Mexico Grand Prix – Preview

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Formula One heads to the spectacular, charming, characteristic country of Mexico for its 18th round in the 2017 Championship season. This weekend’s Mexican Grand Prix will be the 19th edition in history.

Mexico first appeared as a non-championship event in 1962 before being held as a championship event in 1963–1970 and 1986–1992.


The first race was held on the Magdalena Mixhuca circuit. This was the very first international race track in Mexico and was built within the confines of a park in the center part of Mexico city. This non-championship event was won by Team Lotus with Jim Clark behind the wheel who took over the the car of his teammate Trevor Taylor to claim the win. The event was marred by the death of the young talent Ricardo Rodriguez.

In 1963, the Formula One arrived at the Magdalena Mixhuca track. The first championship event was als won by Jim Clark. The races until 1970 on this track saw title-decider event and battles between greats like Clark, Lorenzo Bandini, Dan Gurney, John Surtees, Graham Hill, Jo Siffert, Jackie Stewart or Denny Hulme. One of the most exciting event was the one in 1964 when John Surtees secured the title for Ferrari. The Briton was driving on the third place, but after Ferrari signaled his teammate Bandini to let him through, he took the second place to win the title by one single point over Graham Hill.

In 1970, Pedro Rodriguez, the elder brother of Ricardo Rodriguez magnetized the Mexican people. An enormous crowd of approximately 200000 spectators visited the event, but the official struggled to control that mass. That race saw the end of the first period of the presence of the Mexico in the GP history.

A number of attempts to bring Mexico back on the F1 calendar failed. In 1986, the former Magdalena Mixhuca circuit which was renamed for Mexico’s two lost racing heros, Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez made its reappearance on the F1 calendar. That inaugural race of the second period was won by Austrian Gerhard Berger in his Benetton B186. The 1987 was completed in two parts after the heavy crash of Derek Warwick in the Peraltada bend. That race was won by Nigel Mansell.

The 1988 and 1989 GPs were dominated by McLaren. Alain prost won the ’88 race while Ayrton Senna secured the victory in the following season. After showing a stirring drive, Alain Prost won in 1990, this time driving for Ferrari. He started the race from the 13th position, but stromed through the field to the second place and then took the lead when Ayrton Senna was forced to retire following a slow puncture and suspension damage.

Italian Riccardo Patrese won the 1991 race in his Williams-Renault. His teammate Nigel Mansell won next year in front of Patrese.

The air pollution and the decaying track surface with the ubiquitous bumps saw Formula One leave Mexico for the second time.

In August 2011, Carlos Slim Domit revealed plans for a revived race. High level sources suggested that the Mexican Grand Prix would return in 2014. However, FIA announced that the Mexican Grand Prix was postponed to 2015 due to lack of sufficient preparation time to upgrade the somewhat run-down Hermanos Rodríguez circuit to Formula 1 working standards. Nico Rosberg won the inaugural race in the third edition of the GP.

Most successful teams and drivers
Williams, Lotus and McLaren stand out with their record number of victories, all of them scored three wins. Mercedes and Ferrari won two times on the Mexican soil.
Jim Clark, Nigel Mansell and Alain Prost managed to claim the victory two times. Among the one-time Mexican GP winner are Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg, Gerhard Berger, Graham Hill, Dan Gurney, Denny Hulme and Richie Ginther.

Track layout
Drivers travel clockwise around the 4304m long circuit. The race distance of 305.584km is covered over a stretch of 66 laps.
The start is as tricky as on the Sochi track due to the long distance from the first row to the first corner. In Mexico, this segment is 890m long which gives the chance to make benefit from the toe of the frontrunner.

Drivers have to cover a distance of 378m in the pit lane. This long segment aided by the very low tyre wear means that a one-stop-strategy is the aim of the strategists.
The track has an elevation of 2285m. It is made up by 16 turns, nine of them are right-hand bends.

The circuit has long straights, especially the start-finish straight, but it lacks of fast bends. Drivers fail to achieve cornering speeds above the 250kph limit. However, the velocity drops below the 100kph mark in six corners. The slowest part of the track is the area section which is made up by twisty, low-speed corners where the car’s suspension goes through a thorough test. The speed in the slowest corner of the circuit is 78kph.

Drivers have to apply the braking pedal eight times during a lap, three of those braking zones are heavy ones.

High altitude poses huge challenge to the cars
The Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez track of Mexico means a big challenge for engineers and drivers because of its high altitude. Engineers have to calibrate the whole car, especially its cooling systems for the “thinner” air.

The change in altitude has an even bigger effect on the internal combustion engines. On normally aspirated engines, an increase of 100m of altitude means approximately one per cent drop of performance of the engine. It has less oxygen for combustion, so the power output decreases.

However, with the introduction of turbocharger, the situation has changed. The turbo can balance the drop of air pressure out as it can force more air into the combustion chambers. That can be achieved because at other places some air is unnecessary and is released through the ‘wastegate’. That extra air can be used at higher altitude.
That means, however, that the turbo has to work much harder than usual.

Another aspect which engineers have to take into account when they prepare the cars for the requirements of the Mexican race track is the cooling. Many systems of a modern F1 car is cooled with air. Brake cooling, engine cooling, gearbox cooling are all dependent on the air. As the air is thinner, engineers have less air to work with.

That forces engineers to open up the car more than usual. They have to use bigger brake ducts, inlets to keep every air-dependent systems at their operating level in terms of temperature.
Downforce levels are also impacted by the higher altitude. F1 cars stand out with their incredible downforce which enable them mesmerizing cornering speed. Downforce is generated by the interaction of the aerodynamical parts of the car and the air. The change of air density has a huge effect on the amount of downforce generated. The thinner the air is, the less oxygen it contains. The thinner air leads to less downforce.

The Autrodromo Hermanos Rodriguez track has a very long straights which would indicate that engineers opt for smaller wings and smaller wing angles. However, the less downforce induced by the thinner air forces them to use bigger front and rear wings in a bid to achieve a relatively stable car in the mid-to high speed corners of the circuit and in the difficult braking zones. Despite to the bigger wing