The last few races have seen some fascinating strategy gambles from Red Bull and others, so will we see more of the same this weekend, as the F1 teams race for the second time on the revamped Hermanos Rodgrizuez circuit in Mexico City?
Over 350,000 people are expected to attend across the three days, with organisers installing new grandstands, such is the demand for F1 tickets in Mexico. The track was brand new last year, so the surface has had a year to shed the oils that are always present in new tarmac and in addition there has been quite a bit of racing activity, so there should be significantly more grip from rubber on the surface.
The confines of the Magdalena Mixhuaca park which the circuit is located within meant the circuit layout had to be badly compromised in order to accommodate Formula One’s return 12 months ago. But even making allowances for that, the Tilke redrawing of the layout stripped it of every corner worthy of a name. While the loss of the mighty Peraltada was no less regrettable for being inevitable, it’s a shame more of the other quick corners couldn’t have been retained, at least in spirit if not exact configuration.
Nonetheless the vast crowd will make for a brilliant atmosphere and the combination of unusually high altitude and a very long straight – where cars exceeded 360kph last year – makes for a distinctive venue. Last year the freshly-laid asphalt was slippery. But since then several other series have been to visit, including the World Endurance Championship last month, so the drivers will hopefully find more grip this time. If that permits cars to follow each other through the second part of the lap more closely, we could see more jockeying for positions on the straight.
As Mexico City heads into the dry season, rain showers are still possible throughout GP weekend.
According to UBIMET, the official provider of meteorological services to the FIA, Thursday in Mexico City will bring a mix of sun and clouds, but it is expected to remain dry. A light breeze will continue out of the north-northwest, and it will be a touch cooler, with temperatures topping out between 19 and 21 degrees Celsius.
Heading into the race weekend, dry weather is expected to continue for Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
This is normal for this time of year, as the end of October is the beginning of the dry season in Mexico City that continues all the way through the winter months. Each day will bring light winds with skies varying between partly to mostly cloudy. However, some showers could not be excluded during the afternoon and evening hours. High temperatures will remain a few degrees below average, with highs between 16 and 19 degrees Celsius.
The tyre nomination for the Mexican Grand Prix is exactly the same as that for the United States Grand Prix last weekend: P Zero White medium, P Zero Yellow soft and P Zero Red supersoft. However, the two circuits are very different, with Mexico only returning to the calendar last year following an illustrious history in its previous incarnations from the 1960s until 1992. The current layout maintains elements of the former, very fast circuit, combined with more recent technical and slower sections: making it an intriguing mix of old and new that is slightly reminiscent of Monza.
Along with Monza and Baku, Mexico is one of the fastest circuits on the 2016 calendar. However, the cars run more downforce than at Monza, partly to compensate for the altitude. The asphalt is still new, as the circuit was resurfaced for last year's inaugural race (smoothing out the bumps that used to be typical of Mexico). The surface may have evolved this year.
Mexico's most famous corner – Peraltada – is the one that takes most energy from the tyres.
Weather is always a question mark, with both warm conditions and heavy rain possible. Last year, the track was slippery: however the circuit has been quite extensively used by a number of different championships during the season, which should lay more rubber down. With Mexico being new to the calendar last year, there are no major changes this season.
Mexico is the highest-altitude circuit of the year, which means that turbo units have to spin faster to produce the same power. Deployment of electrical power is not affected though. Top speeds in Mexico peaked at 366kph last year: this year they should be even quicker.
White medium: a mandatory set, which has not been chosen extensively by most drivers.
Yellow soft: another mandatory set, likely to be used a lot and play a key role in race strategy.
Red supersoft: will be used in Mexico for the first time this year, mandatory for the Q3 session.
The FIA has confirmed the positioning of the two DRS zones on the revised Mexico City F1 track. The zones will be positioned on consecutive straights: the first on the long start/finish straight, and the second at the exit of turn three.
As the first straight is one of the longest on the F1 calendar at around 1.2 kilometres, its DRS zone will begin 425 metres after the preceding corner. This has been named the Nigel Mansell curve. The second DRS zone begins 120 metres after turn three. Both DRS zones share a single detection point which is positioned at turn 15, a left-hand kink which leads the drivers out of the new stadium section.
Mexican Grand Prix in numbers
The 2016 Mexican Grand Prix will be the 17th world championship F1 race hosted at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez. The track is named after Mexican F1 racers Ricardo and Pedro Rodriguez, and the former held the record for being the youngest front row starter by qualifying second at the 1961 Italian Grand Prix aged 19 until Max Verstappen qualified second at Spa earlier this year aged 18.
Heading into this weekend’s race, Mercedes has now won 16 races in each of the last three F1 seasons and can now set a new all-time record for victories in a single season if it wins any one of the final three events. The 2016 season is the longest in the history of F1 but if one of the Silver Arrows wins in Mexico, the team will break its own record in the same number of races (19) as were held in 2014 and 2015.
A lap of Mexico
A 1.2-kilometre straight leads the drivers to turn one, so anyone who gets a poor start will pay a serious price for it. The opening trio of corners feed into each other: a 90-degree right hander followed by a slow chicane. This was once a high-speed right-hander, then a series of three quick bends, and in its latest form is completely neutered.
The main straight is so long it’s easy to overlook the second significant stretch which brings drivers to another sequence of slow bends. The right turn four-five chicane saw some overtaking last year, and a clash between Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Raikkonen which put the Ferrari driver out.
The squared-off hairpin which follows is a “very weird” corner, according to Romain Grosjean. “It’s very difficult to find a line.” Drivers generally sacrifice the first apex to straighten the car up before hitting the second one. This used to lead drivers into a sequence of connected left and right-handers not unlike the first sector at the Circuit of the Americas, only faster and increasing in tempo. Now the drivers briefly flick left, right and left, then tackle a slower right-hander leading into another left and press on torwards the Foro Sol stadium.
In the stadium a tight right-hander leads into a brutally slow hairpin – “as slow as Monaco”, according to Grosjean. “Finally, it’s the double right-hand corner with very important traction going into the old part of the oval to finish the lap.” The density of corners in the second half of the lap means we can expect to hear a lot of complaints about blue flags during the race, even with the new procedure announced last weekend. And the limited run-off space around the stadium and other parts of the track should raise the possibility of Safety Car interruptions.
Nico Rosberg goes to Mexico with the first ‘match point’ in the drivers’ championship as he can clinch the title if he wins and Lewis Hamilton finishes tenth or lower. If he does win the title this year, Rosberg will become the third German F1 world champion after Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel.
For the first time in F1 history, two drivers from the same team are now guaranteed to finish in the first two positions in the drivers’ championship for a third successive year. Behind Rosberg and Hamilton, Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo can wrap up third place in the 2016 standings if he finishes in the top ten in Mexico.
Hamilton can score a victory at a 23rd different F1 circuit if he wins this weekend, which would tie Schumacher’s current all-time record. The world champion can also reach that target if he wins at the next race in Brazil, or take the record for himself if he wins both events.
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