The F1ESTA! of the FORMULA 1 GRAN PREMIO DE MEXICO 2019 got underway with something of a draw between Mercedes and Ferrari while Red Bull indicated that it was also a contender for victory.
That at least is what the first three hours of free practice suggested today at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, in amongst plenty of excitement and points of interest.
In the morning, Lewis Hamilton was fastest in 1.17.327, ahead of the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc (1.17.461) and the two Red Bulls of Max Verstappen (1.17.461) and Alexander Albon (1.17.949).
In the afternoon, it was Sebastian Vettel’s turn to be fastest with a 1.16.607, having been sixth fastest in the morning.
“This morning I was the gardener of Turn 1, in terms of going through the grass. I like mowing the lawn and I did it this morning a couple of times but didn’t need to do it again in the afternoon, since I was able to find the rhythm and everything went smoothly from then on. Charles and I split the work today. I did most of the work on the Medium tyre, which was ok. We don’t look that bad, but I don’t have the full picture yet. I did only two laps on new Softs so it’s difficult to say, but I don’t think I had the worst tyre today for the long runs. However, there are still some areas where we can improve tomorrow in terms of the general balance and the feeling I have with the car. Max (Verstappen) looks strong, but all the three top teams are very close, so let’s see what tomorrow brings,” said Vettel.
Only Verstappen got anywhere near the Scuderia Ferrari Mission Winnow driver, with the Dutchman managing to also get under the 1m 17s barrier, stopping the clocks in 1.16.722. Third, but over four tenths slower than his team-mate, was Leclerc in 1.17.022, while the best of the Mercedes pair was Valtteri Bottas, fourth in 1.17.221, ahead of team-mate Hamilton (1.17.570.)
Completing the top six was another Honda-powered car, but it wasn’t Alex Albon’s. Instead it was Daniil Kvyat in the Toro Rosso with a best time of 1.17.747. Having been a front runner in the morning, Albon was at the bottom of the afternoon time sheet (1.21.665) having only completed five laps before going off at Turn 7 and hitting the barriers. It brought out the second red flag of the day, the first having come in the morning, courtesy of Lance Stroll. It was a shame for Albon who thus lost valuable track time on his first visit here.
Clearly this track is suiting those cars using the Japanese Power Unit, given Pierre Gasly’s seventh place in 1.18.003 for the Faenza-based team, which could make a claim on being the best of the rest here in Mexico.
It wasn’t an easy day for the 21 drivers on track today, including Nicholas Latiffi who took over Robert Kubica’s Williams for FP1, as there were several off-track excursions and mistakes, fortunately only those of Stroll and Albon causing car damage.
The Mexico City track is particularly demanding, partly due to the fact it sits at around 2300 metres above sea level and, especially on Friday, the track is particularly slippery, making life even more complicated. The weather plays its part, especially when it comes to choosing the right cooling level for Sunday’s race and it also affects tyre behaviour. Air temperature is predicted to be stable between 20 and 22 degrees Celsius, but the track could get as high as 42.
Having taken the Constructor’s title in Suzuka, Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport is getting ready to celebrate winning the Drivers’ titles which can only be won by its drivers Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas. It would need a miracle for the Finn to win, whereas Lewis could actually claim it here in Mexico and move ahead of Juan Manuel Fangio in the list of multiple champions, leaving only Michael Schumacher ahead of him.
To win his sixth title, Hamilton must score 14 points more than his team-mate. That’s far from easy given that in the past races here, he has not even managed to get onto the podium, the minimum he would need on Sunday to take the crown.