November 26, 2021
  • November 26, 2021

Max Verstappen sends message to Mexico

By on November 6, 2021 0

With NASCAR perhaps wrapping up its season this weekend, Formula 1 traveled to Mexico City, Mexico. The Mexican Grand Prix comprises one of the last five races of the season, and Max Verstappen leads Lewis Hamilton by 12 points (287.5 – 275.5) in the drivers’ standings after winning the US GP in a declarative fashion.

In a similar vein, Verstappen and Red Bull came out of the fire on Friday in Mexico. As Valtteri Bottas led the first session ahead of teammate Hamilton, Verstappen was only a tenth of a second off the pace. Mercedes tended to open their engines in the FP1 sessions of the season, and Friday was no different. The problem was, Verstappen kept pace and indicated he was going to keep his favorite status well for the weekend.

Indeed, at the end of FP2, Verstappen was in first place and ahead of Bottas, second, by four tenths. Hamilton climbed to third place, five tenths behind and just ahead of Sergio Perez.

The last time F1 visited Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez in 2019, Hamilton claimed victory, his second on the track. The result, however, is a bit misleading.

Verstappen started from pole in 2019, with Hamilton in fourth. Unfortunately, the two collided in the first lap, with Verstappen dropping to eighth and Hamilton to fifth. The changes in position not only favored Hamilton, but also gave him a clear path to victory.

On lap 4, Verstappen’s race became more difficult when he suffered a puncture after passing Bottas. With the tires failing after entering the pit lane, Verstappen limped around the track before stopping at the pits and eventually returning to the throttle.

He joined the race about 30 seconds behind Romain Grosjean in 19th position. From there he tried to save the race and managed to cross the line in fifth, a finish that deserves more applause than it perhaps had at the time.

But the reason Verstappen and Red Bull are favored for the win is just because of training like this – overcoming an astonishing deficit and still managing to pass three-quarters of the field. Consider then that Verstappen won the Mexican GP in 2017 and 2018, and it’s almost impossible not to acknowledge his goodwill to dominate on Sunday.

Of course, a good performance on Friday does not make a win a victory won in advance, as the 2019 result shows. But it does indicate that the team and the driver are at their peak and bodes well.

As for Mercedes, the team will do their best to stay close and try to keep Perez off the podium in his home grand prix. While Hamilton may not win the drivers ‘title, Mercedes still leads Red Bull in the constructors’ championship, leading 460.5 – 437.5.

Odds and turf

– Daniel Ricciardo suffered a gearbox problem that limited his participation in FP2 to just 10 minutes later Mclaren called him into the pits. The team discovered an issue that required further investigation and he finished the session ranked 15th.

The disappointing performance will surely frustrate Ricciardo as he generally performed well at the Autodromo. He finished eighth while driving for Renault in 2019 and in 2018 he took pole driving for Red Bull. Seeing his name displayed so low on the timesheet does not bode well for the first-year McLaren driver.

Most important, Ferrari seems to continue to show pace after their decent outing at the Circuit of the Americas. As a result, McLaren holds a 3.5 advantage over its Ferrari brethren (254 – 250.5) in the manufacturers’ tightest battle.

With Lando Norris scoring 12th in FP2, while Ferrari saw Carlos Sainz finish fifth and Charles Leclerc seventh, McLaren has a tough challenge in Mexico.

– Ricciardo was not the only one affected by mechanical problems on Friday. George Russell suffered a gearbox problem that brought him back to the garage after just two laps. For a driver who accumulates stellar qualifying results that have often led to points, he will have to start from behind due to the announced gearbox change.

Joining Russell in the back will be Lance Stroll and Yuki Tsunoda who both replaced the powertrain ahead of the GP. Stroll took an assortment of spare parts, installing a new internal combustion engine, turbo, MGU-H and control electronics. It is of particular concern that its Aston Martin is powered by Mercedes and there will be questions regarding the reliability of the power unit in the high altitude environment.

Tsunoda mechanics seem to follow suit by installing a new Honda ICE, turbo, MGU-H and MGU-K. What seems disheartening for Tsunoda is that the Alpha Taurus both showed excellent pace in FP2, with Pierre Gasly in sixth and Tsunoda in eighth – offering Ferrari much better competition than McLaren could muster. Tsunoda, who has improved in the second half of the season, will need to show he can use the pace of the Alpha Tauri to score a winning position and continue his uptrend.

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