Mexican Grand Prix: Race Advance

Altitude is Everything in Mexican Grand Prix

KANNAPOLIS, North Carolina (Oct. 25, 2017) – After racing on home soil last weekend in the United States Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas (COTA) in Austin, Texas, Haas F1 Team heads south of the border for the Mexican Grand Prix Sunday at Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez in Mexico City.

The 4.304-kilometer (2.674-mile), 17-turn circuit has hosted Formula One since 1963, but in preparation for Formula One’s return in 2015 after a 22-year hiatus, it was completely revamped. Noted track designer Hermann Tilke penned the new layout, which followed the general outline of the original course. The entire track was resurfaced, with new pit, paddock and spectator stands constructed. The most notable changes from the old layout to the current version were an added sequence of corners comprising turns one, two and three, along with a revised set of corners through the Foro Sol baseball stadium, which was built inside the famed and feared Perlatada corner, which serves as the track’s final turn.

The new asphalt made for a slippery surface in 2015 and despite a year of weathering, it remained slick in 2016. Even as the refurbished track readies for its third year of Formula One action, drivers and teams alike expect grip to be elusive.

The smooth pavement is one factor, but Mexico City’s notoriously thin air is another significant contributor.

Sitting 2,200 meters (7,218 feet) above sea level, Mexico City’s high altitude means there is less downforce on the cars. To compensate for this, teams run more downforce than they would at similarly fast tracks like Italy’s Autodromo Nazionale Monza and Azerbaijan’s Baku City Circuit. But with top speeds expected to surpass the high mark of 372 kph (231 mph) earned last year, teams have to compromise between straight-line speed and the downforce necessary to push through the track’s corners.

Cooling is another issue facing teams in the Mexican Grand Prix. The thinner air means the turbo has to spin at a higher rate to inject more oxygen into the engine, and with the brakes being used for approximately 25 percent of the race’s 71-lap duration, keeping those brakes cool adds another degree of difficulty.

Haas F1 Team is up for the challenge, with drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen eager to get back on track and vie for points in the hyper-competitive midfield. The American squad is eighth in the constructors standings with 43 points, five points behind seventh-place Renault and 10 points behind sixth-place Toro Rosso with a 20-point cushion over ninth-place McLaren.

With only three races remaining in the 2017 FIA Formula One World Championship, the midfield battle is as tight as it’s been all season. Points are highly coveted by all, but with the super teams of Mercedes, Scuderia Ferrari and Red Bull typically consuming six of the top-10 point-paying positions, the seven other teams on the grid scrape and claw for the remaining four spots and the valuable points that come with them.

Shut out of the points at COTA after scoring a double-points finish in the preceding Japanese Grand Prix, Haas F1 Team seeks an elevated position in the constructors standings with a high-end performance in the elevation of Mexico City.

While Mexico City is next up on the Formula One calendar, the team enjoyed a very warm reception at its home race last weekend at COTA. Talk about all the attention Haas F1 Team received from fans and media alike.

“For me, personally, it was the busiest weekend of the year. Obviously, a lot of people wanted to talk with us. I was amazed going out to Haas Hill how many fans were there and how passionate they were. It’s nice to see people with merchandise, wearing hats from Haas. We know they support us. They gave us a very warm welcome. It was a lot more than last year as people are getting used to us. We are still an underdog, but we’re kicking left, right and center. I think we’ve earned our space here. I hope the American fans will support us even more in the future.”

It was a busy weekend at COTA. How did you balance it all?

“I don’t mind busy. That is what we’re here to do. We’ve got good people working at Haas F1 Team and I trust them fully. I can do more of the public stuff, for the fans and for the media. My job changes depending on where we are. I don’t mind busy.” 

We saw Renault step up its game last weekend at COTA. While Mercedes has all but settled the championship battle, this midfield battle will be a fight to the finish. Does it seem that in these last three races there’s more parity than ever in the midfield?

“It doesn’t get any easier, especially for us, because the bigger teams like Renault have stepped up more than we did in the last few races. It’s up and down, and it’s unpredictable what is happening. Who would’ve thought that’d we’d finish eighth and ninth in Japan? Nobody would’ve given us that credit to work to those positions on merit. Anything can happen in this midfield, and I hope we’re able to make the best out of it.”

How much does Mexico City’s altitude affect the car, from engine performance, to brake performance to aero performance?

“A lot. It’s very different to anything else. You need your highest downforce level – whatever you can you put on there because of the air being so thin. Cooling – you never have enough up at that altitude. It is different, but we know we have to adapt to it.”

Grip was in short supply at the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez in 2015 and it remained that way last year. What did you have to do to compensate for the lack of grip?

“You always try to get as much downforce as possible. It hasn’t been a favorable circuit for us. We’re not afraid of it, but it will be a challenge.”

Finding grip means getting the tires into their proper working window. With 17 races having been run this season, have you discovered any tricks to the trade in getting a particular tire compound into its appropriate working range, and if so, how do you keep it there?

“It is a moving target. You never know, there are so many factors coming in from the track that affect how your tires work. We’re surprised every weekend what it does.”

Explain what you do in qualifying to get the tires into their proper working range so you can extract the maximum amount of performance out of them for a fast lap.

“What you try to do is get the tire to the temperature you want to have it for when you cross the start-finish line. At the beginning of the lap, at turn one, you’re already in the temperature window, then you’re not running too hot when you come out of the last turn. Every track is different and every day is different because of the temperature. It’s a very difficult task, and it’s very difficult to do it mathematically. It also involves a lot of driver feeling – what is best to do. Then with the traffic coming into play, sometimes you want to achieve a target, but you cannot because you’re on your out-lap in traffic and you cannot achieve the temperatures. It’s a very difficult task, but it’s the same for everybody. It’s a lot of planning and there’s a lot of management involved in it.”

When the Mexican Grand Prix returned in 2015, Haas F1 Team wasn’t on the grid yet, but you were in attendance. What was the atmosphere like?

“It was fantastic. There were a lot of people and everything was sold out. They had to build more grandstands to meet the demand for tickets. It’s a very nice event and this is what’s fantastic about F1. You still get tens of thousands of people coming to an event, and we expect the same this year.”

How much does Mexico City’s altitude affect the car, from engine performance, to brake performance to aero performance?

“Brake cooling is an issue because of the air density. From there, we also have very little downforce because we’re at altitude. I guess the biggest thing for us to feel is the downforce loss. The biggest challenge for the car is the cooling.”

How much does Mexico City’s altitude affect you physically, especially during the race?

“It’s been fine in previous years, but with these new cars, and if the track has rubbered up a little bit, it could be harder.”

Grip was in short supply at the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez in 2015 and it remained that way last year. What did you have to do to compensate for the lack of grip?

“Find the right setup and find the right way to get the tires to work at their best in those conditions, which is always a challenge.”

With the higher levels of downforce these current-generation cars achieve, do you expect grip to be less of a factor in this year’s race?

“No, I think it’s always going to be the same, because that’s the key to perform. The more grip you have, the better you are. I think even with more downforce, we’re still going to lose the same amount as we did last year in terms of percentage, compared to a normal track. It’s going to be slippery.”

Finding grip means getting the tires into their proper working window. With 17 races having been run this season, have you discovered any tricks to the trade in getting a particular tire compound into its appropriate working range, and if so, how do you keep it there?

“I guess that’s still our Achilles’ heel. We’re still struggling a bit with getting our tires right. That comes with time and experience. We are getting better. We’re all working hard to find the right answers. Sometimes though, we still don’t have them. We do on some occasions, which is great, but on others we don’t. We just have to come to a racetrack and see, then we try to do our best from there.”

Explain what you do in qualifying to get the tires into their proper working range so you can extract the maximum amount of performance out of them for a fast lap.

“It depends a lot on the circuit. Some circuits you need a slow out-lap not to heat the tires too hard. Other circuits you really need to push hard on the out-lap to generate the temperature and the grip. It really does change circuit to circuit. We just have to go and see.”

After a 22-year absence, Formula One returned to Mexico in 2015. You competed in that race. What was the atmosphere like?

“It was a great atmosphere. During the driver parade, I don’t think I’d ever seen such a big crowd than in the last part of the circuit at the stadium section. It was an awesome race with a lot of fans.”

The stadium section seems to be the most talked about portion of the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez because of its sheer scope. What is it like to go through that area with all the fans in attendance during the driver’s parade, and what is it like to drive through there at speed during the race?

“During the race, unfortunately, we don’t get the chance to see the fans. But on the finish lap, after the checkered flag, you really get a chance to see everyone. The podium being there makes for a great image. It looks awesome from the outside.”

What is your favorite part about Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez?

“I like the first three corners. They’re pretty good.”

Describe a lap around Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez.

“Long straight line going into turn one with big braking, 90 degrees right-hand side, followed by a small chicane. It’s very important to get the second part right because you’ve got another long straight line. Then you’ve got another 90-degree left corner, and then a 90-degree right corner. That’s followed by a very weird double right-hander. It’s very difficult to find a line. Then you go to the middle section which is flowing, with mid- to high-speed left and right corners. Next it’s the entry to the stadium – big braking here, very tricky with the wall facing you. Then it’s a very slow hairpin in the stadium, as slow as Monaco. Finally, it’s the double right-hand corner with very important traction going into the old part of the oval to finish the lap.”

How much does Mexico City’s altitude affect the car, from engine performance, to brake performance to aero performance?

“It has a big effect on all those things. It’s one of the tricky races that you have to compromise a lot of things in order to cool the car and find downforce.”

How much does Mexico City’s altitude affect you physically, especially during the race?

“You don’t really notice it so much. You can feel that the air is thinner, that you have to breathe a bit more, but you get used to it.”

Grip was in short supply at the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez in 2015 and it remained that way last year. What did you have to do to compensate for the lack of grip?

“You need a lot of downforce there. As the air is thin, you lose downforce. It’s pretty tricky. You can see the effect it has on top speeds. Because the air is so thin, you don’t have a lot of drag from the air down the straight. Our maximum speeds go very high.”

With the higher levels of downforce these current-generation cars achieve, do you expect grip to be less of a factor in this year’s race?

“We will have more grip and we’ll have more downforce, but it’ll still be a low-grip race.”

After a 22-year absence, Formula One returned to Mexico in 2015. While you didn’t compete in that first race, you competed in last year’s Mexican Grand Prix. What was the atmosphere like for that race?

“The atmosphere is awesome. You have the infield part – the stadium part – and it’s always packed. The Mexican people are really into it. It’s a great atmosphere.”

The stadium section seems to be the most talked about portion of the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez because of its sheer scope. What is it like to go through that area with all the fans in attendance during the driver’s parade, and what is it like to drive through there at speed during the race?

“You notice it on the driver’s parade, for sure. The fans are very passionate.”

What is your favorite part about Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez?

“I would say the stadium section.”

Describe a lap around Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez.

“Fast, low-grip and difficult.”

Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez

  • Total number of race laps: 71 
  • Complete race distance: 305.354 kilometers (189.738 miles)
  • Pit lane speed limit: 80 kph (50 mph)
  • This 4.304-kilometer (2.674-mile), 17-turn circuit has hosted Formula One since 1963, with last year’s Mexican Grand Prix serving as the venue’s 17th grand prix.
  • Nico Rosberg holds the race lap record at Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez (1:20.521), set in 2015 with Mercedes.
  • Lewis Hamilton holds the qualifying lap record at Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez (1:18.704), set in 2016 during Q3 with Mercedes.
  • Mexico and the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez have had three stints on the Formula One calendar. The first was an eight-year stretch between 1963-1970 before Formula One took a 15-year hiatus from the country. The globe-trotting series returned in 1986 and raced there until 1992. Twenty-two years passed until Formula One came back to Mexico, with the 2015 Mexican Grand Prix drawing a massive crowd estimated at 240,000. To prepare for Formula One’s most recent return, the track underwent a comprehensive renovation. Noted track designer Hermann Tilke penned the new layout, which followed the general outline of the original course. The entire track was resurfaced, with new pit, paddock and spectator stands constructed. The most notable changes from the old layout to the current version were an added sequence of corners comprising turns one, two and three, along with a revised set of corners through the Foro Sol baseball stadium, which was built inside the famed and feared Perlatada corner, which serves as the track’s final turn.
  • DYK? The Mexican Grand Prix has been run 17 times, and every one of them has been at Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez. However, when Mexico hosted its first grand prix in 1963, the track was called Magdalena Mixhuca. It was renamed in honor of local racing hero and Ferrari rising star Ricardo Rodríguez and his racing driver brother, Pedro, who scored two grand prix victories in a career that spanned 54 starts between 1963 and 1971. Ricardo was killed in a non-championship race at Magdalena Mixhuca in 1962 and Pedro died in a sports car race in 1971 at the Norisring in Germany.
  • DYK? The Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez is one of four Formula One locations with ties to the Olympics as the venue hosted numerous events during the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City. Circuit de Barcelona – Catalunya, home to the Spanish Grand Prix, was the site of the start/finish line for the road team time trial cycling event when Barcelona hosted the 1992 Summer Olympics. Sochi, site of the Russian Grand Prix, hosted the 2014 Winter Olympics. Finally, the backstraight at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal runs adjacent to the Olympic rowing basin used during the 1976 Summer Olympics.
  • During the course of the Mexican Grand Prix, lows will range from 10-12 degrees Celsius (50-53 degrees Fahrenheit) to highs of 23-24 degrees Celsius (74-75 degrees Fahrenheit). Relative humidity ranges from 32 percent (comfortable) to 86 percent (very humid), with a dew point varying from 3 degrees Celsius/37 degrees Fahrenheit (dry) to 12 degrees Celsius/53 degrees Fahrenheit (very comfortable). The dew point is rarely below -4 degrees Celsius/25 degrees Fahrenheit (dry) or above 14 degrees Celsius/57 degrees Fahrenheit (comfortable). Typical wind speeds vary from 0-26 kph/0-16 mph (calm to moderate breeze), rarely exceeding 37 kph/23 mph (fresh breeze).

  • Pirelli is bringing three tire compounds to Mexico City:
    • P Zero Yellow soft – less grip, less wear (used for long-race stints)
      • This is one of the most frequently used tires in Pirelli’s range, as it strikes a balance between performance and durability, with the accent on performance. It is still geared toward speed rather than long distances, but it remains capable of providing teams with a competitive advantage at the beginning of the race where cars are carrying a full fuel load, and at the end of the race where the fuel load is much lighter and the race effectively becomes a sprint. It is a high working-range compound.
    • P Zero Red supersoft – more grip, medium wear (used for shorter-race stints and for initial portion of qualifying)
      • This is the second softest tire in Pirelli’s range, and it is ideal for tight and twisting circuits, especially in cold weather, when maximum grip is needed. The supersofts warm up rapidly, which has made it a stalwart choice for qualifying. But with increased grip comes increased degradation. It is a low working-range compound.
    • P Zero Purple ultrasoft – highest amount of grip, highest amount of wear (used for qualifying and select race situations)
      • This is the softest tire in Pirelli’s range, with rapid warming and massive performance. It is best used on tight and twisting circuits that put a premium on mechanical grip. However, because it is so soft, it has a limited lifespan. It is a low working-range compound.
  • The Mexican Grand Prix marks the ninth time these three compounds have been packaged together and the second consecutive race weekend they’ve been used, as teams ran this tire package in the preceding United States Grand Prix Oct. 20-22 at COTA. For last year’s Mexican Grand Prix, the White medium, Yellow soft and Red supersoft compounds were used.
  • The Yellow soft tire has been used in every grand prix this season. The Red supersoft tire has been used everywhere except the Spanish Grand Prix. The Purple ultrasoft has been used in the Australian Grand Prix, the Russian Grand Prix, the Monaco Grand Prix, the Canadian Grand Prix, the Austrian Grand Prix, the Belgian Grand Prix, the Singapore Grand Prix and the United States Grand Prix.
  • Two of the three available compounds must be used during the race. Teams are able to decide when they want to run which compound, adding an element of strategy to the race. A driver can also use all three sets of Pirelli tires in the race, if they so desire. (If there are wet track conditions, the Cinturato Blue full wet tire and the Cinturato Green intermediate tire will be made available.)
  • Pirelli provides each driver 13 sets of dry tires for the race weekend. Of those 13 sets, drivers and their teams can choose the specifications of 10 of those sets from the three compounds Pirelli selected. The remaining three sets are defined by Pirelli – two mandatory tire specifications for the race (one set of Yellow softs and one set of Red supersofts) and one mandatory specification for Q3 (one set of Purple ultrasofts). Haas F1 Team’s drivers have selected the following amounts:
    • Grosjean: two sets of Yellow softs, three sets of Red supersofts and eight sets of Purple ultrasofts
    • Magnussen: one set of Yellow softs, four sets of Red supersofts and eight sets of Purple ultrasofts