Mexican Grand Prix – Preview

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Hot on the heel of Kimi Räikkönen shocking victory in the US Grand Prix, the Formula One field made a relatively small trip from Austin to Mexico City for the Mexican Grand Prix, Round 19 of the 2018 FIA F1 World Championship.


On 4 November 1962, the Mexican Grand Prix opened its history book with its very first chapter in form of a non-championship race. The Magdalena Mixhuca track was the 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. It was once again Jim Clark who won the race, but this time without the help of a team-mate. 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 in the third place which has not been enough to clinch the title against his rival Graham Hil. However, his team Ferrari asked Surtees’s team-mate Lorenzo Bandini to let the Englishman through, he was crowned champion, winning the title by one single point.

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 officials struggled to control that mass. The race was marred by different problems. As official failed to handle the enormous crowd, the race had to be delayed by an hour.

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.

The most successful drivers and teams

The 18 Mexican Grand Prix to date have seen 15 different winners. With their two wins apiece, Jim Clark, Nigel Mansell and Alain Prost are the most successful drivers in the history of the Mexican GP. The group of the one-time Mexican GP winners is formed by Max Verstappen, Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg, Ricciardo Patrese, Ayrton Senna, Gerhard Berger, Jacky Ickx, Denny Hulme, Graham Hill, John Surtees, Richie Ginther and Dan Gurney.

The most successful constructors are Lotus, McLaren and Williams, all of them have won the Mexican Grand Prix on three occasions apiece. Ferrari and Mercedes have both clinched victories two times. Red Bull, Honda, Brabham, Cooper-Maserati, Benetton-BMW all have a single Mexican GP victory in their record.

Track characteristics

With its current length of 4.304km, the Hermanos Rodriguez track is among the shorter race curses. To cover the whole race distance of 305.584km, drivers have to complete 66 laps on Sunday. The track layout is formed by 16 turns, of which 9 are right-handed ones. The track is usually

The stretch between the first row and the first corner is an eyebrow-raising length of 890m which makes the start a battle for the perfect tow just as it is on the Sochi race track. 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 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

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. The track lies well above 2000m sea level. 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.