We venture south from Texas to Mexico City, and the beautiful Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, the location of the Mexican Grand Prix!
The track first hosted F1 races in 1986, and did so right through to 1992, but concerns over the track, air pollution and Mexico City itself led to Formula 1 withdrawing from the venue. The track was redesigned and relaunched in 2015, and it has become increasingly popular, with the stands usually packed out with fans, many of whom are there to cheer on local hero Sergio Perez.
I found myself enjoying this track. Turns 1 and 2 provide a challenge as the car swings from right to left. Likewise for turns 4 and 5, and turn 6 is quite unique. The snake-sequence of 7 – 11 is challenging but not dauntingly so, and once I got to grips with turn 13, the circuit did not scare me but rather, excited me. I put in several laps on hard tyres and high fuel, continuing my mission to understand the car and track when the car was at its heaviest and most cumbersome, which I hoped would aid me when I got down to qualifying.
Help me it did. I sailed through qualifying though had to rely on soft tyres in Q2, which meant I would have to start on them in the race. In Q3 things went as well as I dared dream, and somehow I parked my Meerkat Racing car in P3. I’d out-qualified Lewis Hamilton, though the real star was Lando Norris, who put his McLaren on pole, pipping Bottas. At the start I got away a little slowly but managed to hold on to third, aided in part by Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari packing in (preventing him from chasing me down), whilst Hamilton ended up in fifth, which became fourth following Leclerc’s early retirement. In the melee Verstappen pranged his Red Bull and fell to the back of the pack, and I found myself falling away from Norris and Bottas, whilst Hamilton began to reel me in.
I offered my fellow Stevenage-born compatriot a brief fight but on the pit straight, armed with DRS, Hamilton blew past me, and at around the same time Bottas got by Norris. I kept my cool and slowly-but-surely eked out a gap over fifth-placed Fernando Alonso, who was doing a stellar job holding up other cars in his Alpine. Then Norris developed a problem with his car, and both Hamilton and I started to close in on him. It wasn’t long before Hamilton got ahead and started to chase his Mercedes teammate Bottas. Soon after that I too got past Norris, which was the catalyst for his car troubles to resolve themselves, and he soon got back in front of me.
From there the battle (from my perspective) was all about staying ahead of Alonso and the pack of cars behind him. With Alonso as a buffer I was able to keep extending a gap to the cars behind me, but eventually his resistance faltered, and Daniel Ricciardo began to close in. The second McLaren kept edging closer and closer and it was largely by the grace of pit stops (it seemed everyone was on an aggressive three-stop strategy, including myself) that I stayed ahead, pitting a lap earlier than Ricciardo and thus taking advantage of that extra faster lap on new softs. I did end up getting dicey with him at one stage, but held him off, and he ended up taking front-wing damage in the process that cost him time in the pits.
It became a case of holding on a little towards the end. Ricciardo worked his way back to fifth and with several laps to go the gap began to close. Fortunately for me it did not close fast enough, allowing me to record fourth place, marking what was easily my best performance for a few races. At the front, at some point Norris ended up ahead of Bottas (presumably via alternate pit strategies) and Hamilton also ended up in the lead, catching and passing Bottas on track. Bottas would climb back to second but Hamilton took the win, and returned to the top of the championship standings.
Mercedes also sealed the Constructor’s Championship, with four races to spare. Meerkat Racing sat in fifth, a pretty respectable position for a brand new team!
From Mexico we would head further south, to Brazil…