Mexican GP: Red Bull's fiesta
First up, some technical chat concerning the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez. It sits at 2,285 metres above sea level, while most circuits are situated around sea level. That sort of altitude adds an exciting dynamic. It's 4.3-kilometres long, has 17 corners, has a top speed of 364 km/h, and is some of the highest you'll find on the calendar.
It does have the least amount of downforce, even when compared to Monza. This has a dramatic effect on the performance of the cars. Specifically in aerodynamics, cooling the power units and getting air into the combustion process. Less air at altitude means more challenges. Resulting in teams that can run high downforce setups as the air is less dense, meaning the cars can cut their way through the air better thanks to fewer air particles. This results in less drag. Furthermore, less downforce means less air to channel downwards.
The altitude is less of an issue for power thanks to turbochargers that channel air in. But it can't make up for the total loss (up to 20% difference compared to when at sea level) and doesn't need to. However, this increase will increase the risk of mechanical failure, so the teams will need to properly assess the performance over the weekend. Thanks to the aero difference, less drag means that the turbo doesn't need to work much harder. Thanks to the altitude, the complexities presented are what we need to keep the prospects of action alive.
Checking into the driver market news, Logan Sargeant needed 100 km to secure one super license point to ensure his Williams seat in 2023. He now needs to finish top six in Abu Dhabi to secure enough points. Jack Doohan stood in for Estaban Ocon, and Liam Lawson sat in for Yuki Tsunoda. This format's importance is ensuring that the next batch of drivers gets the relevant experience they need. It is also earned out, and the most deserving drivers get opportunities—a healthy sign of sustainability for the sport.
Better late than never
Qualifying saw a change in form for Mercedes. They looked like the team to beat, with George Russell spearing the attack with Lewis Hamilton closely following. Many drivers were struggling with the lack of downforce on the front end. The changing conditions proved this was a shakeup on which Mercedes capitalised, with Ferrari suffering the most. It was a Mercedes Sandwich for Red Bull with Verstappen snatching pole with Russell in P2 and Hamilton in P3. Russell missed out on pole position, botching an opportunity to grab the front of the grid. Could Mercedes finally have Red Bull's number? Valtteri Bottas managed a stellar performance in his Alfa to get up to P6, ahead of Charles Leclerc. The Monégasque can't catch a break.
Sky News Boycott
Lights out, but before we get into the race, let's take a moment to note Verstappen's decision to boycott Sky News interviews. As reporters, we need to be impartial. Ted Kravitz's pre-race dig, albeit in jest, gave the game away and tainted an otherwise healthy weekend. Back to racing... That start was as clinical as you'd expect and a sign of what happens when there aren't copious grid penalties putting faster drivers out of place. Everyone got off well, with Verstappen jetting off into the distance. The Mercedes F1 team needed help to squeeze the necessary pace out of their machines to make it a proper scrap. The race then resigned to a steady cadence. All eyes were fixed on data and strategic moves to gain positions like the undercut, tyre strategy and a hopeful pit stop blunder – nothing materialised, though.
Instead, we got a few mid-pack battles and some dodgy overtaking. Pierre Gasly's lunge on Lance Stroll earned him a five-second penalty. Then Daniel Ricciardo's McLaren tangled with Yuki Tsunoda's Alpha Tauri, earning the Australian a 10-second penalty. With Ricciardo's lack of a seat in 2023, the Aussie looks determined to go out with a bang. Too little too late.
Alpine's reliability issues have returned to haunt them, with Fernando Alonso retiring thanks to mechanical problems. Something they're going to have to resolve if they want to build on their chances in the Constructer's Championship. Mercedes also played the long game on the hard compound tyre, thinking that the medium compound fitted to the Red Bull may eventually drop off. That never transpired. Nothing ventured, right? The race seemed to lack the excitement of what we've become accustomed to. That is for sure, but only some races will really deliver on that front. There was, however, the mariachi band version of the F1 theme song and rich Mexican culture, which added some spice.
Verstappen crossed the line in P1 with Hamilton in P2 and Perez in P3. Even with the penalty, Ricciardo managed to secure P7. F1 keeps the Americas vibes going with a round in Brazil at the Autódromo José Carlos Pace in Sao Paulo in two weeks, on the 13th of November. Mercedes have shown that they're building on the momentum and making it a six-car fight at the front, which is what we desire for the sport.
Ferrari still has enough time to shake off whatever funk they may have carried into Mexico. This will give Sainz and Leclerc a chance to make it a real dogfight in the closing two races of the season.
Words: Brent vd Schyff