Mark Hughes: How Mexico quirks modified F1’s lead battle

Mexico Metropolis’s excessive altitude at all times tends to contribute to some fascinating efficiency dynamics between the vehicles. When the air is 25% much less dense than at sea degree, the distinction between a Formulation 1 automobile which is often draggy and one which isn’t is way lower than regular. For a similar motive, the discount in downforce signifies that each additional increment that’s produced is additional beneficial.

That goes a really lengthy strategy to explaining why the high-downforce however draggy Mercedes – a automobile which was nearly 0.6 seconds off the tempo at Austin final week – was bang on the tempo right here and solely a greater closing lap by Max Verstappen secured the Purple Bull pole from George Russell’s Mercedes. Right here it was Ferrari which was nowhere, fifth and seventh and 0.6s off the tempo.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Mexican Grand Prix Qualifying Day Mexico City, Mexico

For causes largely unconnected to the aerodynamics, the altitude can also be why the Ferrari isn’t at its greatest right here, as instructed by Carlos Sainz: “We lose a number of efficiency in excessive altitude,” he mentioned, “however I believe it’s a one-off. Altitude for this engine isn’t precisely how we’d need it. We knew earlier than coming right here we had been going to want to take some compromises.”

He’s referring to the Ferrari’s distinctive consumption and turbo configuration. With super-long inlet tracts (which enhance the turbulence and flammability of the inlet cost), a lower-revving MGU-H and a smaller turbo (which takes much less electrical vitality than the others to spin up shortly), it normally has a major acceleration benefit out of the corners, even when on the expense of earlier clipping on the finish of the straights. With Mexico’s 25% discount within the density of the air, this benefit disappears. A much bigger turbo is ideally wanted.

The Ferrari’s front-loaded energy supply (at regular altitudes) is even a part of its dealing with strengths in low-speed corners. Check out any Charles Leclerc telemetry from this yr and it may be seen simply how a lot he overlaps the throttle and brakes into the slower corners, utilizing this to spool up the turbo. It’s an extremely intricate fashion and one which Sainz has come to emulate by way of the season. It has implications on the set-up of the automobile, requiring a powerful entrance finish.

So there are the fundamental traits of the three prime vehicles – and the way their strengths and weaknesses are modified by Mexico Metropolis’s distinctive challenges. The Purple Bull is a good all-round mixture of low drag, good energy and constant downforce all through all experience heights. The Mercedes is draggy however has excellent downforce if it may be run low sufficient – however tough slow-speed dealing with due to the compromise made obligatory by its rear suspension in combining low- and high-speed nook efficiency. The Ferrari has nice downforce, is someplace between Purple Bull and Mercedes in drag, and normally has a low-speed acceleration benefit. However not right here.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Mexican Grand Prix Qualifying Day Mexico City, Mexico

Now factor-in the actual circumstances of the day. The groups had been unusually reliant on FP3 due to Friday’s 2023 Pirelli take a look at in FP2. The observe temperature this morning was round 39C. However it takes solely slightly solar to ship the observe temperatures hovering at this altitude and by the point qualifying started it was as much as 50C. As Russell identified, that not solely lowers general grip, “however it additionally modifications the limitation from the entrance to the rear of the automobile”.

In FP3 the Purple Bull was struggling for a entrance finish and the Mercedes was in a really blissful place, with Russell and Hamilton heading the instances 0.4s away from Verstappen and 0.7s away from the Ferraris. However round a observe 11C hotter, the stability limitation switches to the rear because the rear rubber shortly overheats. This was good for bringing the Purple Bull into its candy spot, much less good for Mercedes and even worse for the already oversteery Ferrari.

However even then, the Mercedes was nonetheless absolutely aggressive with the Purple Bull, primarily sooner within the corners, slower on the straights and about equal over the lap. Each Sergio Perez and Hamilton suffered energy unit derating issues (one other hazard of this altitude) and with the Ferraris struggling, so the battle for pole distilled all the way down to Verstappen vs Russell, particularly after Hamilton had his first Q3 time deleted for observe limits.

“Arrgh,” screamed Russell in frustration after his final lap acquired away from him. “Pole was there for the taking.” He was left counting on his first run time, which was 0.304s slower than Verstappen’s closing flyer.

Contemporary out of the automobile, Russell was satisfied he’d misplaced the lap with an oversteer second between Turns 4 and 5 and that his later run-wide second throughout the kerbs as he entered the stadium was simply from making an attempt to make up the time misplaced within the earlier incident. However a take a look at the GPS of every lap exhibits that the fast oversteer snap value him nearly nothing and that by way of the primary a part of the Esses (Turns 7-8-9) the Mercedes’ larger downforce had clawed Russell again forward, with the Purple Bull’s larger straightline pace then pulling Verstappen again degree on the method to the stadium part. There was nothing in it between them as Russell then took an excessive amount of pace into Flip 10 and ran throughout the exit kerb.

F1 Grand Prix Of Mexico Qualifying

It could effectively have been Verstappen’s pole even with out the Russell mistake, because the Purple Bull had constantly been the quickest by way of the ultimate sector. However Russell was not mistaken in feeling that pole had been attainable.

In the long run, one of the best all-round mixture of automobile traits and driving secured Verstappen the pole.

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