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Mexican GP 2019

OCTOBER 25, 2019

Practice 1 Report - Disjointed

Lewis Hamilton, Singapore GP 2019
© RV Press

By Dan Knutson in Mexico City

Free Practice 1 for the Mexican Grand Prix was a rather disjointed affair due to a damp track early in the session and a red flag stop after Lance Stroll hit the barriers later on. At the end of it all, Lewis Hamilton was fastest in his Mercedes ahead of Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc.

The line-up for the weekend was: Mercedes – Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas; Ferrari – Sebastian Vettel and Leclerc; Red Bull TAG Heuer – Max Verstappen and Alexander Albon; Renault – Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg; Haas Ferrari – Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen; McLaren Renault – Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris; Racing Point Mercedes – Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll; Alfa Romeo Ferrari – Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi; Toro Rosso Honda – Daniil Kvyat and Pierre Gasly; Williams Mercedes – George Russell and Robert Kubica.

For FP1 Nicolas Latifi drove Kubica's Williams.

Mexico City's high altitude of 7,350 feet (2245 meters) creates a special set of challenges for the cars and drivers.

"Obviously racing at altitude has an impact on how the car feels," Vettel said. "We are racing with maximum downforce level in terms of car setup, but, since we are racing so high above sea level, the air is very thin and the cars actually produce very little downforce.

The 2.674-mile (4.304 km) Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez has 17-turns.

"On the long straight, I think we see the fastest top speeds of the season," Vettel said, "which makes it difficult to manage the corners, because we've got so little downforce physically on the car. The car is moving around a lot and it's difficult to get the tires to work, in fact it's hard to get the whole car to work and to get the right feel from it. It's a relatively short lap but not an easy one."

Norris and Raikkonen were the first out on the tricky track. Raikkonen returned to the pits after reporting that his steering wheel was not straight.

The ambient temperature at the start of the 90-minute session was 61 degrees Fahrenheit (16 degrees Centigrade) and the track temperature was 68 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Centigrade).

Some of the drivers were running on Pirelli's intermediate rain tires as the track was still damp in places from the rain the previous night. But none of the drivers was keen to clock a lap time in the early going. At the 15-minute mark all 20 drivers were in the garages, and none of them had completed more than three installation laps.

Finally, around the 22-minute mark, the teams decided that the track was dry enough for slick tires and sent there drivers out there. Latifi posted the first time of FP1 – a 1:24.463. Bottas easily beat that with a 1:21.887. "Slippery but dry," Bottas radioed.

Hamilton, on the medium compound Pirelli slicks like his teammate, took the lead with a 1:21.127 but not for long. The track was ramping up and the times were tumbling. Bottas turned a 1:19.889 and Hamilton responded with a 1:19.463. Verstappen beat both of them with his 1:19.035.

Then Hamilton lowered the time to 1:19.004 as the Ferrari drivers moved into third and fourth behind Verstappen.

After all that down time earlier in the session, 19 of the 20 drivers (no Vettel) were on the track 25 minutes into FP1. Leclerc, on the medium Pirelli slicks, cut in a 1:18.849.

At the 40-minute break the order was: Leclerc, Hamilton, Verstappen, Bottas, Vettel, Stroll, Hulkenberg, Perez, Albon and Kvyat. Once back their garages, the drivers were again reluctant to leave, although Grosjean and Latifi did eventually venture out. And that seemed to encourage a few others to do the same.

Albon, on the soft slicks, moved into the lead with a 1:17.949.

Then, at the 57-minute mark, the session was red flagged when Stroll jammed his car into the tire barriers in the penultimate turn. He managed to extricate the car before marshals arrived. But they still had work to do, picking up debris and checking the barriers.

There were 21 minutes left when the session was restarted. A bunch of drivers – 16 – were lined up in the pits to go out. And soon all but Stroll had left their garages.

Hamilton, on the softs, slotted into the lead with a 1:17.327. Verstappen used the softs to go second at 1:17.472. But Leclerc, running the mediums, displaced Verstappen. Vettel, meanwhile, locked up his brakes and went straight at Turn 1.

Stroll's car had been repaired, and he went out to check things out as the session headed into its last 10 minutes. And the track got very bsuy in the final minutes with all 20 drivers pounding around on long runs.

The disjoined session ended with Hamilton still on top ahead of Leclerc, Verstappen, Albon, Bottas, Vettel, Sainz, Gasly, Kvyat and Giovinazzi.