drivers. High tyre-wear and high altitude – there are plenty of unique factors to be considered for the perfect setup in Mexico. F1 returned to the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez in 2015 after a 22-year-absence and a huge renovation project.

Track Stats

  • 4.304 – lap length (km)
  • 305.354 – race distance (km)
  • 71 – number of laps
  • 17 – turns
  • 811 – meters from pole position to the first breaking point, the second-longest in F1
  • 1:18.741 – lap record (Valtteri Bottas, 2018)
Image Credit: Formula1.com

Challenges Ahead

Altitude: The high altitude is a key factor in Mexico, as it impacts the setup in many ways. The air pressure is low, so both the drag and downforce produced by the cars is reduced. At 2,285 metres above sea level, there is around 25% less air density compared to at sea level and therefore a quarter less oxygen. As the air is thinner, the cars cut through it quicker, which is why the cars are so fast in Mexico.

Tyres: The C2, C3 and C4 mid-range tyres have been allocated for the 10th time this season, with the Soft tyre usually experiencing high degradation. Expect teams to differ in strategy, with one- and two-stop strategies both proving successful in the past.

DRS: Despite three DRS zones and the second-longest run from pole to the first braking zone (after Sochi), overtaking is difficult on this track. There were just 40 and 36 overtakes in 2019 and 2018 respectively, with DRS required for over 70% of passes.

What to look out for

Home boy: It’s Sergio Pérez’s home grand prix. He’s currently the only Mexican driver on the grid. He has finished in the points four times at his home race, with equal best results of seventh in 2017 and 2019. When filled with fans, the 40,000 stadium section at the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez is an incredible sight and the fans are very passionate. If Perez gets a podium this weekend, it would be the first time a Mexican driver has ever stood on the podium at home.

Equipment Challenges: Power units with potentially quite a few miles on the clock are going to be pushed to the limit this weekend. Turbochargers are forced to work even harder at this kind of altitude to ensure the pressure of the air fed into the engine is high enough to prevent a reduction in power. With less air, cooling becomes a problem for everything from the power unit to brakes and even the tyres.

The title fight: Championship leader Max Verstappen has won the 2017 and 2018 editions of the Mexican Grand Prix. In contrast Mercedes, and Verstappen’s title rival Lewis Hamilton, haven’t been on pole in Mexico since 2016… Given that Red Bull has performed strongly at Mexico with cars that were not even fighting for the championship, hopes for another victory are high in the Red Bull garage this weekend. In addition, Honda’s power unit appears to be better than Mercedes’ at creating power from thinner air.

The track: 17 corners from start to finish over the course of 4.304 km per lap. The rundown to Turn One is long, where drivers hit speeds of 370km/h before the quick right-left-right of Turns One to Three. The slow exit out of Turn Six provides a short breather before the next challenge. Turns Seven to 11 swing from right to left at speeds of over 200km/h (136mph). Turn 12 is no longer the beginning of the famous banked Peraltada curve, but as drivers head into the stadium section, their speed drops from over 300km/h for a slow and technical series of corners. The real challenge is the braking point for Turn 13, which sets up the run through Turns 14 and 15 to exit the stadium. The key for Turn 16 is to hit the kerb on the inside before heading through the final corner and back into the start/finish line.

Image Credit: Red Bull / Vladimir Rys

What the teams have to say

Red Bull

Sergio Perez is excited about his home race and “so much looking forward to it. My country has been so supportive of me throughout my career and I always love the chance to race in front of those fans. People are always blown away by the support I receive here in Mexico but they have always backed me, since many years ago, when my career was first starting. It’s just great to finally have a Team and a car that we can dream of a victory in my home country. We have a chance to make a big result happen this weekend, so I will prepare as well as I can and we will see what we are able to achieve.”

Max Verstappen has won twice in Mexico before and has some good memories of the track, saying he is “looking forward to racing here again especially after not being able to travel here for a while. I know we will have a lot more fans now with Checo in the Team too so I’m looking forward to seeing all of them at the track and of course hopefully we can have a competitive weekend.”

Mercedes

Lewis Hamilton: “[In 2019] they were quite a bit quicker than us so you’d have to say this is a Red Bull track. But we have had success here in the past. We did win here last time but that was only because Max made a mistake and got a penalty [which lost him pole], otherwise they were much quicker than us. So we expect that will be very similar this weekend. We thought that we would be stronger, for example, in somewhere like Austin – they were quite a bit stronger than us there in the race. So I really can’t predict it. What I do know is that last year [2019] they outqualified us here and they were down on power compared to us through the year. Now they are ahead on power, there or thereabouts, and they’ve got a very strong car that’s been affected less by the changes in the rules that we were affected by. So they are going to be rapid this weekend, last year [2019] they were almost half a second ahead of us, and our car is not better than last year’s car with those changes.”

Image Credit: McLaren

McLaren

Lando Norris: “After nearly two years away from Mexico City, it’s really great to be heading back. It’s an awesome city with a cool circuit right in the middle of it, which always makes for a great atmosphere. It’s quite a unique track, but one I enjoyed driving in 2019, so I was disappointed when we didn’t race there last year. Mexico marks the start of a long triple-header, with an intense run of races over the next three weeks. Despite that I’ve been working hard on my preparations in the sim, making use of the time since Austin to prepare for all three tracks. I’m feeling ready to get back to it, and I can’t wait to get on track again.”

Daniel Ricciardo: “I’m looking forward to heading back to Mexico, it’s been too long. The atmosphere is always incredible and that stadium section is an awesome part of the circuit, the fans are also some of the most passionate in the world. We’re really lucky to be racing there and in Brazil back-to-back because the excitement around the races is unreal. I’m expecting a similar battle to the one we had in Austin, although having not raced there last year, it’s hard to say where we’ll truly be in terms of performance. We’ll just keep focusing on what we can do as a team, try and score the most points as possible and see how the field shakes out. Viva Mexico!”

Ferrari

Charles Leclerc: “On paper it should be a better track for us compared to Austin, but it’s also true to say that sometimes we’ve had good and bad surprises compared to what we expect on paper so let’s not get carried away too much and again, focus on our job. But it should be quite a strong race for us if we compare ourselves to the other midfield teams. Our high downforce package has always worked pretty well this season – in Monaco, in Budapest also – so yes, we’ll probably run with it here. That’s why I think we should be competitive [in Mexico].”

Carlos Sainz: “I did not go back to Europe after the United States GP and I spent a few days relaxing and recharging my batteries to be as well prepared as possible for the final part of the season. This track has never delivered any good results for me and we know how demanding it is on the cars. However, I am optimistic about how competitive we can be up against our closest rivals. The battle with McLaren for third place is important, mainly symbolically. It is a useful exercise for when we will be fighting for the top. We are making good progress, which has been confirmed by the fact that every update we have introduced over the course of this season has worked as expected. We will do our utmost right to the very end to give the fans what they want and if we can continue to perform as we have done so far, I think that we can achieve our goal of finishing third.”

Image Credit: Aston Martin Cognizant F1

Aston Martin

Sebastian Vettel: “I have always enjoyed coming to the Mexican Grand Prix. The fans are so passionate, and the lap is really challenging, so I’m excited to get going. We want to pick up where we left off in the US and build up a run of points scores. Preparation and reacting well is key because tyre performance is critical and the race can be interrupted by Safety Cars and Virtual Safety Cars.”

Lance Stroll: “It’s been good to have the week between the US and Mexican Grands Prix to reset and come back stronger. While our US GP didn’t quite go to plan, we showed good race pace on Sunday, so the goal is to qualify well and fight for points in the race. It’s quite a short lap in Mexico, but the long straights offer lots of slipstreaming and exciting racing.”

AlphaTauri

Pierre Gasly: “We now have a triple-header and it’s the first time we have travelled this far from home for a couple of seasons. Rest, recovery and sleeping well will be important because it’s going to be quite complicated with all the different time zones. Since Austin, I returned to Europe to go on the simulator so I’ve crossed the time zone again and now we’re heading to Mexico to start these three races, with long flights and a change of continent. It’s important to be at 100% for each of these races. In terms of the car itself it’s a case of getting the best out of a package that we now know very well, the other important factor is that some of the upcoming circuits will suit us better than others.
(…) It’s the sort of track where you have to be on top form, especially with the altitude which makes things more complicated. You certainly feel it if you go running, but when you’re in the car you don’t notice, although it does put more of a strain on the car, the Power Unit, the brakes, in fact any part where cooling is required. And on the aero side we run maximum downforce, but the air density means the cars feel as though you have less wing than at Monza and you slide around a lot. Every year, the crowd is amazing and this year I expect it will be really crazy given the success that Checo and Red Bull are having this year. The atmosphere is incredible.”

Yuki Tsunoda: We now have three races in a row and I expect it will be very tough, moving around with long flights in between and a complicated jet lag situation. These three tracks will be completely new to me and they look quite tricky. On top of that, in Brazil we have the Sprint Qualifying format again, which means less free practice. I am going to once again focus on making progress through the sessions and stick to my plan. I am keen to see what effect the altitude in Mexico City will have on me, as I have never driven before in these conditions. With a helmet on, I can imagine it could be quite difficult and demanding on the neck and arms, but apparently the main effect is on your heart rate. I don’t normally have any issue with heart rate, but in my training recently, to prepare for Mexico, I have focussed more on endurance with this in mind. I’ve been told Mexico has one of the biggest Japanese communities in Latin America so maybe I can find some good Japanese restaurants! My only experience of all three of the tracks of this triple-header is on the simulator. Mexico seems like quite a special track, very different to normal, especially sector one, which is really tight with many 90 degree corners and some slow turns, one of which is only around 60 to 70 km/h.  I heard that because of the altitude the thinner air has a big impact on the aero downforce so all these factors mean I think Mexico will be very interesting but not such an easy experience for me.”

Image Credit: Alpine F1

Alpine

Fernando Alonso: “It’s another fun track where there are good overtaking opportunities and a very long straight. We go to another track where the atmosphere is great and the stadium section of the track is like no other on the calendar. 

Esteban Ocon: “The circuit is a good one to race at. It’s pretty tough for a number of reasons but mainly because of the high altitude, which affects the power unit and finding a good set-up. There is a nice buzz there when Formula 1 visits and we haven’t been there for a couple of years so I’m sure the atmosphere is going to be special this year. 

Williams

Nicholas Latifi“Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez is another track on the calendar that I’ve not yet raced at as a Formula One driver, although I do have some FP1 experience there from 2018 and 2019 which is helpful. It’s a unique circuit as the altitude is the highest of the year which always makes things quite interesting for the drivers. It also makes it a huge challenge to get the car right. The atmosphere in Mexico is always great and I’m looking forward to seeing the event at full capacity with all the fans.”

George Russell: “I am really looking forward to heading to Mexico for the Mexico City Grand Prix. The race presents a lot of interesting challenges such as the high altitude, which affects us as drivers but also the performance of the car, and we have to take into consideration these things when preparing for the weekend. Equally, these challenges offer us an opportunity and I also can’t wait to see all the amazing fans and support we’ve come to associate this race with.”

Image Credit: Sauber Group

Alfa Romeo

Kimi Raikkonen: “We hope to be able to score points in Mexico City: we went really close in the last couple of races so our pace should allow us to be in the fight but, as always, it will be a matter of getting everything right across the weekend. This is a very slippery track and it’s easy to make mistakes, especially in qualifying, but it’s really rewarding when you put a lap together. Saturday will be important – there are overtaking opportunities after the long straights, but elsewhere it’s really hard to pass as the track gets narrow and twisty in the middle sector.”

Antonio Giovinazzi: “It’s great to come back to Mexico, it’s one of those venues where the crowd really makes itself part of the show. In this regards, it feels like being in Italy and that gives me a lot of energy for the race weekend. We have three races in three weeks, three more chances to score points: we have been getting closer with each race, so hopefully this is the time we bring home the reward our work deserves. The spirit of the team is still really strong and we’re all pushing in the same direction, and we will do that until the very last corner in Abu Dhabi.”

Haas

Mick Schumacher: “Luckily, I’ve had a chance to drive the simulator, so I’ve got a good idea of what’s coming my way. I’m really looking forward to it, it felt really good, and I think it’s going to be a lot of fun. I wouldn’t say there was any specific training or preparation, but there’s definitely the knowledge that the car will feel different, the car will be different on track and that the engine will be performing less. There will be different difficulties and maybe different perspectives that we’ll need to consider of how the car will behave here. For me personally, I don’t really notice it.”

Nikita Mazepin: “Less oxygen means it’s difficult to drive and perform at a high heart rate for drivers, so physically it’s going to be a challenge but not only that, the air is less thick so there will be less downforce on the car. Unfortunately, we don’t have too much downforce to spare, but we’ll do our best and I’m very curious to race on a new track and see how it feels.” Having never raced on this track before, just as his teammate, this weekend will be extra tricky for the team. “There are loads of factors that are part of getting comfortable on a new track. Normally, I’m not hating the low downforce tracks such as Monza and Baku, I felt quite comfortable, but there are a lot more challenges in Mexico. As I’ve never been there, I’m looking forward to the challenge and am open-minded to what the weekend might bring.”

Headline Image Credit: Formula1.com

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