Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, 2021

High stakes at start as Verstappen must split Mercedes to keep win hopes alive

2021 Mexico City Grand Prix pre-race analysis

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Mercedes were able to surprise Red Bull – and themselves – by snatching the front row at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez. But will they be able to stay ahead until the chequered flag – or even as far as turn one?

The statistics are not on their side. The last time the pole-winner took victory in the Mexican Grand Prix was five years ago, when Lewis Hamilton triumphed.

In 2017, 2018 and 2019 the pole-winner failed to even finish in the top three. That’s not a great omen for Valtteri Bottas after he beat his world championship-contending team mate in qualifying.

The sprint down to the first corner with its huge approach speed and tricky braking zone is likely to be spectacular. Last time Hamilton and Max Verstappen tripped over each other, Hamilton going on to win.

Could a repeat be on the cards? Verstappen has the benefit of the grippy racing line from third on the grid, while Hamilton may find it harder to get away off-line in second. The world champion, however, has the benefit of Mercedes’ slightly superior straight-line speed.

Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes, Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, 2021
Mercedes did not expect to claim the front row
Mercedes’ front row lock-out has taken them by surprise and prompted a reassessment of their likely tactics. “We haven’t discussed it because we felt that we were not in a position to consider to talk about it,” said team principal Toto Wolff. “It would have been such a long shot talking about victory before qualifying. Obviously the situation is different now and we’re going to address that tomorrow in the morning, like we always do in the strategy meeting.”

“Most important is to stay ahead at the start,” he added. “Then from there it is easier to manage the race.” No doubt Bottas and Hamilton co-ordinate their efforts to share the slipstream and block the Red Bulls from attacking them on the inside of the corner. It would be no surprise if at least one driver ends up in the run-off and has to rejoin the queue of cars, which has been a bone of contention in recent races (particularly for Fernando Alonso).

For Red Bull, getting at least one of their cars among the Mercedes at the start is vital in order to ensure they have strategic options to challenge their rivals. Overtaking on-track is very difficult, and although Red Bull’s strong pace in the final sector will allow them to get close to Mercedes, their straight-line speed isn’t as strong.

Pirelli say there’s no question the Mexico City Grand Prix will be a one-stop race, meaning the chasing teams may only have one chance to go aggressive with an ‘undercut’. Red Bull and Mercedes took a different approach to tyre management in practice which will affect their allocation for the race. In second practice Mercedes used no mediums while Red Bull used no hard tyres, presumably to reserve them for the race.

“We got rid of one of the hard tyres in FP2, used only softs in FP1,” said Bottas, after the session. “We think that’s the best for our car but we’ll see on Sunday how it goes.” Both teams will start on the medium compound as per their Q2 times, which Red Bull seemed to have a slight advantage on before their lap times went south in qualifying.

The track conditions have been particularly challenging this weekend. The surface is in worse shape than usual – the venue was used as a field hospital as Covid-19 ravaged the city – and multiple drivers have spun during practice and qualifying sessions, due to dusty conditions and oil laid down by support race touring cars. The GTM Freightliner series has been a particular headache, leaving oil spills ahead of F1 session.

The longest stints on the soft tyre during second practice were from Sebastian Vettel and Antonio Giovinazzi – not surprising, given that the Alfa Romeo and Aston Martin were unlikely to make Q3 on any other compound. Both did 13 laps on the compound and while Vettel’s times had a lot of variance (and were over a second faster) Giovinazzi’s were very consistent around a 1’23 mark.

Tsunoda got through to Q3 despite a power unit replacement putting him to the back of the grid and did it on soft tyres, in order to guarantee his place. The purpose of doing so was to help team mate Pierre Gasly, who starts fifth, as well as nominally to put Tsunoda at the front of the drivers who had taken grid penalties.

Analysis: Why Red Bull were too quick to blame Tsunoda over their spoiled Q3 laps
He will start ahead of Lando Norris, the other penalised driver to make Q3, with the McLaren on medium starting tyres and Tsunoda – already having a difficult weekend after Christian Horner blamed him for Red Bull’s qualifying woes – will have a big job on the opening laps to make the soft tyre’s initial grip advantage work.

The top teams are likely to allow the strategic permutations at the sharp end of the field to unfold before deciding whether to take advantage of any opportunity to swap the running order of their drivers.

The possibility of Red Bull having to use team orders to help Verstappen was widely debated before the weekend began. After all, it could deprive Sergio Perez of a popular home win, and the first for a Mexican driver. However with Bottas leading Hamilton on the grid it now looks like a question Mercedes will have to grapple with as well.

“I’m a racer and I feel that such discussion is something that is always just disappointing in a way,” said Wolff. “But sometimes the circumstances oblige that. But we will address it and discuss it first with Valtteri and Lewis because they are both involved in such discussions and then see whether the race scenario actually obliges us to make any such call.”

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Quotes: Dieter Rencken

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Qualifying times in full


Q2 (vs Q1)

Q3 (vs Q2)
1Valtteri BottasMercedes1’16.7271’16.864 (+0.137)1’15.875 (-0.989)
2Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’17.2071’16.474 (-0.733)1’16.020 (-0.454)
3Max VerstappenRed Bull1’16.7881’16.483 (-0.305)1’16.225 (-0.258)
4Sergio PerezRed Bull1’17.0031’17.055 (+0.052)1’16.342 (-0.713)
5Pierre GaslyAlphaTauri1’16.9081’16.955 (+0.047)1’16.456 (-0.499)
6Carlos Sainz JnrFerrari1’17.5171’17.248 (-0.269)1’16.761 (-0.487)
7Daniel RicciardoMcLaren1’17.7191’17.092 (-0.627)1’16.763 (-0.329)
8Charles LeclercFerrari1’16.7481’17.034 (+0.286)1’16.837 (-0.197)
9Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri1’17.3301’16.701 (-0.629)1’17.158 (+0.457)
10Lando NorrisMcLaren1’17.5691’17.473 (-0.096)1’36.830 (+19.357)
11Sebastian VettelAston Martin1’17.5021’17.746 (+0.244)
12Kimi RaikkonenAlfa Romeo1’17.6061’17.958 (+0.352)
13George RussellWilliams1’17.9581’18.172 (+0.214)
14Antonio GiovinazziAlfa Romeo1’17.8971’18.290 (+0.393)
15Esteban OconAlpine1’18.1261’18.405 (+0.279)
16Fernando AlonsoAlpine1’18.452
17Nicholas LatifiWilliams1’18.756
18Mick SchumacherHaas1’18.858
19Nikita MazepinHaas1’19.303
20Lance StrollAston Martin1’20.873

Sector times

DriverSector 1Sector 2Sector 3
Valtteri Bottas27.025 (1)29.090 (1)19.711 (3)
Lewis Hamilton27.033 (2)29.152 (2)19.669 (2)
Max Verstappen27.140 (6)29.293 (3)19.617 (1)
Sergio Perez27.112 (5)29.323 (4)19.786 (5)
Pierre Gasly27.080 (4)29.470 (7)19.747 (4)
Carlos Sainz Jnr27.284 (8)29.470 (7)19.802 (6)
Daniel Ricciardo27.047 (3)29.516 (9)19.995 (10)
Charles Leclerc27.263 (7)29.459 (6)19.856 (7)
Yuki Tsunoda27.358 (9)29.451 (5)19.892 (8)
Lando Norris27.471 (11)29.904 (10)20.075 (11)
Sebastian Vettel27.581 (13)29.921 (11)19.982 (9)
Kimi Raikkonen27.409 (10)30.016 (12)20.090 (12)
George Russell27.755 (16)30.052 (14)20.151 (13)
Antonio Giovinazzi27.556 (12)30.117 (15)20.176 (14)
Esteban Ocon27.744 (15)30.045 (13)20.268 (16)
Fernando Alonso27.647 (14)30.283 (17)20.243 (15)
Nicholas Latifi27.842 (19)30.421 (18)20.493 (17)
Mick Schumacher27.795 (17)30.531 (19)20.532 (18)
Nikita Mazepin27.883 (20)30.750 (20)20.670 (19)
Lance Stroll27.837 (18)30.266 (16)22.770 (20)

Speed trap

PosDriverCarEngineSpeed (kph/mph)Gap
1Pierre GaslyAlphaTauriHonda351.5 (218.4)
2Lewis HamiltonMercedesMercedes351.1 (218.2)-0.4
3Daniel RicciardoMcLarenMercedes350.7 (217.9)-0.8
4Antonio GiovinazziAlfa RomeoFerrari350.3 (217.7)-1.2
5Valtteri BottasMercedesMercedes349.1 (216.9)-2.4
6Kimi RaikkonenAlfa RomeoFerrari348.4 (216.5)-3.1
7Sebastian VettelAston MartinMercedes346.3 (215.2)-5.2
8Charles LeclercFerrariFerrari346.3 (215.2)-5.2
9Lando NorrisMcLarenMercedes345.6 (214.7)-5.9
10Mick SchumacherHaasFerrari345.4 (214.6)-6.1
11Esteban OconAlpineRenault345.3 (214.6)-6.2
12Carlos Sainz JnrFerrariFerrari344.2 (213.9)-7.3
13Nicholas LatifiWilliamsMercedes344.1 (213.8)-7.4
14George RussellWilliamsMercedes343.9 (213.7)-7.6
15Nikita MazepinHaasFerrari343.7 (213.6)-7.8
16Max VerstappenRed BullHonda343.2 (213.3)-8.3
17Lance StrollAston MartinMercedes342.9 (213.1)-8.6
18Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauriHonda342.8 (213.0)-8.7
19Fernando AlonsoAlpineRenault342.6 (212.9)-8.9
20Sergio PerezRed BullHonda341.4 (212.1)-10.1

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Over to you

Will Red Bull pierce Mercedes’ defences to claim their expected victory in Mexico? Share your views on today’s race in the comments.

2021 Mexico City Grand Prix

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    Author information

    Hazel Southwell
    Hazel is a motorsport and automotive journalist with a particular interest in hybrid systems, electrification, batteries and new fuel technologies....

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    5 comments on “High stakes at start as Verstappen must split Mercedes to keep win hopes alive”

    1. He just needs to beat lewis which im sure he will, dosent have to win.

      1. @f1fan-2000 he’ll need to do it cleanly. If he can’t he won’t finish.

    2. As I said yesterday, I think Mercedes should have given the front row to Red Bull or at least have one car on each row. I still expect Red Bull’s race pace to be superior to Mercedes, but it’s fireworks definitely at lap 1 up to turn 4.

    3. Red bull is .4 seconds raster. Should be not a problem in the first corner. Do it the second corner.

    4. High stakes at start as Verstappen must split Mercedes to keep win hopes alive

      Hehe… I guess he mustn’t

    Comments are closed.