What to watch out for in the Mexico City GP: Battle in Turn 1, and some really fast cars starting at the back

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From an unexpected order at the front of the grid to an epic battle behind, and a number of altitude grid penalties playing a big role in performance, we select some of the key areas to watch out for at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez…

Mercedes vs Red Bull battle in turn 1

The opening line for this section in Austin said “you couldn’t script it much better,” but in some ways this week could have made it happen. Red Bull was a big favorite heading into the race weekend, and nothing could dampen that feeling throughout practice in Mexico City.

The first potential warning signs came with the work on the rear wing before qualifying (we’ll talk about that later), but even during Q1 it was Max Verstappen who looked ready for pole. It wasn’t until Q2 that Mercedes took a closer look and then Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton blocked the front row when it counted.

READ MORE: Mercedes shocks Red Bull as Bottas takes pole ahead of Hamilton in Mexico

For Red Bull, it still felt like a missed opportunity, with the confusion behind Yuki Tsunoda costing them a pole chance. Verstappen went so far as to call it a “terrible qualifying” and said Mercedes’ speed was no surprise as a result, so he’s clearly confident in Red Bull’s pace.

But from the second row on, Verstappen and Perez need to find a way to get past the defending champions, and they’ll have good long-term luck until Turn 1 which offers a clear opportunity for a wake. Mercedes drivers know they have to work together to defend, and it will be a first lap that will have a huge impact on the end result of the race.

Mexico GP 2021 qualifying: how Mercedes locked the front row in Mexico

Gasly vs. Ferrari vs. Ricciardo

The McLaren and Ferrari battles have been a recurring theme this year, but on several occasions we’ve seen Pierre Gasly enter the mix and Mexico City is one of those places that fits AlphaTauri. Gasly appears to have the fastest car outside of the top two teams, but Yuki Tsunoda’s grid penalty means he’s alone in the top ten.

It’s a similar scenario for Daniel Ricciardo, who managed to separate the two Ferrari drivers after a useful tow from teammate Lando Norris, but Norris is also at the back of the grid.

Ferrari could therefore have Gasly ahead of Carlos Sainz and Ricciardo ahead of Charles Leclerc, but they will feel they have the strategic advantage in the fight.

READ MORE: Sainz surprised by P6 after struggling for pace – and with phantom engine issue – in qualifying

And while McLaren and Ferrari have to worry about each other in the overall standings, Gasly has to maximize his chances of scoring strongly as Alpine starts with both cars outside the top ten. Balancing this risk / reward could be crucial.

A third row start for Gasly on Sunday, but can he dominate the midfield?

Norris and Tsunoda providing serious entertainment

As noted above, Norris and Tsunoda were both in Q3 despite grid penalties weighing them down. For Norris, he achieved it using the medium compound tire, so he will start on the midrange, compared to Tsunoda reaching Q3 on the softs.

It might seem like an odd approach to commit to starting with the tire compound that everyone wanted to avoid despite being in the back, but it was crucial for both teams to have both cars in. the last part of the qualifications to ensure towing. Once their job was done, however, they were relegated to 17th and 18th on the grid.

READ MORE: “We have Tsunoda’d!” – Horner on the incident that hit Red Bull’s pole attempts in Mexico

Tsunoda took the lead after setting the fastest time in Q3, and despite his choice of rubber, he was quick all weekend. Norris believes the AlphaTauri is a lot faster than the McLaren, but the straight-line speed of its new engine should help it move up the field as well.

These are two drivers who could provide some serious entertainment as they fight when the lights go out.


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Norris starts at the back – but how far can he go?

Cooling issues

One of the main challenges of the Mexico City Grand Prix is ​​altitude, which influences a number of different aspects of a car’s performance. Monaco’s downforce settings only provide levels of Monza specs, but it’s other ways the air hits the car that are of more concern for teams during the race.

Finding a way to cool the powertrain and brakes is always a major focus throughout the weekend, but that’s when the cars largely run on their own. When it comes to a racing situation, having clean air is crucial because if you follow another car closely the temperatures start to rise quickly.

HIGHLIGHTS: All the action of qualifying as Mercedes causes shock in Mexico

If you are second on the road, unlike other sites where the main loss is downforce, in Mexico the air is clear for reliability reasons which will often cause drivers to back up to create space and cool the car.


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Who mastered the cooling enigma for the Mexico City GP?

Other reliability issues

Based on the race we’ve seen this weekend so far, there are other areas that are already on the minds of the teams. At Williams, there were gearbox issues for George Russell – as well as an unforeseen powertrain change – but it was at Red Bull that the main intrigue was.

The team were working hard on their rear fins before qualifying and when the cars took to the track, duct tape was added to each end of the main elements in an apparent attempt to strengthen the fenders before parc fermé regulations were made. applied.

“We saw something in P3 and we just wanted to add some protection in those rear fins,” said team principal Christian Horner afterwards. “So it was more careful than anything else, so nothing that could affect performance.

“I do not think so [it will be an issue for the race]. Guys are going to have a look at it tonight, but I think the change that was made addressed all the concerns.

“We were just concerned about a little fatigue that we had seen, nothing serious but we just wanted to take no chances.”

Regardless of Horner’s comments, there will always be a performance trade-off to stick the rear wing, so it remains to be seen if that hurts Red Bull’s race chances or even if the fix is ​​enough. But if Red Bull suffers from fatigue on certain parts as we approach the end of the season, there is a good chance that other teams are too …


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Red Bull’s rear wing issues were evident on Saturday


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