2021 Mexican Grand Prix: Practice report – Could Red Bull run away this weekend?
The Mexican fans were out in force to support Sergio Perez after a two year absence. But the focus for the rest of us was not on Sergio Perez, but instead on his team-mate Max Verstappen and his title rival, Lewis Hamilton.
As we head into the final five races, these practice sessions are going to more important as the drivers will want to feel as comfortable as possible on track to get the most out of the remaining races.
Let’s get straight into the Friday action!
The cars headed out onto a very dusty track as Free Practice 1 got underway.
The dusty conditions were making things tricky for the drivers out on track and lead to different tyre strategies for different teams.
Mercedes went straight for the soft tyres while Red Bull went for the Hard tyres. Regardless of the tyres, it was difficult for any driver to keep it on the tarmac.
Leclerc was having a horrid time keeping his rear end in check and eventually it spun on him and put him in the barrier on the entrance to the final corner. He was lucky not to do any significant damage to the back of his car as he drove out of the wall and into the pits.
The same couldn’t be said for home hero Sergio Perez. He got onto the raised curb as he headed into the final corner and spun the car. He caught the first slide, but the rear went again, and he slammed into the wall.
Sergio Perez lost half of his front wing and appeared to do more damage as they had the floor off the car when he returned back to the garage. But after some speculation that his session might be over, he got back into the car with 20 minutes remaining.
The track conditions did continue to improve as the session and the times did tumble, but the track was far from easy.
We saw a great display from Daniel Ricciardo as he drifted round every corner in the stadium section. It was impressive to watch and I’m sure it was fun for Daniel.
Mercedes’ pace seemed to take many by surprise as they came straight out to go first and second fastest in the session.
Red Bull were not far behind though, but on paper, I think we were expecting Red Bull to be faster. But maybe Red Bull were waiting until FP2 to show their real pace.
FP2 time and cars were going out to set their flying laps as soon as possible.
But the problem that comes with all the cars out on track to set fast laps is traffic and with the slow and tight nature of the final sector, this was becoming an issue for those who tried to get out early.
Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen were having a bit of a battle with neither wanted to give each other room to set their fast laps.
It was Red Bull who were setting the initial pace on the Medium tyres, but both Mercedes drivers were on the hard tyres, but their pace was still very good.
Those hard tyres would be useless for the race though as both Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas had huge double lock-up going into the first corner and went straight on over the grass.
The dust issues from FP1 had not gone away and this was still catching drivers off guard as they charged down into turn 1.
George Russell was the last driver to get out to try and set a lap time, but it was not long before he was back into the garage. He reported an issue with the gearbox and was stuck in fifth gear as he cruised back to the pit-lane.
The mystery got curiouser as replays showed a lose fixing fall off the back of Russell’s car as he left the pit-lane. That marked the end of the session for George Russell as was sat on the pit-wall not long later.
When the drivers made the switch onto the soft tyres, it was Red Bull who were much faster than Mercedes. Max Verstappen was over half a second clear of Lewis Hamilton and four tenths faster than Valtteri Bottas.
The drivers now settled in to do their long runs in preparation for the race. From here the session really settles down, but for Nicolas Latifi he was lucky to escape the wall.
He got a bit out of shape going into the final corner before slamming on the brakes before he speared the barrier. He managed to get the car into reverse before carrying on his way.
Could McLaren lose third in the constructors this weekend?
McLaren have not looked encouraging in either of the two free practice sessions and have looked far off the pace of Ferrari.
Both teams went very well in Monaco and given the high downforce demands of this track, I would have expected both teams to be close like they were in Monaco, but it would appear Ferrari have the upper hand.
Both Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc have looked very quick as they battle with Alpha Tauri who have also been incredibly quick in both practice sessions so far. Pierre Gasly and Yuki Tsunoda have looked solid so far and could eb another threat to McLaren this weekend.
Lando Norris did manage to be comfortably quicker than Ricciardo in FP2, but the Aussie was forced to sit out much of FP2 with a gearbox issue.
With McLaren’s somewhat lack of pace, it could provide an opportunity for McLaren to get their engine penalties out of the way.
It has been discussed that McLaren would take an engine penalty for Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo either at this Grand Prix or in Brazil in a weeks’ time.
It will be crucial for McLaren to try and find a good balance in the car before qualifying if they hope to get higher up the order for Qualifying.
We will find out soon if McLaren do take the option to change the engine.