Mercedes’ chance to take payback for last year as drivers line up behind Verstappen

2022 Mexican Grand Prix pre-race analysis

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After three practice sessions for the Mexican Grand Prix where he had struggled for grip, abandoned multiple flying laps due to errors while wrestling with his Red Bull and relayed more than one exasperated radio message to his race engineer, was any qualifying outcome more inevitable for Max Verstappen than securing pole position?

The world champion’s sixth pole of the year may have come at the end of a particularly scrappy trio of practice sessions, but it was still little surprise to see him on top of the times at the end of the qualifying hour. Now, he is in the best position possible to take a 14th victory and, with it, set a new F1 record for most wins in a season.

After grumbling about the grip he was able to draw from track surface at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez over Friday and Saturday, fighting with his car over the kerbs around the circuit’s 17 corners, Verstappen and his Red Bull team managed once again to coax his car to its best at the most critical point in the weekend.

“I think every session it got a little bit better,” said the pole winner. “I think in Q3, we finally could push a little bit more with the car and [do] two decent laps.”

Despite being the most successful driver in Mexico since the race returned to the calendar in 2015, this is the first time Verstappen has secured pole at the venue. He would have started there three years ago but was penalised for ignoring a yellow flag.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, 2022
Practice didn’t go smoothly for Verstappen but qualifying did
He said it had been “very hard to nail a lap” during the session. “It’s very low grip and there are a few kerbs that you have to perfectly hit to actually gain time. So it’s definitely not the easiest qualifying, always. But it seemed like in Q3, we had it under control.”

The records will forever show that Verstappen took pole by a margin of three tenths over Mercedes’ George Russell, but the margin should have been much tighter. Russell’s final lap time was fractionally quicker – a matter of thousandths – until he started braking for the entrance to the stadium at turn 12. But he overshot his braking point and ran wide, ultimately costing him a chance at pole – something he did not hide his frustration over.

“Obviously I locked up just trying too hard in sector three to make up,” Russell explained. “I am disappointed because I feel like the team deserved the pole position today. The car’s been performing great but ultimately the points are scored tomorrow, and we’ll be going for that race win.”

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Russell’s team mate Lewis Hamilton secured third on the grid, compromised by a track limits violation on his first run and an engine oscillation problem which interfered with power delivery. Nonetheless Mercedes took advantage of Ferrari’s relative lack of performance to get both cars in the top three starting positions. Carlos Sainz Jnr was left down in fifth, while team mate Charles Leclerc could only manage seventh after losing 15km/h and two-tenths to his rivals ahead on the run to turn 12 and the stadium section on his quickest lap.

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, 2022
Leclerc endured a tough Saturday and starts seventh
“There was something strange or wrong with the engine,” Leclerc explained. “Losing quite a lot of time down the straights from FP3 to Q3. Not compared to the Red Bull or Mercedes, because this has been the case since FP1 and we knew it, but there was something strange.”

If the constant chanting of “Checo! Checo!” echoing from the grandstands throughout the first two days of the weekend had not given it away, a large proportion of the fans in Mexico would like to see Sergio Perez have a strong result in today’s race. But after a “mess” of a qualifying session in which electrical glitches left him without data in his car, he will start behind the two Mercedes in fourth.

“P4 isn’t where I wanted to be, we could have been a lot higher,” Perez admitted. “P3 would have been ideal.

“We just have to look forward to tomorrow and try to have the perfect race, the atmosphere is amazing and we need to come back stronger. I will require a massive start but I still believe it is possible tomorrow.”

Sergio Perez, Red Bull, Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, 2022
Car trouble confined home hero to fourth
With the sprint down from the grid to turn one stretching to almost 900 metres, top speed is just as important as acceleration and traction off the line. That will give Verstappen confidence as, once again, he topped out the speed trap along the straight in qualifying, meaning it will be very difficult for Mercedes to beat him into the first chicane at the start unless the Red Bull’s start is dismal.

“It is always important to have a good start around here,” Verstappen explained. “I think our top speed is not too bad to defend, at least, when people are in the draft.

“We just need to focus on that. Honestly, I think if we have good race pace, then it will be a good fight anyway. But, of course, we’ll try to stay ahead into turn one.”

The world champion knows a good start can’t be taken for granted – remember how poorly he got off the line four weeks ago in Singapore. But if he does emerge out of the first chicane with the lead, it’s difficult to picture a scenario where the chasing Mercedes will be able to chase him down and take the lead from him. Even Hamilton recognises the advantages on raw pace and top speed that Verstappen likely holds over them.

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“Naturally it’s always a tough race around here, with the track temperatures and tyres,” Hamilton said. “These guys have been rapid all year long. Even at our best this weekend, still losing out to them through straight-line speed.

Verstappen swept past Mercedes pair at start last year
“It’ll be definitely difficult to get by them tomorrow, but we’ll give it our best shot. And turn one is an opportunity. So, we’ll go for it.”

Mercedes will be eager to pay Verstappen back for the manner in which he beat them at this track last year. The team unexpectedly locked out the front row of the grid but both drivers were passed by Verstappen on the run to turn one, and he controlled the race from there. Verstappen can expect Hamilton and Russell to come at him like a wrestling duo double-teaming a vulnerable opponent today.

Another driver who especially needs a good start is Valtteri Bottas. The Alfa Romeo driver surprised many by securing a strong sixth on the grid, but to say the team have a habit of making poor starts this season is an understatement. With Aston Martin starting down at the back of the field, Bottas knows he can’t afford to throw away points with a poor getaway.

“It’s a calculated risk, but I’ve had many bad lap ones this year, so even for my confidence it would be good to have a good start and lap one,” Bottas said. “I think the target is at least to try and maintain the position. If we can gain, obviously, yes. But without huge risk.”

One aspect that will help Mercedes is the high track temperatures this weekend. Having struggled with tyre warm up all year, Mercedes will take solace from Pirelli’s chief engineer Simone Berra’s view that the soft tyre will be a viable option in the race.

George Russell, Max Verstappen, Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, 2022
Count on lap one action in tricky turn one braking zone
“While the C4 [soft] offers a good grip level, warm up is really good, even the consistency and balance,” Berra explained. “We had some rear axle decay and degradation, but the degradation is manageable, so it seems to be a raceable tyre for Sunday. In my opinion in general, all the compounds are working good, but especially the softer compounds seem to be.”

Although most drivers one-stopped last year, starting on medium and switching to hard, Pirelli predict a two-stop strategy will be the best strategy for Sunday, starting on the softs and stopping twice for mediums. However only drivers who have sufficient fresh sets of those compounds will be able to consider that route, and the soft tyres were used heavily by many on Saturday.

But despite the lack of long run data due to second practice being dominated by testing next year’s compounds, Verstappen knows he has every reason to feel confident of breaking that record for most wins in a season in Mexico.

“We don’t know because we’ve been driving on these development tyres so it’s a bit difficult to tell,” he said. “But I think the car we had today, I’m expecting it to be alright.”

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Qualifying times in full

Position Number Driver Team Q1 time Q2 time (vs Q1) Q3 time (vs Q2)
1 1 Max Verstappen Red Bull 1’19.222 1’18.566 (-0.656s) 1’17.775 (-0.791s)
2 63 George Russell Mercedes 1’19.583 1’18.565 (-1.018s) 1’18.079 (-0.486s)
3 44 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1’19.169 1’18.552 (-0.617s) 1’18.084 (-0.468s)
4 11 Sergio Perez Red Bull 1’19.706 1’18.615 (-1.091s) 1’18.128 (-0.487s)
5 55 Carlos Sainz Jnr Ferrari 1’19.566 1’18.560 (-1.006s) 1’18.351 (-0.209s)
6 77 Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 1’19.523 1’18.762 (-0.761s) 1’18.401 (-0.361s)
7 16 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1’19.505 1’19.109 (-0.396s) 1’18.555 (-0.554s)
8 4 Lando Norris McLaren-Mercedes 1’19.857 1’19.119 (-0.738s) 1’18.721 (-0.398s)
9 14 Fernando Alonso Alpine-Renault 1’20.006 1’19.272 (-0.734s) 1’18.939 (-0.333s)
10 31 Esteban Ocon Alpine-Renault 1’19.945 1’19.081 (-0.864s) 1’19.010 (-0.071s)
11 3 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren-Mercedes 1’20.279 1’19.325 (-0.954s) Missed by 0.053s
12 24 Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 1’20.283 1’19.476 (-0.807s) Missed by 0.204s
13 22 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri-Red Bull 1’19.907 1’19.589 (-0.318s) Missed by 0.317s
14 10 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri-Red Bull 1’20.256 1’19.672 (-0.584s) Missed by 0.400s
15 20 Kevin Magnussen Haas-Ferrari 1’20.293 1’19.833 (-0.460s) Missed by 0.561s
16 47 Mick Schumacher Haas-Ferrari 1’20.419 Missed by 0.126s
17 5 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin-Mercedes 1’20.419 Missed by 0.126s
18 18 Lance Stroll Aston Martin-Mercedes 1’20.520 Missed by 0.227s
19 23 Alexander Albon Williams-Mercedes 1’20.859 Missed by 0.566s
20 6 Nicholas Latifi Williams-Mercedes 1’21.167 Missed by 0.874s

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Sector times

Position Number Driver Sector one Sector two Sector three Ultimate lap Deficit to ultimate lap
1 1 Max Verstappen 27.49 (1) 30.244 (4) 20.041 (1) 1’17.775
2 63 George Russell 27.697 (6) 30.063 (1) 20.223 (3) 1’17.983 0.096
3 44 Lewis Hamilton 27.616 (3) 30.069 (2) 20.3 (6) 1’17.985 0.099
4 11 Sergio Perez 27.585 (2) 30.22 (3) 20.26 (4) 1’18.065 0.063
5 55 Carlos Sainz Jnr 27.662 (5) 30.25 (5) 20.167 (2) 1’18.079 0.272
6 77 Valtteri Bottas 27.653 (4) 30.338 (7) 20.389 (7) 1’18.380 0.021
7 16 Charles Leclerc 27.92 (12) 30.312 (6) 20.282 (5) 1’18.514 0.041
8 4 Lando Norris 27.767 (7) 30.544 (9) 20.41 (8) 1’18.721
9 14 Fernando Alonso 28.035 (16) 30.393 (8) 20.497 (11) 1’18.925 0.014
10 31 Esteban Ocon 27.892 (9) 30.574 (10) 20.47 (9) 1’18.936 0.074
11 3 Daniel Ricciardo 27.867 (8) 30.954 (13) 20.504 (12) 1’19.325
12 24 Zhou Guanyu 28.103 (17) 30.864 (12) 20.493 (10) 1’19.460 0.016
13 22 Yuki Tsunoda 27.898 (10) 30.86 (11) 20.727 (15) 1’19.485 0.104
14 10 Pierre Gasly 27.919 (11) 30.971 (14) 20.77 (16) 1’19.660 0.012
15 47 Mick Schumacher 27.966 (14) 31.032 (15) 20.697 (14) 1’19.695 0.724
16 20 Kevin Magnussen 27.997 (15) 31.144 (16) 20.685 (13) 1’19.826 0.007
17 18 Lance Stroll 28.298 (19) 31.189 (17) 20.89 (18) 1’20.377 0.143
18 5 Sebastian Vettel 28.367 (20) 31.224 (18) 20.828 (17) 1’20.419
19 23 Alexander Albon 27.933 (13) 31.658 (19) 20.989 (19) 1’20.580 0.279
20 6 Nicholas Latifi 28.131 (18) 31.744 (20) 21.101 (20) 1’20.976 0.191

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Speed trap

Position Number Driver Car Engine Model Max kph (mph)
1 20 Kevin Magnussen Haas Ferrari VF-22 351.7 (218.5)
2 47 Mick Schumacher Haas Ferrari VF-22 351.6 (218.5)
3 23 Alexander Albon Williams Mercedes FW44 350.9 (218.0)
4 11 Sergio Perez Red Bull Red Bull RB18 350.8 (218.0)
5 1 Max Verstappen Red Bull Red Bull RB18 350.8 (218.0)
6 44 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes Mercedes W13 348.4 (216.5)
7 6 Nicholas Latifi Williams Mercedes FW44 348.3 (216.4)
8 10 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri Red Bull AT03 348.3 (216.4)
9 24 Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo Ferrari C42 347.8 (216.1)
10 22 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri Red Bull AT03 347.2 (215.7)
11 4 Lando Norris McLaren Mercedes MCL36 347 (215.6)
12 55 Carlos Sainz Jnr Ferrari Ferrari F1-75 346.8 (215.5)
13 77 Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo Ferrari C42 346.7 (215.4)
14 63 George Russell Mercedes Mercedes W13 346.1 (215.1)
15 31 Esteban Ocon Alpine Renault A522 346.1 (215.1)
16 16 Charles Leclerc Ferrari Ferrari F1-75 346.1 (215.1)
17 14 Fernando Alonso Alpine Renault A522 345.9 (214.9)
18 3 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren Mercedes MCL36 345.6 (214.7)
19 5 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin Mercedes AMR22 344.6 (214.1)
20 18 Lance Stroll Aston Martin Mercedes AMR22 344 (213.8)

Over to you

Will Verstappen see off the Mercedes challenge to take a record win? Share your views on the Mexican Grand Prix in the comments.

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2022 Mexican Grand Prix

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Author information

Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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21 comments on “Mercedes’ chance to take payback for last year as drivers line up behind Verstappen”

  1. It’s a Verstappen win, Mercedes lack straight line speed and traction.

    1. Yep. Glad to be proven wrong, but not having very high hopes for this race (i.e. predicting Verstappen to dominate once again).

    2. If the Mercedes work as a team, they could provide each other with slipstream and DRS down that straight. They should also fair better on the corners with better downforce. If they preserve their tires and aren’t fighting with each other for track position, they could drive longer to benefit from better tires on their last stop. This could be very tight but they need to work together.

  2. Just 0.37% between the top three drivers on the grid.

    1. Only if you exclude the tax refund ;)

      1. I’d be curious to know where the FIA and RedBull came up with the penalty in the dubious sounding “Accepted Breach Agreement” that was settled behind closed doors. E.g. on what basis did the penalty numbers come from???

        A representative penalty would have been to apply a 0.37% performance penalty – 0.37% is such a small amount so I’d assume RedBull would agree that it’s less draconian* than their current penalty.

        Say one idea:
        – retrospectively apply 0.37% time penalty to the final qualifying time for the 2021 season for both Red Bull drivers
        – from this work out number of places they would have dropped (if any) in qualifying
        – apply this drop of places to the end result of every race

        This would basically use their qualification times as a measure of what a 0.37% performance impact may have had, and then directly apply that as a proportional points deduction. (Qualifications seemingly being the most representative measure of relative performance I can think of as their is less sandbagging/cruising/tyre-saving going on than any other time.)

        Simpler they could just add 0.37% to the entire race time (~15s for a 1:30 race) for both Red Bull drivers, although I suspect this would give an adverse result as they would be cruising towards the end of some races, say when in the lead or when it wasn’t possible to catch the car in front.

        I imagine increasing spend yields diminishing gains this would also clearly and consistently deter future overspend too. E.g. 1% overspend would mean losing 1%, which no-one would really want.

        *The penalty given is anything but draconian, Draco was famous for shifting Athenian law from oral to written to make the rules of law and penalties nice and clear – FIA take note!

  3. I sure hope Checo will have some luck and secure a home win. I don’t think pole position is a disadvatage but last year from second Max nailed it against Bottas and Lewis.

  4. It’s good to see Merc up there, within a few tenths for once. Starting on pole is not necessarily best here anyway. In interviews, it seems that both Merc drivers did not make the best of their Q3 laps.
    MV did not give an interview, apparently. I hear he is not talking to Sky Sports, as they reportedly said mean things, and hurt his feelings, not showing him enough respectful adoration. Oh well, what a pity, never mind. I’m sure the Orangistas will make up for the lack of adoration, and Sky can always talk to other drivers.

    1. Ted Kravitz during the last notebook. It personally made me laugh because I thought he was ironic with his comment and made a bit of a joke of the whole situation. Haven’t heard of him yet but curious to hear his site of the story. Kind regards one of the Orangistas :-)

      1. Even Brundle did not agree with sad Ted.

    2. You’re the only one who didn’t see verstappen giving an interview, seeing as they interviewed him before the merc drivers.

      1. @esploratore Maybe your broadcaster has indeed bowed low enough to the chosen one.
        I suggest you google “Verstappen boycotts Sky” to see if I have made it up.

    3. Well, I decided to sight with Max and I won’t talk to Sky Sports anymore.

  5. Will Verstappen see off the Mercedes challenge to take a record win? – Yes.

  6. Bottas’ start last year was such a weird move. If their plan was to cover the track, which was always going to be hard given how wide it is, they really did a bad job of it.

    Anyway, hopefully one of the Mercedes can get a good start and take P1, that’d make for a more interesting race as you’d imagine their pace to be a bit slower, bringing strategy more into play. Still, another win for Red Bull seems almost inevitable given their huge straight line speed, and it’s going to take quite the weird race for that to be the one Pérez is driving.

  7. When PER steams by the 2 Mercedes, will VER let him by for the home win? Or will RB have a pit stop “mishap” that allows PER to get in front of VER? These are the only questions for today’s race.

    1. Verstappen rarely gets bad pit stops, it’s not gonna happen just to let perez win, nor is it gonna happen that he lets him past, but I can see him not pushing too hard for the overtake if perez ends up ahead.

    2. Verstappen wants to break the record set by Schumacher and Vettel of 13 wins in a season. If he wins in Mexico he will have 14 wins in a season, the most any driver has obtained in F1 history.

  8. I don’t get the framing expressed in the headline.

    How is that even supposed to work?

    1. I think in a sporting context payback is often used to suggest getting the win/points where you lost them last time, rather than a punishment as the normal usage.

      Although it does rely somewhat on past knowledge or reading 20 paragraphs before its clear to what it refers.

  9. Absolute strategy screw up by merc

Comments are closed.