Mexico should see Lewis Hamilton crowned world champion for the fourth time barring an unlikely Mercedes problem. Of the current grid, only Hamilton has actually won in Mexico, and on current form, it’s hard to look past him sealing his fourth title in style, although a fifth place finish will be enough to secure the title. For Ferrari it has been a miserable end to a season which promised so much, and they will be looking for some scraps of consolation on a track which should suit them after Hamilton and Mercedes proved just too strong for them again in Austin. Red Bull will continue to be a threat, while Carlos Sainz highly impressive debut with Renault should certainly spice up the action in midfield, as Renault look to overhaul Sainz old team Toro Rosso and maybe even have a nibble at Williams, while Nico Hulkenberg, who suddenly finds himself under pressure to raise his game, will be hoping he can put in another performance like last year where he proved to be best of the rest behind the big 3 teams.
Jim Clark, Alain Prost and Nigel Mansell have all managed to win the Mexican Grand Prix twice since it arrived on the F1 calendar (Clark winning a third time in the non-championship race in 1962). Since Mexico returned to the calendar in 2015, it’s been all Mercedes, with Nico Rosberg winning in 2015 and Lewis Hamilton getting revenge last year.
Last years race saw the Mercedes duo of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg both do what they needed to do, with Hamilton getting the benefit of the doubt after overshooting turn 1 on the opening lap and skipping Turn 2, from which point on Lewis controlled the race comfortably from the front to take a relatively easy win. For Rosberg, surviving a few moments with Max Verstappen’s Red Bull and staying in one piece and bringing the car home in second place was enough to keep him on track for the driver’s title. Behind, there was plenty of trouble, with Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel turning the airwaves blue as he vented his frustration in the direction of Charlie Whiting on the radio during the race – the excitement going all the way to the flag and then some, as Vettel and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen fought for third place towards the end of the race and allowed Daniel Ricciardo to close up behind them in the second Red Bull. Verstappen used all the track and then some to keep ahead of Vettel, edging the day to come home third, before being told he had a 5 second penalty for exceeding track limits (in a similar spot to Lewis lap 1 excursion). This temporarily promoted Sebastian Vettel to third, only for Seb’s smile to disappear after he was penalized under the new and improved ‘Verstappen Rule’ designed to prevent drivers from making unsafe moves under braking, for a late move in defence against Ricciardo into Turn 4 in the closing laps. So Ricciardo was given third, Verstappen took the fourth he would have had without leaving the track ahead of Vettel, while Vettel was sat on the naughty step in fifth place after his penalty, still ahead of the second Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen in sixth.
The Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez is the home of the Mexican Grand Prix, having hosted every Mexican Grand Prix since it first appeared on the F1 calendar back in 1963. The circuit was originally called the Magdalena Mixhuca Circuit (named after the park in Mexico City in which it is built), and was inaugurated in 1959 with the Mexico 500 km, which was won by local hero Pedro Rodriguez. The track hosted a non-championship Grand Prix in 1962 that saw a large international field, but the race was overshadowed by the death of Pedro’s younger brother Ricardo Rodriguez in practice after he crashed heavily at the Peraltada. The race would be won by Jim Clark in a Lotus, with Clark having taken over the car of team mate Trevor Taylor while in third place after Clark’s own car was black flagged! The track was renamed the Autodromo Ricardo Rodriguez and would go on to host a Grand Prix on the F1 Calendar in 1963. The first F1 Mexican Grand Prix was held in 1963, it was the second last round of the championship, and was won by the already crowned world champion Jim Clark for Lotus. The event stayed on the calendar until 1970, with the race holding the final round of the championship from 1964 through 1970, leading to a mix title battles as well as some more relaxed races where the title was already decided. In 1964 the race was the scene for the thrilling climax of the championship, with Graham Hill (BRM) leading John Surtees (Ferrari) by 5 points coming into the race. Jim Clark (Lotus) was also still in the hunt, but looked an outside bet being a full race victories worth of points (9) behind Hill. Hill would fail to finish, and while it looked like Clark would take an unlikely title as he led the race with Surtees back in fourth place, he was cruelly denied when his car broke down on the second last lap, Clark being classified in fifth. Surtees would become champion by a single point from Hill (in a blue Ferrari!) after his team mate Lorenzo Bandini allowed him through into second place on the last lap, with Dan Gurney taking the victory in his Brabham. In 1965, the race was held after Jim Clark had already secured the world championship driving a Lotus, but will be remembered as the first victory for Honda in F1, with Richie Ginther taking what would be his sole F1 win, in what was also the first Grand Prix win for a car running Goodyear tyres. 1966 saw a similar story, with the championship already settled in Jack Brabham’s favour (driving his own car) before the final round in Mexico, with the race being won by John Surtees for Cooper this time. In 1967 the title was settled here, – Jack Brabham needing a win to keep his hopes of taking the title from Brabham team-mate Denny Hulme, but Brabham was not able to keep up with Jim Clark, who was untouchable on the day in his Lotus, and Brabham had to settle for second on the day and in the championship, with Hulme securing his driver’s title with a third place finish. In 1968 Graham Hill secured the title with a win in his Lotus, Hill having started the day with a lead over Jackie Stewart (who’s Matra would wind up outside the points) and Denny Hulme (who’s McLaren retired). In 1969 the championship had already been settled in Matra’s Jackie Stewart’s favour, with Denny Hulme taking the win for McLaren. In 1970 the title had already been won by Jochen Rindt (who died after a crash at the Italian Grand Prix), and the race was a 1-2 for Ferrari, with Jacky Ickx easing home from team-mate Clay Regazzoni after Jackie Stewart had to retire his Tyrrell after hitting a dog that had gotten onto the track. That race was marred by trouble with the massive crowd, with the race delayed as spectators crossed fencing to line the track, staying on as the race started! The result was the race being dropped from the F1 calendar the following year. It would not return until 1986, with the track having being renamed the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in honour of both the Rodriguez brothers after the tragic death of Pedro Rodriguez in 1971. In 1986, Gerhard Berger took both his and Benetton’s first F1 victory for in 1986 after managing to run the race distance without stopping for tyres. In 1987 Nigel Mansell won the race despite his Williams team-mate Nelson Piquet crossing the line first! The race was split into 2 parts due to a heavy crash for Derick Warwick and the result decided on aggregate times, with Mansell the comfortable winner. The 1988 race saw the McLaren team lead home a 1-2 with Alain Prost taking the lead from Ayrton Senna at the start and the two cruising to a dominant win. 1989 saw Senna take revenge with a win for McLaren while Prost struggled with tyres to come home fifth. But in 1990 it was Prost who emerged victorious after a wonderful drive through the field to take the win, Senna having led most of the race but retired with a puncture. In 1991 Riccardo Patrese led home teammate Nigel Mansell for a Williams 1-2, with the positions reversed in another Williams 1-2 in 1992, Mansell easing to victory of Patrese, with a young Michael Schumacher recording his first F1 podium by coming home in third place for Benetton. This would be the last time the Mexican Grand Prix would be staged until 2015. The event had been struggling financially, and the bumpy track surface had led to numerous crashes over the years, including at the banked Peraltada corner (scene of Ayrton Senna’s serious crash in 1991 qualifying when he lost control on the bumps, his car spinning into the barriers and ending up upside down, the session having been restarted after an earlier incident saw Bertrand Gachot fly off the road at the Peraltada and smash his Jordan into the barriers).
The track has basically seen a separate configuration for each of the 3 stints Formula One has enjoyed at the track. The original layout was used for all the Grand Prix up to the departure of Formula One following the chaotic 1970 race. When Formula One returned in 1986 the track and pit facilities were upgraded, with a new esses section installed in place of the original first corner at the end of the main straight, with the track being further shortened by the removal of the hairpin section, with the track now doubling back sooner using an alternate configuration of track featuring another set of s bends. The Peraltada also saw its banking lowered in an attempt to make the corner somewhat safer. When Formula One returned last year after the lay off since 1992 there were major changes made to the track, with Hermann Tilke being given the task of making it suitable for modern Formula One. The track was completely modified and resurfaced, with new pit facilities built to accommodate the paddock. The layout followed basically the layout of the old track, but with modifications all along the way, seeing reprofiling of many of the corners on the track. The most stricking change is the removal of the famous Peraltada corner, with a lack of run off room to blame for the elimination of the high speed bend – not helped by the fact that a baseball stadium had grown up around it since F1 last visited in 1992! The track now cuts away from the old entry to the Peraltada and winds through the stadium and emerges in the latter half of the old corner.
The track is situated some 2.2 km above sea level, presenting a demanding challenge for the power units, with no other track coming close to operating at these heights – Brazil, at just under 800m, is the next highest altitude track on the calendar! The turbo’s will have to work harder and spin faster to get the required amount of oxygen into the internal combustion engine due to the thinner air at the high altitude, while the thin air will also reduce the aerodynamic performance and make cooling more difficult, not to mention placing more demands on the drivers themselves, so it is sure to be a tough weekend for man and machine in Mexico!
From the grid there is a very long drag down to the first corner, which will allow for cars to arrive at speed and try to outbreak each other for position. The pit exit ties back into the straight well before the corner, and the straight features the first DRS activation zone, so expect to see plenty of action into Turn 1 during the race, with plenty of moves being made and also missed here (as we saw last year with Lewis Hamilton being given a first lap allowance for running wide, while Max Verstappen paid the penalty for his late lapse as he outbraked himself and ran wide trying to hold back Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari). The cars will arrive fast into the first corner, braking hard into the 90 degree right hander. The track then opens into a left/right combination, Turns 2 and 3, with the cars running wide at the exit of Turn 3, the track winding slightly to the right as the cars accelerating down a long straight featuring the second DRS activation zone. The cars move to the right to prepare for the next sequence of corners, a pair of 90 degree corners, a left hander (Turn 4) followed by right hander (Turn 5). Turn 4 saw plenty of action last year, with Max Verstappen almost getting the better of Nico Rosberg but running wide, and also seeing Sebastian Vettel’s move under breaking which saw him touch Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull, which would cost Vettel a podium place. Turn 5 also saw contact in 2015, with Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen being bumped into retirement after contact with Valtteri Bottas, Bottas hanging his Williams around the outside of the Ferrari going around Turn 4 but running out of room on the inside of Turn 5, barging the Ferrari off the track and out of the race. Exiting turn 5 there’s a short stab of the throttle as the cars burst into a slow right handed hairpin at Turn 6. Exiting Turn 6 the cars run wide on the kerbs, crossing the track as they accelerate down a short straight in preparation for another quick section of esses, Turns 7 through Turn 11, the track snaking left, right, left, right, left. Turn 7 was where it all went wrong for Sebastian Vettel in 2015, spearing off the track having earlier spun at the same corner. Exiting Turn 11 the track winds left down another long straight leading into the stadium section, the cars braking hard into the sharp right hand Turn 12 as the enter the stadium, with not much space for mistakes on the outside. From turn 12 the cars hit a short burst of acceleration before braking hard for the slow left hand Turn 13 (Sergio Perez delighted the crowd in the stadium by darting his Force India up the inside of Max Verstappen’s Toro Rosso here in the 2015 race). The cars wind slowly around Turn 13 flicking through a right hander Turn 14, climbing over the kerbs as they pass the DRS detection point and straight-line the little wiggle left called Turn 15 and out of the stadium, rejoining the old Peraltada via a tight right hand bend Turn 16 the cars then winding right around the remains of the old curve (Turn 17), with the pit entry on the inside, the cars shooting onto the long main straight with the DRS zone ready to challenge for position into Turn 1.
TYRES WITH PIRELLI:
Like the United States Grand Prix that has just taken place, the tyres brought to Mexico will be the P Zero Yellow soft, P Zero Red supersoft and P Zero Purple ultrasoft (which reverts to its usual colour after turning pink in Austin!). The Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez, named after Mexico’s famous racing brothers, is one of the quickest tracks of the year, and – as has been the case on a few occasions already this season – it’s the first time that the ultrasoft has been nominated there. With the race only returning to the calendar two years ago, expect to see more lap records broken this weekend.
THE THREE NOMINATED COMPOUNDS
1/ Purple ULTRASOFT
2/ Red SUPERSOFT
3/ Yellow SOFT
THE CIRCUIT FROM A TYRE POINT OF VIEW:
- Surface is quite smooth and slippery, reducing tyre wear and degradation despite the high speeds (372kph was seen in 2016).
- Weather can be a question mark in Mexico City at this time of year: anything is possible.
- As well as the fast corners, there is also a well-known slow and technical stadium section: an interesting mix of old and new.
- Most drivers went for one stop last year, including the winner, Lewis Hamilton.
- Pit lane is the longest of the year, increasing the stop time and so influencing strategy.
MARIO ISOLA – HEAD OF CAR RACING
“In Mexico, we again maintain our principle of bringing softer compounds than last year whenever possible, in the pursuit of increased performance and more exciting races. This is actually the second consecutive year that we are bringing a new tyre to Mexico, as last year the supersoft was nominated there for the first time. Only two races have been run on the current version of the track before, so it’s not one of the venues that the teams are most familiar with. This means that there will be some learning to do with the ultrasoft in particular during free practice”.
- The ultrasoft tyre comes to Mexico City for the very first time and has proved very popular: many drivers have selected the maximum number of 10 sets.
- Following the support for Susan G.Komen® foundation in the United States, the charitable focus this weekend will be on the victims of the Mexico City earthquake earlier this year.
- Italy’s Paolo Andreucci recently clinched a remarkable 10th Italian Rally Championship title, using Pirelli tyres on his Peugeot Italia 208 T16.
AUTÓDROMO HERMANOS RODRÍGUEZ MINIMUM STARTING PRESSURES (SLICKS)
21.0 psi (front) – 19.5 psi (rear)
EOS CAMBER LIMIT
-3.50° (front) | -2.00° (rear)
Mexico has been won by Mercedes both times since it returned to the calendar in 2015, but it will likely be a close run affair this year, with Ferrari probably considered slight favourites over Mercedes, as the race sees teams run with a high downforce setup to compensate for the high altitude of the track. Ferrari have fared better under high downforce conditions this year, and have also fared better on the Ultrasoft Pirelli, so they will hope to spoil Lewis Hamilton’s championship party by pushing for a win, but although Lewis can afford to finish behind both Ferrari’s and Red Bulls and still be crowned champion, don’t expect Lewis to sit back and let Vettel have a win! While the high downforce the teams will run would seem to play to the strength of the improved Red Bull chassis, the Bulls will again lose ground to the rivals on the long straight, and given Renault’s inability to match the qualifying performance of their rivals expect the Bulls to line up just behind the Mercs and Ferrari’s in qualifying, but make life miserable for anyone they get the jump on at the start. Behind the top 3 it should be an interesting scramble in midfield, with Force India likely to be leading the pack, with Renault likely to be rounding out the top 10 and keep an eye out for McLaren to pull a surprise, if they finish that is, which of course, would be a surprise in itself!
1964– Surtees is champion on four wheels (read more)
1990– Ferrari 1-2 in Prost’s masterclass and Mansell’s Mexican magic (read more)
The back up entertainment will be provided by the Porsche Supercup, which will host a double header to close out it’s season, with the title set to be decided between Michael Ammermuller and Dennis Olsen (who has already sealed the rookie title), with Ammermuller just 3 points ahead. Mexican F4 and the masters historic series will also feature.