GRAND PRIX : Mexico : Sublime Nico Defeats Hamilton

Posted on November 16, 2015.

He's blown the championship but now seems to be coming good
The podium - Seb happy, Rosberg v.happy, Lewis grumpy
In '70, when Ickx won in a 312B, spectators got very close
Previously, in '92, Mansell won but the bloke on the right got his first ever podium

Report by Alan Brown

If ever a nation deserves a Formula 1 Grand Prix it is surely Mexico. For those who remember the last F1 race here 23 years ago the passion you read about then is still very apparent today. Excessively so in fact, as crowd control was a key factor in the race being dropped twice, first in 1970 and again in 1992. In 1970 Jackie Stewart was even forced to retire after colliding with a dog on the track! 200,000 spectators were crammed in that year with many pushed up against guard rails or, worse still, sat at the trackside.

The return of Grand Prix racing to the Autodromo Hemamnos Rodriguez circuit has been eagerly awaited in Mexico and the event was reported as a sell out well in advance. How confident organisers of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix next year might be in achieving such a feat remains to be seen. The Mexican Government obviously played a big part in raising the huge cash pile needed to host a Grand Prix these days, in conjunction with the sports promotor CIE.

The circuit to the East of Mexico City, originally covered 3.1 miles but was shortened to 2.75 miles for the last re-commencement of F1 racing here in 1986 and remains much the same length for the 2015 Grand Prix. Turns 7 through to 10 have now been re-profiled into a series of fast sweeping esses with greater run off areas. Soon after T10, the track punches spectacularly through what was a baseball stadium for turns 13 to 16 before the final Turn 17 taking the drivers on to a long pit straight offering up the prospect of Monza type speeds.

There was no previous data for the teams to pour over of course, and the other challenges were seeing how the very latest in grand prix engine technology and aerodynamics cope with racing at altitudes loftier than Val D’Isere.

Simulators will no doubt have been working overtime to give the teams some sort of feel for the conditions.

The Scuderia can reflect on the happy days of 1990 and 1970 in Mexico with one/two triumphs respectively for Prost and Mansell in the Ferrari 641 and Ickx and Regazzoni 20 years earlier in the evocative 312B. How nice it would be if 25 years on that run of form continued.

Tyre wise the medium prime and the soft option rubber was available as the meeting got underway for the customary Friday free practice sessions. Throughout these early fact finding gyrations the Red Bulls and Toro Rossos were on the pace despite low grip levels afforded by the freshly laid tarmac. Young Max Verstappen topped FP1 ahead of Kvyat. FP2 ran closer to form with Nico quickest but still Red Bulls were second and third. Ferrari had a quiet day down in 5th and 6th places. Nico also bagged quickest time in Saturday FP3, fractionally ahead of the new world champion, but Seb split the Red Bull’s claiming 4th quickest. Kimi’s Ferrari caught fire in FP3 which left his SF15-T in need of a new gearbox and resort to an older spec engine.

Qualifying was another Silver Arrows master class with either Nico or Lewis at the fore in the build up sessions. For Q3 it was down to Nico to show he is still up for a fight with a great lap and yet another pole position, his 4th in a row, after Lewis ran wide at a critical moment. Seb was not far adrift and commented afterwards he was feeling confident about the race pace of his SF15-T. Kimi’s gremlins came back to haunt him as brake issues dropped him from contention in Q2, and consigned the Finn to start at the back of the grid after taking his penalty.

There was much talk about how well the Merc boys might behave at the race start in the 1000 yard dash down into T1 with scores to settle after their clash at Austin last week. When the lights went out both made good starts and Nico held his nerve through T1 to remain at the front of the pack.

Just behind Seb was innocently tagged by Ricciardo and whilst the incident looked harmless enough it left him with a puncture and a long trip back to the pits on the rear wheel rim. Returning down the field and well out of the points, the German started a fight back only to spin wildly on Lap 18 at T7. Further attempts to conduct the same overtaking manoeuvres all over again, triggered a similar exit from the circuit on Lap 57 at the same T7, but this time the Ferrari finished up well and truly embedded in the barriers.

Kimi’s attempts to recover from the back of the grid saw him jousting midway through the race with no less than his Sochi arch rival Valtteri Bottas. As the pair entered T5 the Williams made a charge for the inside line. Heavy contact ensued between the Williams front left wheel and the rear right of the Ferrari, lifting the latter skywards and into retirement with broken suspension. Amazingly the Williams continued through to the end and a podium place. The investigation penalised neither but I suspect the two will be avoiding each other at smorgasbord parties this Christmas.

Throughout all Ferrari’s traumas the two Mercedes held station up front, although on this occasion Lewis had no answer to the excellent race craft on display from his team mate. Nico took a’ lights to flag’ victory and well deserved it was too.

The locals made merry with a solid 8th place for their compatriot Perez and the Organisers must be delighted with how well the whole meeting was conducted.

A dismal day for Ferrari after almost a decade of getting at least one car home in every grand prix. The fight will now be on to regain the 2nd and 4th places just lost in the Championship with only Brazil and Abu Dhabi to come.

Off track, controversy raged over engine and gearbox supplies. Ferrari recently vetoed the FIA’s attempt to set a cap on the price independent teams must pay manufacturers for power trains, suggesting anything less than the current tariff would be uneconomic. In response The FIA, Messrs Ecclestone at al, threaten the introduction of a cheaper but potentially more powerful ‘Client’ engine from 2017 for the independents (6 of the current 10 teams), possibly based on Indycar turbo power units. Doubtless this is a storyline that will run and run.

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