From the wash-out at the Circuit of the Americas we have a short hop south to the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez that hosts the triumphant return of the F1 paddock to Mexico. The weather this weekend is likely to be just as atrocious as at COTA, but that won’t put much of a dampener on the Mexican spirits who have been yearning for a return to top flight motorsport. Over 110,000 fans are expected to attend the race this weekend, an incredible turnout for a “new” venue and demonstrates the amount of love Mexico has for F1.
Another big boon for Mexico will be the official announcement on Friday from Haas F1 that Ferrari-backed Mexican driver Esteban Gutierrez will rejoin the grid alongside Romain Grosjean for 2016, making it two Mexican drivers on the grid.
The weather at COTA made for a very special weekend and Lewis Hamilton took his third championship with a victory. The race may have finished with the usual three drivers on the podium, but the race itself was anything but predictable. If the Mexican Grand Prix puts on a show half as good as the USA, it will be the second best race of the season.
The Mexican Grand Prix has been held at the same circuit since it’s inception in 1962. The first year was a non championship race before graduating to full points scoring status in 1963. For the stint between 1962 and 1970 the circuit was called the Magdalena Mixhuca after the park in which it is located in central Mexico City. The track itself was very bumpy with a high speed challenging layout. The last race in 1970 was attended by 200,000 fans who were very unruly and strained the circuit facilities. The race was nearly cancelled over fears for their safety, but eventually went ahead. A dog ran on to the circuit and was hit by Jackie Stewart, causing his retirement from the race. The race was dropped for the 1971 season in fear of a repeat.
Safety improvements on both the circuit and the surrounding infrastructure, along with a much improved pit complex brought about the return of the Mexican Grand Prix in 1986. The circuit was renamed in honour of two fallen Mexican drivers; the Rodriguez brothers. The first race hosted Gerhard Berger’s first victory in F1 in his Benetton.
One aspect that had not changed was the bumpy nature of the track surface and soon complaints arose from the drivers. The increasingly stiffly sprung technologically advanced cars produced a very twitchy, uncomfortable and dangerous ride. Pollution issues in Mexico City, a struggling economy and political pressure contributed to the race falling from the calendar once again after the 1992 race.
The appetite for Grand Prix racing in Mexico had not declined and multiple efforts were made to revive the race. Mexican fans had to wait for billionaire Carlos Slim (who also financially supports Sergio Perez and Esteban Gutierrez) to throw his weight behind the Grand Prix bid before it’s place was secured again. The richest man in the world has led a total revamp of the circuit and facilities to once again make it a world class venue.
The historic Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez track has been extensively overhauled and modernised to host this weekend’s race, but it has not lost the charm that made it such a success. The circuit is being hailed as the second fastest circuit on the calendar behind Monza, with the 1.2 kilometre start-finish straight hoping to produce speeds of over 205mph. From the track map below, you can see the similarities to the “cathedral of speed”.
The Esses section is very similar in character to that of previous years, with high speed and rapid change of direction posing a real challenge to the drivers and to their machines. Christian Epp (who works for Hermann Tilke) explains; “we kept the Esses, but basically we flipped them around. You see in Turn 9 there was no run-off there… So we had to move the track to a position where we can create that run-off. In essence, we keep the old Esses, but we accommodate the track to new safety standards”.
The one sticking point for die-hard fans that can still remember the days when Mexico was last on the calendar will be the loss of the Peraltada corner. This was a fearsome corner similar in character to the Parabolica at Monza but with minimal run-off before a solid concrete wall. The circuit is partly named in honour of Ricardo Rodriguez, a young Mexican Ferrari driver who lost his life at this corner in 1962. The cars would use the slight banking to gather incredible speed, exiting the corner at over 186 miles per hour. This exciting yet clearly dangerous spectacle has been replaced by a new stadium section (based around an old baseball field), seating 25,000 fans who will get to see the cars up close jostling for position through the new hairpin complex.
The best overtaking points should be into the first corner after the incredibly long straight, into turn 4 and again into turn 12 on the entry to the stadium complex. It will be interesting to see how close they can follow through the Esses, the high speeds and aerodynamic wash may create crippling understeer and string out the cars.
The circuit is nestled in the middle of Mexico City and as such is located at 2,200 meters above sea level. The thinning of the air at altitude usually affects the power of an engine, but this effect is less keenly felt by the turbo hybrid power units that force pressurized air through the fans. Normally aspirated engines rely on atmospheric pressure to feed them and the lower density of air molecules at altitude restricts their power.
A brand new circuit is hosting the F1 circus and offering the teams that are facing this track for the first time numerous unknown factors. They will need to pay close attention to the temperature of the discs and brake calipers. Over the course of the weekend, it will be particularly legitimate to expect a significant increase in the asphalt grip with a resulting increase in the braking torque that is transferred to the track and the stress on the brakes. Since there are no previous editions to refer to, the teams lack relative data on the main knots to unravel regarding the braking systems. This is evident from the choice of the ventilation layout in the discs and the correct sizing of the air ducts, both variables that can impact the ideal temperature for operating the brakes. Turn one is considered the most demanding for the braking system.
TYRES WITH PIRELLI – SOFT AND MEDIUM COMPOUNDS
For the first time in 23 years, Formula One returns to Mexico at a reworked version of the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City, named after Mexico’s two most famous drivers: brothers Pedro and Ricardo Rodriguez. The circuit was originally built in 1962 in a public park, and that is not the only similarity to Monza. There are some fast straights and rapid corners that are quite similar to those of Pirelli’s home track, with the P Zero White medium and P Zero Yellow soft tyres having been nominated for the inaugural Mexican Grand Prix of the modern era.
The current circuit has been heavily revised, but still maintains plenty of the character of the original. However, with no real data from the track, Pirelli has relied instead on computer simulation to prepare for the race and decide which compounds will be most suitable.
Paul Hembery, Pirelli motorsport director: “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. 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.”
The biggest challenges for the tyres: The best-known corner is the fast and long right-hander called Peraltada (the final corner before the pit straight) but only half of the original profile has been retained, for safety reasons. The first half of the original Peraltada has now been replaced with a technical stadium section, similar to Hockenheim. The circuit has the highest altitude of any Formula One venue all year: this affects both aerodynamics (as the engineers have to put on more wing to get the same effect in the thin air) as well as top speed. The turbocharged cars are expected to exceed 330kph on the 1.3-kilometre straight.
Extreme weather is currently affecting a large part of North America. This makes the weather forecast uncertain over the next few days, with a strong probability of adverse conditions in the aftermath of Hurricane Patricia.
1964 – The three-way title fight between British drivers Jim Clark, John Surtees and Graham Hill came to a dramatic climax in Mexico. Hill led the championship going into the event but had a collision with Ferrari driver Lorenzo Bandini and dropped out of the running. Clark looked set to take victory and the title, only to grind to a halt on the final lap with engine trouble. Bandini ran ahead but moved over to allow Surtees, his team-mate, to take second position which was enough to steal the title by one point over a disgruntled Hill. Interestingly the works Ferrari team was run by a US outfit for the last two races of the season as the Italian Racing Authorities were having a dispute with Enzo Ferrari’s team, so instead of running in their usual red the cars sported a white and blue livery.
1968 – Mexico decided another three-way battle for the driver’s championship between Graham Hill, Jackie Stewart and Denny Hulme. The race was an epic battle between the two Britons, with Hill passing Stewart for the lead. Stewart looked to fight back but an engine misfire developed and he dropped down the order. Hulme had crashed on lap 11 due to suspension failure, leaving Hill to take the victory and his second world title.
1990 – This was arguably one of Alain Prost’s most brilliant displays. After qualifying a lowly 13th in his Ferrari he drove a very determined race, working his way back up to the front, even overtaking his team-mate Nigel Mansell. Senna had led the race in his Mclaren, but a puncture ruined his race and forced his retirement. That left Prost to take an emphatic victory, but Gerhard Berger in the second Mclaren battled with Mansell and aggressively forced his way through with three laps to go. A fantastic scrap ensued, ending with an absolutely stunning move from Mansell around the outside of the fast Peraltada corner. This daring feat inspired the circuit organisers to rename what remains of the corner in his honour for the 2015 re-opening of the circuit.
Lewis Hamilton may have secured his third World Championship title last weekend in the USA, his second home, but he has not taken pole position since Monza. Will he be able to turn this form around, or will Nico Rosberg continue his run of three. The tensions between the two will be running very high after the turn one clash at COTA (and the ensuing cap-throwing saga before the podium), so be prepared for more fireworks this weekend.
It is very likely to be a very wet weekend due to the effects of Hurricane Patricia, which will play into the hands of the Red Bull drivers. In Austin they were nipping at the heels of the Mercedes, but as soon as the track dried they started to fall into the clutches of the Ferrari.
Another team likely to benefit from the difficult conditions will be the Honda team. Alonso was desperately unlucky to retire from an excellent points paying position and Jenson scored an excellent sixth. Jenson will have the upgraded Honda engine this weekend and will be looking to add to his tally.
The Masters Historic Racing Championship managed one truncated practice session at COTA, but the race was abandoned due to the poor weather. There is nothing like aquaplaning into a wall a totally priceless car to put a dent on your enjoyment of a weekend. They will be hoping to have a much better time of it this time out in Mexico.
The Mexican Grand Prix will also be supported by the first round of the brand new Mexican Formula 4 championship. Sergio Perez took the opportunity to test the car and wants to help promote the championship that aims to become a feeder series on the ladder to Formula One in the future, providing hope to South American drivers aspiring to make it to the top.
Most successful team – Lotus (4 wins)
Most successful driver – Jim Clark (3 wins)