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In the midst of its late season triple-header, Formula 1 visits Mexico and the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez for the nineteenth round of the championship. Friday provided us with two practice sessions for the first time since Japan, so let’s dive into them in the Mexican GP practice analysis.
Perez looking to overhaul tight competition
Sergio Perez will be in for a big weekend, as a huge crowd will be on the track to cheer him on, in what can only be described as a tough time for him recently. He hasn’t been on the podium since Monza and since then he has even seen second place in the standings come under threat from Lewis Hamilton.
Thankfully for him, the Brit’s opening lap accident at Qatar and disqualification at Austin will relieve a little bit of pressure from him, but there is no hiding from the fact that a turnaround is needed. His home race could be a great opportunity for him and things are looking better, as he concluded FP1 in third position and FP2 in fifth.
The pack behind is very tight though, meaning that a small lack of performance could easily put him down to the lower end of the top ten. Mercedes, Ferrari and McLaren are very close, with the Italian team showing great one-lap speed. The low tyre wear at the track will also be a helping factor for them, so a good result in qualifying could be converted to a great one in the race.
For Mercedes, the big weakness is its high drag, which hurts it in the straights. The reduced air density because of the high altitude -as the circuit sits at 6,500 feet above sea level- will play into the German manufacturer’s hands. Mercedes had the second fastest average lap time in the race pace simulations of FP2, so things are looking good for them.
McLaren looking to overcome Mexico struggles
Since Formula 1 returned to Mexico City in 2015, McLaren have struggled to make into the points. In fact, in the seven races that have taken place in the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez since then, the British team has only scored fifteen points.
Given its recent form, it is very much possible that the team will score more than that amount in this race alone. However, the different nature of this track still brought question marks in regards to the competitiveness of the MCL60 for this weekend. Those were answered on Friday at the track though.
Lando Norris ended the second free practice session in second position, just a tenth behind Verstappen, who was fastest. The car excelled particularly in the low speed corners, such as the first two chicanes, as well as the section in the Foro Sol stadium. Its race pace also looked promising, marginally behind Mercedes for second place.
Aston Martin’s new car looks like a success
In Austin, Aston Martin had by far its worst weekend of the season, which started with both cars getting eliminated in Q1, the first time Fernando Alonso missed Q3 in 2023. The team had brought an updated car on track for the first time and the single free practice session was plagued with issues, meaning the time did not have the time to set up the car.
For the Grand Prix, the team split the cars. Lance Stroll raced with the upgraded car and made setup changes, while Fernando Alonso reverted back to the older specification. The result were unclear, with the Spaniard ahead for much of the race, but the Canadian showing promising pace.
In Mexico, they have gone with the same strategy, in order to compare the cars and find the flaws of the new one. The one-lap pace though was disappointing for the British team, which ended FP2 in eighteenth and twentieth positions, with Stroll ahead.
His race pace was much more encouraging though, as his average lap time in his race simulation was the seventh fastest of the field. Alonso was five places back, confirming that the new car has the potential to stop Aston Martin’s dive down the pecking order.
Surprises from teams at the back
In the two practice sessions at Mexico, we found a few unusual names in the top ten. In FP1, it was Alex Albon who recorded the second fastest time, on a circuit that could suit the Williams car very well. In FP2, it was Valtteri Bottas who did very well, recording the fourth fastest time.
In both sessions, Daniel Ricciardo made it into the top ten, eighth in the first and sixth in the second. Alpha Tauri will look to keep up its good momentum, after a brilliant performance from Yuki Tsunoda in Austin, where he was fastest than the team’s competitors in the constructors’ championship, as it fights to stay off of last position.
Of the three teams fighting for eighth in the championship, the fastest long-run pace was shown by Yuki Tsunoda, who had the tenth fastest average. The Japanese driver already has a setback for the weekend though, as new engine parts mean he has exceeded his allocation and will earn grid penalties which will put him at the back of the field.
Five rookies in FP1
As part of every team’s obligation to run a rookie driver in each of its cars for a free practice session in the season, five new drivers took to the track on Friday morning. Theo Pourchaire is the Formula 2 championship leader and replaced Valtteri Bottas at Alfa Romeo. His championship rival, Frederik Vesti, was in George Russell’s seat at Mercedes.
Three more Formula 2 drivers joined them; Ferrari junior Oliver Bearman was put in the Haas of Kevin Magnussen, Alpine put Jack Doohan (the son of MotoGP legend, Mick) in the seat of Pierre Gasly and Red Bull Academy member Isack Hadjar took part in Yuki Tsunoda’s Alpha Tauri.
— MoneyGram Haas F1 Team (@HaasF1Team) October 27, 2023
The five drivers was in the bottom of the standings, with the exception of Bearman, who finished fourteenth, in front of Fernando Alonso as well. Hadjar was sixteenth, beating Doohan and Vesti. Pourchaire had a troublesome session, completing just four laps -none of them timed- because of brake issues that could not be resolved before FP2.
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