Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, 2023

Red Bull’s rivals have time to find – but Perez is closer to Verstappen than it seems

2023 Mexican GP practice analysis

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Although the circuit in Mexico City that plays host to the Mexican Grand Prix is named in tribute to Formula 1’s two trailblazing Rodriguez brothers, Pedro and Ricardo, the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, the venue has been synonymous with Sergio Perez since it returned to the calendar in 2015.

As the most successful driver ever to hail from Mexico, Perez enjoys passionate and partisan support unlike few drivers on the grid get at their home grands prix.

Yet while tens of thousands filled up the grandstands in Mexico City on Friday to watch the opening two practice sessions and cheer on their man from Guadalajara, very few of them would have been surprised to see world champion Max Verstappen yet again sitting in the number one spot at the end of both practice sessions.

Verstappen finished day one of the Mexican weekend in perfect form. His best time of a 1’18.686 was ultimately four places and three tenths faster than his Red Bull team mate’s personal best – about par for the course for Perez over the period following the summer break. But while the timing screen suggested that there was another small but significant gulf in performance between the two Red Bull drivers, Perez at least could offer a plausible excuse this time by.

“We didn’t have a straightforward day,” Perez admitted after he had been safely ferried from the Red Bull garage and through the packed paddock to the media pen.

“We didn’t get a good read on the softs over a single lap. I had a yellow flag on my lap, so I ended up doing it on the second timed lap. So plenty of things to understand.”

Data shows that Perez was far closer to Verstappen’s best time of the day on his first push lap on softs – just 0.072s off from his team mate through the first half of the lap until having to back for yellow flags at turn eight. Although it’s impossible to know what time he would have eventually posted after completing the lap, it does suggest that at this early stage of the weekend, Perez may not be as far off his team mate as the timing screen suggests.

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Instead, the driver closest to Verstappen, as he has been on more than one Friday over the last two months, was Lando Norris in the McLaren. Just a tenth of a second separated Verstappen from Norris on their ultimate pace – perhaps unexpectedly so, given how Norris had been playing down McLaren’s prospects heading into the weekend. But Verstappen was not buying that.

Lando Norris, McLaren, Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, 2023
Norris downplayed McLaren’s chances but was quick on Friday
“They [McLaren] have been close already for a few races now, so for me there is no surprise there,” Verstappen said. “I think tomorrow is going to be incredibly competitive over one lap.”

Norris had a 6kph deficit to Verstappen at the end of the very long main straight, meaning he lost two tenths to the Red Bull before he’d even hit the brake pedal for turn one. But with McLaren’s strengths in high speed corners, Norris hung onto Verstappen through the sweepers. But even more notably, Norris actually gained time on Verstappen through the fiddly stadium section on his fastest lap, which is where the McLaren was expected to be at its weakest. No wonder Norris was feeling optimistic.

“A good start to the weekend,” came Norris’s assessment. “It’s close. A couple of bits still to improve, but we’re off to a good start and can build from here.”

While the likes of Mercedes and Aston Martin did not feature in the top five in either of the two practice sessions, there were some surprise names up near the top of the order. In the early session, Alexander Albon put Williams second-quickest, while Valtteri Bottas was so excited to be in the top four at the end of second practice that he started scrapping with Verstappen into turn one after the chequered flag.

Albon could hold onto his lofty position in the second session, but like Perez, his quickest time was not fully representative. A major lift through turn nine cost him at least a quarter-of-a-second to Verstappen – with that time back, his Williams would likely have been well inside the top ten once more.

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Bottas had missed the opening session entirely after sitting out to allow Theo Pourchaire to drive. Sadly, a brake problem meant that Pourchaire got no laps and Bottas no data from the first hour, but that didn’t appear to slow Bottas down as he matched Charles Leclerc’s single-lap pace.

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, 2023
Leclerc doubts he’ll be on pole again
“I am pleased with how today went,” Bottas said after the session. “Thankfully, we found the issue that affected our car during FP1, and we were able to address it and quickly solve it between the sessions. I got a good number of laps under my belt, and the feeling with the car was generally pretty good.”

At Ferrari, Leclerc appeared to have put Ferrari in the mix by setting the third fastest time of the day on his qualifying simulation run on the softs. However, despite having taken pole position in last weekend’s grand prix qualifying session in the United States, Leclerc admitted that his team had “a lot of work to do” if they wanted to realistically battle for pole position in Mexico.

“McLaren seems to be extremely strong,” Leclerc said. “Obviously the Red Bull and Max seem to be very, very strong. It would be a huge surprise if we were to get pole position here.”

The other team who did not appear as confident as they had been one week ago were Mercedes. The team admitted they were struggling with their car which helped explain why Frederik Vesti ended the first session the slowest of the five junior drivers taking part in opening hour. Lewis Hamilton finished two seconds behind Verstappen at Circuit of the Americas, but he was left confused by how much had changed from Austin after Friday, calling it a “challenging day”.

With an extra hour of running before qualifying, there is fortunately still time for Red Bull’s rivals to be able to wring more pace out of their packages ahead of the grid-setting session. But unless they can, Perez might be the only one who can stop Verstappen from taking his 11th pole of the season in front of his home fans.

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Combined practice times

P.#DriverTeamFP1 timeFP2 timeGapLaps
11Max VerstappenRed Bull-Honda RBPT1’19.7181’18.68655
24Lando NorrisMcLaren-Mercedes1’20.2371’18.8050.11961
316Charles LeclercFerrari1’20.2971’18.9520.26663
477Valtteri BottasAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1’18.9550.26933
511Sergio PerezRed Bull-Honda RBPT1’20.0151’18.9880.30257
63Daniel RicciardoAlphaTauri-Honda RBPT1’20.5681’19.0020.31661
744Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’20.7241’19.0240.33855
831Esteban OconAlpine-Renault1’20.6771’19.0770.39155
981Oscar PiastriMcLaren-Mercedes1’20.4631’19.1630.47763
1063George RussellMercedes1’19.2270.54131
1155Carlos Sainz JnrFerrari1’20.4791’19.2570.57157
1222Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri-Honda RBPT1’19.2900.60434
1324Zhou GuanyuAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1’21.1291’19.4150.72954
1423Alexander AlbonWilliams-Mercedes1’19.8131’19.4460.76054
1527Nico HulkenbergHaas-Ferrari1’20.9681’19.5350.84958
1610Pierre GaslyAlpine-Renault1’19.6420.95629
172Logan SargeantWilliams-Mercedes1’21.1571’19.9001.21456
1818Lance StrollAston Martin-Mercedes1’20.6871’20.0751.38943
1920Kevin MagnussenHaas-Ferrari1’20.1121.42630
2014Fernando AlonsoAston Martin-Mercedes1’21.3471’20.4261.74047
2150Oliver BearmanHaas-Ferrari1’21.3132.62731
2241Isack HadjarAlphaTauri-Honda RBPT1’21.9413.25525
2361Jack DoohanAlpine-Renault1’22.1093.42325
2442Frederik VestiMercedes1’22.9374.25126

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2023 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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3 comments on “Red Bull’s rivals have time to find – but Perez is closer to Verstappen than it seems”

  1. Coventry Climax
    28th October 2023, 13:16

    Closer than it seems.
    Oh? They drink coffee together? Share a hotel room?
    Because in every other respect, they’re as close as two outer planets opposite sides of the galaxy.
    (I started out writing the word ‘stars’, but that’s only applicable to one of them.)

    Keywords here: mistakes, excuses, mental strength, racecraft, patience, etc etc.

    1. Very close, until the first corner,

  2. Coventry Climax
    28th October 2023, 13:20

    Although the circuit in Mexico City that plays host to the Mexican Grand Prix is named in tribute to Formula 1’s two trailblazing Rodriguez brothers, Pedro and Ricardo, the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, the venue has been synonymous with Sergio Perez since it returned to the calendar in 2015.

    Might be useful to a lot of readers (or the author even?) to explain that the word ‘Hermanos’ is not a first name, but means ‘Brothers’.

Comments are closed.