It was the 60th year anniversary of the first F1 Mexico City Grand Prix this weekend, and it was a rather special one. The higher altitude of Mexico brought its own unique challenges, and for some, unique benefits. The lack of pressure meant much lesser drag and much lesser cooling, which shuffled the order quite a bit!
The Cost Cap Saga reaches an end.
The weekend began with rumors of a possible ABA (Accepted Breach Agreement) between Red Bull Racing (RBR) and the FIA, which found RBR in breach of the 2021 annual cost cap by £1,864,000 (1.6%), but they also noted that this amount would have been £432,652 (0.37%) had their Tax Credit been applied properly. RBR were awarded a financial penalty of $7,000,000 (USD) and a 10% reduction in Wind Tunnel and CFD time. While the monetary sum is rather irrelevant for an organisation like RBR, the wind tunnel time is likely to affect them the most, with rivals Scuderia Ferrari and Mercedes-AMG Petronas having a significant advantage in that regard, since they ranked lower in the constructors' championship.
Aston Martin Racing (AMR) also signed an ABA with the FIA for a procedural breach, and were awarded a penalty of $450,000 to be paid within 30 days of the ABA, which they accepted.
RBR Team Principal Christian Horner held a Press Conference on Friday where he criticised the punishment for being too harsh. Elsewhere in the paddock, team principals of various teams expressed disappointment on the penalties not being harsh enough!
A Challenging FP1 for the Rookies
Pietro Fittipaldi, Nyck de Vries, Jack Doohan, Liam Lawson and Logan Sargeant took to the tracks during FP1 this weekend at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, in what turned out to be rather tricky conditions, with the track providing much lesser grip and cooling than other tracks drivers might be used to. A spin from Max Verstappen only proved how poor the grip was at sections on the track. Lawson's AlphaTauri and Fittipaldi's Haas faced issues causing 2 red flags in the session, and both the drivers could not complete their runs. Logan Sargeant missed out on what could have been an easy Super License (SL) point as he fell short of the 100 km required to score it. Sargeant will race for Williams Racing next year alongside Alex Albon if he scores the requisite SL points before the end of the year. Ferrari led the charts as the session closed, which looked promising for the rest of the weekend, which, sadly, turned out to be a red herring for the Italian team.
Another Pirelli Tyre Test and a disappointing FP2 for Leclerc
Pirelli ran another 90 minute tyre test for the 50°C tyre warmers and 2023 compounds, with drivers prohibited from setup changes. The drivers who lent out their cars to the rookies for FP1 got a few laps around with the 2022 tyre range and warmers before testing the new tyres as well. It was a disappointing session for Charles as he lodged his car into the barriers, inflicting considerable damage to it. Lap times for FP2 are not indicative as the data of which tyres the teams were running was not made public.
A Promising FP3 for Mercedes
Mercedes had a promising FP3 as they topped the charts, having run the soft and hard tyres for qualifying and race simulations, alongside many other teams who went down the same path.
A surprising Qualifying session for Bottas
Q1 ended with Sebastian Vettel and Mick Schumacher setting identical times with a faster lap by Mick being deleted after track limit violations at Turn 3. Daniel Ricciardo missed out on Q3 just behind the Alpines, ahead of Zhou Guanyu, whose teammate was challenging the Ferrari's in the top 6! George Russell and Lewis Hamilton put in quick laps on the softest compounds, with Lewis reporting engine issues, only for both of them to be outqualified by Max Verstappen who went quickest with a time of 1.17.755, being the lone driver the crack the 1:17's. Home hero Sergio Perez qualified P4, only missing out on P3 by less than half a tenth of a second! It was an amazing qualifyinf for Valterri Bottas as he outqualified Charles Leclerc in a customer, while being an extremely disappoiting one for the Scuderia as the car most dominant in qualifying this season only qualified a disappointing P5 and P7.
The Grand Prix Review
As the lights went out, the order for most of the race was to be set. Max took the lead on his softs, while Lewis followed closely in second as Checo overtook George across the second straight. It was largely an uneventful race on track, but that was the experience most people had watching the international stream. For anyone on the F1TV stream, there was a bit more to the race! This race was, for most teams, fought on strategy.
As Max and Checo pulled away from the starting line with the softs, everyone expected Red Bull to put their drivers on a two-stopper, as that seemed to be the obvious route with the Pirelli predictions. Mercedes were on a rather obvious one stopper with their start from the hards and the pace they showed.
After Red Bull pitted for softs on Lap 23 for Perez (which was a bit slow at 5.0s, not a time usually seen from a crew like Red Bull's) and on Lap 25 for Max, it seemed suggestive that they'd be on a two stopper. It seemed to be a risky gamble too, with the gap Max had on Lewis being rather similar for almost the entire stint. At lap 45, the race could go anywhere. Zhou and Ricciardo had just pitted from Mediums to Softs, showing that they could go the distance, which seemed to be the motivation for Red Bull to extent their stint on the C3 compound. Mercedes' drivers reported feeling they were on the wrong tyres, only to be consoled by their engineers who were expecting a drop off on the mediums' pace, which just never came. Perhaps the most impressive feat of the race was Max putting in consistent 1:22.000s to 1:22.917s on the mediums throughout the stint, usually being at 1:22.4s. With some great tyre management from the RBR drivers, Max, Lewis and Sergio recreated the 2021 podium, with the Mexican fans overjoyed to see their local driver on the podium once again!
The midfield saw some amazing tyre management, from the likes of Zhou, Albon, Vettel, Ricciardo and Gasly. It was a disappointing end for Fernando Alonso, who faced his fourth engine failure this year whilst in the points, resulting in his fifth DNF of the season, with a lot of points lost to reliability this year. George Russell scored the fastest lap after boxing for softs on lap 70, arguably a decision Mercedes could have made much earlier with their 30+ second gap to Sainz behind them, while, on a track with rather evident track evolution throughout the Grand Prix.
The Ferraris, who have been rather close to the top for most of this season had a disappointing weekend with their pace much faster their midfield, but significantly off that of the leaders, speculated to be caused due to the inadequated cooling the thinner air at this altitude provides. It was not the best of days this season for Charles Leclerc, as he took his 100th F1 Grand Prix start, only to finish more than a minute off the leader. The McLarens found great pace on the softs this weekend, and even with the 10s time penalty Ricciardo was awarded for the shunt with Tsunoda which took him out of the race, Daniel retained his P7 finishing position by pulling away a time greater than the penalty after his soft stint being full of overtakes. For what was possibly the first time this season, he felt comfortable with the car, with the most notable move being his finger gun towards Esteban Ocon before performing an overtake on him! It was only complemented by McLaren's amazing pitstop of 1.98s, the first sub-2 second time with the 18" wheels.
The Alfa Romeos did not have the pace they had in qualifying, but still managed to salvage a point on Bottas' side of the garage, as Zhou overtook Seb to secure a P13 finish in the race. Despite Alpine's reliability woes on the other side of the garage, Ocon finished P8, outscoring Lando Norris by a couple of points in a battle for P4 in the Constructors' championship between their respective teams. Haas seemed to struggled all weekend, being way off the pace throughout all the sessions. It was a disappointing weekend for Aston Martin, who struggled for grip all weekend, summarised all too well with Sebastian Vettel's post race interview:
If you find grip, send him to us... our garage. For some reason, he's escaped!
Max also broke the record for the most wins in an F1 season, beating Sebastian Vettel's and Michael Schumacher's 13 race record, with his 14th win at Mexico, with 2 more races to go. If Max wins the other 2 Grands Prix (yes, that is the plural of Grand Prix) as well, he will break the record for the highest win percentage in the season! The results do not tell the true tale of the season, with the RB18, atleast pre-summer break, not being anywhere close to being a dominant car like the F2004! He also broke the record for most points in a season, with his 416 points over Lewis Hamilton's record of 413!
For some, we got to see the Ricciardo of yore in terms of pace, despite his move on Yuki. For others, this was a battle fought on the pit-wall, with data and predictions. We didn't get quite the chase or spectacle of battle that we did at the USGP, so the disappointment from fans online was rather understandable. There was some paddock drama with RBR boycotting Sky Sports for Ted Kravitz's comments on the USGP Post Race show for Sky, but all has settled between the two parties and they'll be on talking terms again at the Brazillian GP.
Formula One heads to Interlagos next, a historically acclaimed track, one with long straights and a promise of great racing. One is only reminded of Lewis Hamilton's charge through the pack last year, as we head into the third Sprint Weekend of the year.
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