The last few races have seen some fascinating strategy gambles from Red Bull and others, so will we see more of the same this weekend, as the F1 teams race for the second time on the revamped Hermanos Rodgrizuez circuit in Mexico City?
Over 350,000 people are expected to attend across the three days, with organisers installing new grandstands, such is the demand for F1 tickets in Mexico.
The track was brand new last year, so the surface has had a year to shed the oils that are always present in new tarmac and in addition there has been quite a bit of racing activity, so there should be significantly more grip from rubber on the surface.
It is forecast to be hot and dry; Mexico is entering its dry season, which means a very low risk of rain for the weekend.
Last year Mercedes had a huge pace advantage over the rest of the field, so it will be intersting to see where they are relative to Red Bull and Ferrari this time. It is likely that they will still have a good edge, so the intensity of the drivers’ championship battle will continue.
There was a Safety Car at a key moment in last year’s race, which had a big effect on the race and a bold strategy gamble from Williams on Valtteri Bottas’ car paid off to give them a podium finish. How Williams would like to repeat that this season!
They are in a tight fight with Force India over fourth place in the Constructors’ Championship, with several million dollars in prize money, not to mention pride; Williams were third in 2014, so it would be a bad collapse to fifth two years later with a Mercedes engined car.
Last year the new track surface appeared from practice running to give low tyre degradation, but in fact it was quite significant as the race went on. Although tyre graining was an issue for many until enough rubber had gone down in the race, the higher temperatures in fact reduced the effect of graining. Meanwhile another challenge the teams will be aware of from last year is the fact that the low air density at altitude means that the cars travel at speeds of over 360km/h and as a consequence brake cooling is critical for many cars.
Last year Pirelli brought the soft and medium tyres and it was essentially a one stop race. The medium works better in cooler conditions, as we saw on Sunday in Austin when the cloud cover came over during the race and many teams went to that tyre.
For Mexico few medium tyres have been picked in the allocations so it looks like qualifying on supersoft and then leaning more on the soft for the race, with the likelihood of two stops for most. The soft lasted around 25 laps last year, the medium significantly more. The drive through time in the pits is 16 seconds, plus the time for a stop so the total time needed for a stop is quite short relatively speaking and this encourages more stops.
The track showed huge improvement in lap time as the rubber went down last year; at one point Lewis Hamilton did a faster lap on the medium tyres than he had done in the first part of qualifying, which is highly unusual and shows how fast the pace was in the race as the track improved.
Last year the race was held on the first week of November and the track temperature on race day hit 56 degrees. The medium tyres were good for around 40 laps last year and its interesting to note was that Hamilton was harder on his tyres in this race than Nico Rosberg, who went on to win.
There were only 21 overtakes in the race last year, of which 12 were DRS assisted, so it’s not a high overtaking track.
Mexican Grand Prix in numbers
The 2016 Mexican Grand Prix will be the 17th world championship F1 race hosted at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez. The track is named after Mexican F1 racers Ricardo and Pedro Rodriguez, and the former held the record for being the youngest front row starter by qualifying second at the 1961 Italian Grand Prix aged 19 until Max Verstappen qualified second at Spa earlier this year aged 18.
Heading into this weekend’s race, Mercedes has now won 16 races in each of the last three F1 seasons and can now set a new all-time record for victories in a single season if it wins any one of the final three events. The 2016 season is the longest in the history of F1 but if one of the Silver Arrows wins in Mexico, the team will break its own record in the same number of races (19) as were held in 2014 and 2015.
Nico Rosberg goes to Mexico with the first ‘match point’ in the drivers’ championship as he can clinch the title if he wins and Lewis Hamilton finishes tenth or lower. If he does win the title this year, Rosberg will become the third German F1 world champion after Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel.
For the first time in F1 history, two drivers from the same team are now guaranteed to finish in the first two positions in the drivers’ championship for a third successive year. Behind Rosberg and Hamilton, Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo can wrap up third place in the 2016 standings if he finishes in the top ten in Mexico.
Hamilton can score a victory at a 23rd different F1 circuit if he wins this weekend, which would tie Schumacher’s current all-time record. The world champion can also reach that target if he wins at the next race in Brazil, or take the record for himself if he wins both events.
The British driver’s pole at the US Grand Prix last weekend means he has now taken the top spot in qualifying at 23 different venues, which broke Alain Prost’s record of 22 that had stood since 1993.
Felipe Massa will make his 250th F1 race weekend appearance in Mexico, but he won’t get to 250 Grand Prix starts until the season finale in Abu Dhabi, which will be the last race of his 14-year career in the sport. This is because the Brazilian driver didn’t start the 2005 US Grand Prix due to the Michelin tyre saga at Indianapolis, and the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix after his accident in qualifying.
Massa secured his 150th F1 points finish last time out in Austin, but his controversial collision with McLaren’s Fernando Alonso meant he has slipped down behind the Spaniard to 11th place in the drivers’ championship. The 35-year-old, who announced his retirement at the Italian Grand Prix last month, has not finished outside the top ten in the standings of a full F1 season that he has completed since 2005 when he race for Sauber.
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