Mexico GP preview: McLaren and Mercedes could be contenders

The second race of the American “triple-header” sees F1 travel South, where the Mexican GP will be held in its capital city. The first noteworthy aspect of the Mexican track is its location – 2200 meters above sea level – which makes this event uniquely demanding.

Despite the two long straights, we are used to seeing cars with medium and high downforce settings to counteract the thin air.

Furthermore, the engines are under greater stress. In recent years, certain Power Units (such as Honda’s) have excelled in these conditions. Others, including Ferrari, have struggled more at high turbo speeds.

McLaren has finally overtaken Aston Martin in the standings after a long run that began in Austria, while the fight for second place is getting closer and closer despite the potential shown by the Mercedes W14 in the last two rounds. 

F1’s traditional format returns, giving engineers three practice sessions to optimise the set-up before Qualifying.

Mexican GP: McLaren and Mercedes to fight for second-fastest Ferrari unknown

As we’ve seen often since the summer break, McLaren and Mercedes are the main contenders directly behind Red Bull. Last week, the data analysis showed Lewis Hamilton was even faster than Max Verstappen in race pace.

The Mexican GP will provide answers on how much of Mercedes’ performance came from its ground clearance. Mexico also offers a different test for Mercedes and its newly updated W14.

According to what was gathered by, Red Bull and McLaren travelled with more conservative set-ups precisely to limit wear on the plank. The MCL60 was the “usual” two or three-tenths slower than the RB19 on race day. 

This weekend, however, the intrinsic drag of the papaya car will be less evident. This could be an advantage to Norris and Piastri.

In terms of track layout, the three sectors divide the circuit quite well. Sector one includes the two long straights where efficiency with DRS will count. The second sector starts with a very slow section and then speeds up in the snake. It is crucial for drivers to use the curbs to optimise lap time correctly. The last sector is the most technical one, with speeds reaching lowes of 65 km/h.

Ferrari arrives from a less-than-brilliant weekend, in terms of the SF-23’s performance. They were fourth-fastest Texas and Losail after an excellent spell of races.

Barring any major twists in the remaining races, Fred Vasseur’s team should maintain third place in the constructors’ standings. It will be more important to be able to maximise the performance of the car.

This is something that Ferrari has done well at certain points, despite struggling to find the consistency that Red Bull has. The Mexican circuit is rear-limited, with many slow corners and important straights.

All these characteristics suit the Maranello car, but the altitude will also play an important role in the choice of set-up. Altitude will also take its toll on set-up, and this could give the engineers a dilemma.

The track is very power-limited. The need for teams to use high-load rear wings means the engines play a bigger role in pushing the cars on the two main straights.

In this regard, top speeds could be different to what we’ve seen this year. Ferrari specifically will not have all the horsepower available Power Unit 066/7.

Unlike 2022, when the ‘intermediate’ range of compounds was brought, Pirelli chose to use the softer compounds this weekend: C3, C4 and C5.

The grip produced by the asphalt is significantly lower than average, given that the roughness is among the lowest of the entire calendar. This should, according to Pirelli, favour greater diversity between strategies.

Furthermore, on Friday, each driver will be given “two sets of prototypes of this new compound (C4) to use as they wish. Once the data has been analysed, we will decide whether to approve this version for use in 2024.”

During the race, graining is a fairly frequent phenomenon on this track. This is partly because the tires are subject to greater slipping as they face higher altitudes. The forecast indicates a dry weekend, with highs of around 25°C and very low chances of rain.

Mexican GP: Mercedes and Aston look for more data on their updates

The pure performance of the W14 immediately took a sizable step forward in COTA’s high-speed corners. Toto Wolff confirmed this in his post-race analysis.

After the summer break, the gap to the RB19 in these sections has been reduced. In the first sector in Austin, Hamilton was just half a tenth slower than Verstappen on average.

In the Mexican GP (which was a good race for the W13 last season), the Brackley engineers await further confirmation of this improvement. The W14 will also suffer less from its limited top speed, thanks to the altitude. However, we will only find out on Sunday whether it will be enough to counter the Verstappen-Red Bull dominance.

The new Aston Martin floor will be tested again during free practice for the Mexican GP after the good performance shown by Lance Stroll last Sunday.

The Canadian was quite close to Alonso (who ran old specification) throughout the race. This is a largely positive sign for the Silverstone team.

On the other hand, the updates on the VF-23 did not give Haas their desired results on home soil. Hulkenberg and Magnussen will again test their new upgrades in Mexico after collecting some data in COTA.

This package will also be important to understand for 2024, as it will largely inform the team’s direction for the VF-24. 

Author: Andrea Vergani