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Home favorites Perez, Gutierrez struggle in Mexican GP qualifying

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Of the 100,000-plus fans that packed into the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City on Saturday for Formula 1 qualifying, many will have been cheering for local drivers Sergio Perez and Esteban Gutierrez.

However, neither of Mexico’s favorite sons could impress during qualifying as both were left disappointed after falling short of their own targets.

Gutierrez was the first driver to fall, suffering a Q1 knock-out after spinning on his final lap that left him 17th on the grid.

The Mexican driver is racing in front of his home fans for the first time in F1 this weekend, and said that the support helped to lift his spirits after qualifying.

“It’s been quite a challenging weekend for us. Heading into qualifying, we knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but I really gave it my best,” Gutierrez said.

“I was driving over the limit trying to put everything together for the team and for the fans – they have been incredible.

“I had to try to be aggressive as I knew the lap at the beginning of the run may not have been enough. Sometimes you get it right, sometimes you don’t, but at least I know I gave it the maximum.

“When I got out of the car, I wasn’t very happy, but walking along the pit lane everybody was cheering, and it was an amazing feeling just to see their support.

“They’ve made a huge difference to our motivation and I really want to thank them all.”

Perez was Mexico’s best hope of a starring role in qualifying, but he failed to make it through to Q3, finishing down in 12th place.

“It’s a shame to miss out on Q3 today, but I’m optimistic we can recover some positions in the race with a strong strategy,” Perez said.

“In Q2 we went out on the soft tires to see if we could progress to Q3, but for my second run we switched to the supersoft tires.

“Unfortunately I made a small mistake on my final lap, which ended my chance of qualifying inside the top ten. I just locked up the front tires going into turn one and ran wide. I apologize for the mistake, but I hope I can give all my fans some happiness in the race tomorrow.

“The good news is that we made some progress with the car in between final practice and qualifying: our race pace looks competitive and I think we can come away with a good result tomorrow.”

The Mexican Grand Prix is live on NBC from 2:30pm ET on Sunday.

F1 tests: Mercedes innovates with wheel adjustment system

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MONTMELÓ, Spain — Veteran Kimi Raikkonen set the fastest time on the second day of Formula One preseason testing on Thursday, but Mercedes still garnered more attention by introducing an innovative wheel adjustment system.

On-board footage showed defending champion Lewis Hamilton pulling the steering wheel back and forth on the front straight to apparently change the angle of the front wheels on his Mercedes car.

The team stayed tight-lipped about the car’s new feature but guaranteed it was “safe” and “legal.”

“I probably won’t shed a great deal more light than what you saw on the TV but yeah we have a system in the car, it’s a novel idea,” team technical director James Allison told F1 TV. ”We’ve got a name for it, it’s called DAS, if you’re interested, and it just introduces an extra dimension for the steering, for the driver, which we hope will be useful during the year. But precisely how we use it and why we use it, that’s something we will keep to ourselves.”

Allison said governing body FIA knew in advance that the team was introducing the new system.

“It’s something we’ve been talking to them (about) for some time,” he said. “The rules are pretty clear about what’s permitted on steering systems and we’re pretty confident that it matches those requirements. I’m pleased we got it on the car, it seems to be useful, and we’ll see over the coming days how it benefits us.”

Hamilton said he was still trying to get used to the system, but praised the team for coming up with the innovation.

“I’ve only had one morning on (it, so) I don’t really have a lot to talk about with it. We’re trying to get on top of it, understand it, but safety-wise no problem today and the FIA are OK with the project.

“For me it’s really encouraging to see that my team is continuing to innovate and stay ahead of the game, and I think that’s down to the great minds in the team and so hopefully that’ll work to our benefit.”

Hamilton led the time charts on Wednesday but was only ninth-fastest on Thursday.

MORE: Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas fastest in Day 1 of F1 practice
MORE: Sergio Perez fastest early on Day 2 of F1 Practice

The 40-year-old Raikkonen, who has a chance this season to break the record for most race starts in F1, was fastest with a time of 1 minute, 17.091 seconds in his Alfa Romea. He was 0.2 seconds quicker than Sergio Pérez with Racing Point. Daniel Ricciardo of Renault was third.

Raikkonen caused a red flag near the end of the afternoon session when his car stopped on the track with an apparent mechanical issue. The Finnish driver had spun earlier in the session, as did Valtteri Bottas of Mercedes, Romain Grosjean of Haas and Pierre Gasly of Alpha Tauri, formerly known as Toro Rosso.

Grosjean had the most laps among the 13 drivers who went to the track on Thursday, with 158.

Bottas was the slowest driver of the day, while Sebastian Vettel was sixth-fastest with Ferrari.

Pérez had set the quickest time in the morning session. The Mexican driver had been third fastest on Wednesday, behind Hamilton and Bottas.

Drivers will be back on the track on Friday to close out the first week of testing. Teams will have another three days to test next week.

Preseason testing has been reduced from eight to six days to help compensate for the record 22 races on the calendar, including a new Vietnam Grand Prix and the return of the Dutch GP. Midseason testing also has been eliminated.

The season opens on March 15 at the Australian GP.

The Barcelona-Catalunya track will host the Spanish GP on May 10.