Could this be the weekend that Lewis Hamilton wins his fifth World title? He failed to clinch the title in the USA but still extended his lead at the top of the table to 70 points. Now we head to Mexico and Hamilton will retain his title if finishing in the top seven on Sunday. Just a shame the likely triumph will happen at a rather run down Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez track. Friday certainly produced some interesting results that is for sure.
Drivers – 346 Lewis Hamilton 276 Sebastian Vettel
Constructors – 563 Mercedes 497 Ferrari
Points earned in last three races – 65 Lewis Hamilton 46 Valtteri Bottas and Max Verstappen 35 Sebastian Vettel
It’s not often that the top four comprise of two Red Bulls and a couple of Renaults, but that’s what happened in the first practice session for the Mexican Grand Prix. Red Bull were fastest with Max Verstappen 0.483 seconds ahead of team-mate Daniel Ricciardo. Third place went to the Renault of Carlos Sainz, but he was 1.27 seconds behind Verstappen, Fourth spot went to Nico Hulkenberg who was 0.102 seconds behind his team-mate.
Lewis Hamilton was back in fifth, 1.419 seconds adrift of Verstappen with Valtteri Bottas in sixth and Sebastian Vettel seventh fastest 0.671 seconds behind the championship leader. When all the cars were using the fastest hyper-soft tyres, Hamilton was 0.3 seconds slower than Ricciardo. Red Bull kept using the faster tyres, while Mercedes used the ultra-softs, hence the big gap.
The top ten was completed by Kimi Raikkonen with Brendon Hartley’s Toro Rosso in ninth and the Force India of Nicholas Latifi. Pierre Gasly spent the first practice session completing installation laps as his car has an upgraded engine and didn’t set a time.
Well it nearly happened again in second practice, but this time Ferrari ruined a second Red Bull and Renault domination. Red Bull again finished 1-2 with Verstappen 0.153 seconds ahead of Ricciardo. Carlos Sainz was third fastest, 1.233 seconds off the pace and the all Red Bull- Renault double top four was denied with Sebastian Vettel finishing fourth, just 0.001 seconds behind Sainz. A good day for Renault continued though with Nico Hulkenberg 0.092 seconds adrift of the Ferrari. A possible reason for their good performance is the altitude in Mexico which favours engines with less power.
It wasn’t all good news for Red Bull though with Max Verstappen’s car breaking down during second practice with a hydraulic issue.
Brendon Hartley finished sixth fastest in his Toro Rosso with Lewis Hamilton in seventh, 1.38 seconds off the pace. The other Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen was eighth followed by Valtteri Bottas and the Force India of Sergio Perez.
Friday certainly proved to be a strange day with both Ferrari and Mercedes failing to get within of the Red Bulls. Speaking after the second practice session, Sebastian Vettel said he’d be looking to get more grip and said the track has “the least sensitivity on power” but added that his car didn’t have a tidy lap all day but felt they should have been ahead of the Renaults. Tyres appear to be the key with Vettel saying that it appears only Red Bull have been getting them to slide less.
Lewis Hamilton said his Mercedes was “good in some places, but not so good in others” and there are lots of things to improve on. He wasn’t happy with the high track temperatures, saying they were melting and graining the tyres. The big gap was probably explained by their technical director, James Allison. He said they had to run their engines at a lower performance level than usual due to overheating problems “in a number of areas.”
It’ll be interesting to see what happens for the rest of the weekend. Will the combination of tyre problems, overheating and altitude mean a slightly different looking grid for Sunday’s race? I’ll be back at the weekend with a report on how final practice and qualifying goes, til then enjoy your racing.
By Steve Ashfield for Pillow Motor Sport