Mexican GP: Max Verstappen fastest in damp first practice

F1i 31/10/2015
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Max Verstappen finished on top of the timesheets.

Max Verstappen set the fastest time of the first practice session of the Mexican Grand Prix as Mercedes hit brake trouble.

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In the first session on the refurbished Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, Verstappen set the pace on a 1:25.990. However, the Toro Rosso youngster skipped a corner after running wide at the Esses on his fastest lap, with the time not being deleted at the end of the session despite Verstappen gaining an advantage.

Daniil Kvyat ended the session in second place for Red Bull, 0.305s behind Verstappen having looked set to end FP1 fastest. Both Red Bulls and Ferraris were quick in the first practice session, with Kimi Raikkonen third having set the identical time to Kvyat on his final lap.

Sebastian Vettel was fourth and Daniel Ricciardo fifth ahead of the lead Mercedes of Nico Rosberg. However, Rosberg had a difficult session after his rear brakes caught fire after running wide at Turn 12 as he overtook Vettel, with the Mercedes driver spending half an hour in the pits as the problem was rectified.

Rosberg did get back out on track to improve his time but could not move up a position, while team-mate Lewis Hamilton ended the session in 11th place. The two drivers almost came together at one stage as Hamilton passed Rosberg under braking for Turn 12, with the German having to run wide.

While the track dried out following a damp start which saw drivers complete the early laps on intermediates, conditions remained tricky as the circuit was low on grip. A number of drivers ran wide at the Esses, while also struggling to put the power down through the slow stadium section.

Valtteri Bottas was seventh fastest overall but spun late in the session at Turn 3 having been trying to overtake a Mercedes, while Carlos Sainz, Sergio Perez and Felipe Massa completed the top ten. Perez also had a spin – albeit a controlled one – having run down the escape road at Turn 12.

Felipe Nasr was another driver to spin as he exited Turn 15 – the penultimate corner – and was fortunate to avoid the concrete wall on the outside of the track.

While many drivers got to grips with a circuit which is new to them, Jenson Button completed only nine laps as a power unit issue forced the McLaren driver to spend the majority of the session in the garage.

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Kovalainen: Surprises expected in Mexico

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Predictions are difficult as the Mexican circuit is new to everyone.

After Lewis Hamilton’s victory in Austin last weekend he joined an elite group of drivers to win three world championships. Lewis is a very strong driver, and not only because he’s a three time world champion, but because he has won races and championships when he didn’t have the best car. This was exemplified by his time at McLaren when he managed to win races in difficult circumstances and was thus the stand-out performer in F1. In an era of hybrid engines and new technologies, he’s clearly been the best driver. 

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During the race in Austin, there was a bit of controversy as Nico Rosberg felt Lewis went too far at Turn 1, but I disagree. When you’re fighting for the championship you don’t want to give an inch to a driver and Nico should have known that. Looking at the incident, I don’t think it was clear-cut that Nico necessarily had the corner. Both drivers were side-by-side and perhaps he should have given Lewis the corner, stuck behind him and tried to make the move somewhere else around the lap. Instead he tried to go around the outside. Overtaking Lewis on the outside is a tricky business, as already witnessed in Suzuka when Nico made a similar error

It’s very tight at that level when you’re fighting to be the best. For any driver, the beginning of the race is very important. You want to hang in there, take that lead and then you can look after your tyres a bit and see what the strategy of the other drivers is to take control of things much better.

This weekend brings the F1 public to the modified Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico, a track last used in 1992. In the lead up to the race each team would have received data from the tack, and the drivers would have spent time in the simulators learning the gears and the corners that face them this weekend.

When you’re in the simulator, you’re mainly looking at the gear ratios and the down-force levels so that you have some sort of starting point to testing on Friday morning. At that point, everyone would be familiar with the circuit – the only difference is the surface is new, probably with very low grip at the beginning with lots of track evolution.

It’s generally around the second or third practice session when you have a proper look at the set-up of the car to gain better judgment of the track. It’s exciting to have a circuit like Mexico on the calendar. When going to these new circuits, it doesn’t take long to get comfortable with the track, maybe 5-10 laps. You already have a key idea as to how the circuit is from using the simulators, and a detailed idea about the balance of the car.

It’s important not to rush decisions after the first few laps as you attempt to adjust to changing wind conditions or temperatures. After 10 laps, you’ll know your way around and then it’s just a matter of chipping away during the practice sessions and qualifying. From this, you try to build up speed during the qualifying and then you aim to stretch the car a bit more to be competitive.

As we approach one of the last three racing weekends of the season, I think it’s a lot more difficult to make predictions because the Mexican circuit is new to everyone. There have been a few situations this year where Ferrari have been able to surprise Mercedes on these types of tracks and so I hope for the sake of the sport and the spectators that it is one of the circuits where Ferrari may be more competitive. Still, as usual Mercedes are going to be the team to beat.

Behind Mercedes, there is a battle for the remaining podium spot and Ferrari are best placed to grab it. It will be interesting to see how it works out and what the order is on the finishing line on Sunday. Hopefully something exciting happens, just like Sochi and Austin, and that this new circuit throws up some surprises.

PREDICTIONS

  1. Nico Rosberg
  2. Lewis Hamilton
  3. Sebastian Vettel

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Mercedes boss Wolff unhappy about F1 engine rules plan

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Toto Wolff has clashed with Bernie Ecclestone over engine rules.

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff says his team has “different objectives” to the FIA and Bernie Ecclestone with regards to new engine regulations.

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The FIA announced on Monday it is pushing ahead with plans to introduce a cheaper “client engine” in 2017 in order to bring costs down for customer teams. The move is also designed to try and keep Red Bull in the sport as it threatens to quit F1 as a result of not having a competitive power unit. While Wolff understands why Ecclestone has been keen to make such a move, he is not in favour of the plan to introduce new engines.

“I think you have to understand the different perspectives in that situation,” Wolff said. “You have the engine manufactures who spend a considerable amount of money, who have decided to enter Formula One and stay in Formula One because their particular engine concept fits what is happening on the roads.

“But if you are looking at it from the commercial rights holder, the main priority is to have a level playing field and it’s not good that one concept is more successful than the other. It must always be an objective to level it out in some kind of way and it’s clear in that particular case that we have different objectives.”

And Wolff says Red Bull’s situation is a problem of its own making which he believes could be resolved by the team salvaging its partnership with Renault.

“First of all, I want to say that there is no team without an engine, one team decided to cancel the engine contract when they had one and that team can probably have the same engine again, although I’m not involved in those discussions, but there is no one without an engine.

“Introducing a new style of engine is complex because it needs to be balanced against the current system, we need to change the regulations and it is a completely different technological approach. Can it be done? Yes, it can be done but it’s not what we would be hoping for, but it’s because we have different objectives.”

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