Bottas tops opening Mexican GP practice, Celis crashes out

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Valtteri Bottas led Mercedes to a one-two finish in first practice for the Mexican Grand Prix, beating Formula 1 teammate Lewis Hamilton by four-tenths of a second on Friday morning at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez.

Bottas and Hamilton arrived in Mexico off the back of clinching Mercedes its fourth straight constructors’ title last Sunday in Austin, but were tipped to face a sterner test due to the high-downforce setup required for this weekend given the high altitude levels.

Bottas was able to make a strong start to the weekend regardless, topping his first FP1 since the British Grand Prix back in July with a fastest time of 1:17.824 on Friday morning.

The Finn was followed by Hamilton in P2, four-tenths of a second further back, although Mercedes was the only front-running team to go out on the ultra-soft compound tire.

Red Bull drivers Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo slotted into P3 and P4 respectively, half a second off Bottas’ time. Verstappen was limited to just 16 laps after Red Bull boxed him early, putting the car up on jacks in order to make a number of setup changes, as per the team.

F1 title outsider Sebastian Vettel wound up fifth for Ferrari, seven-tenths of a second down on Bottas, with teammate Kimi Raikkonen taking sixth overall.

Flying the flag for Mexico on home soil this weekend, Sergio Perez made a good start to the weekend by finishing seventh overall as the leading midfielder.

However, teammate for the session Alfonso Celis Jr. had a more troubled homecoming, crashing out at the final corner and causing a red flag stoppage, as well as a decent amount of damage to the car that will go back to Esteban Ocon for the rest of the weekend.

Fernando Alonso led McLaren’s charge in P8 as teammate Stoffel Vandoorne completed just three laps due to an engine issue, while Felipe Massa and Nico Hulkenberg completed the top 10.

FP1 in Mexico also saw Antonio Giovinazzi (Haas), Charles Leclerc (Sauber) and Sean Gelael (Toro Rosso) all enjoy run-outs, taking positions 15th to 17th respectively, while Brendon Hartley’s session was cut short after a hydraulic leak.

FP2 takes place at 3pm ET later today in Mexico, live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app.

As expected, FIA denies granting Colton Herta a Super License to race in F1

Colton Herta Super License
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The governing body for Formula One on Friday said IndyCar star Colton Herta will not be granted the Super License that the American needs to join the F1 grid next season.

“The FIA confirms that an enquiry was made via the appropriate channels that led to the FIA confirming that the driver Colton Herta does not have the required number of points to be granted an FIA Super Licence,” the FIA said in a statement.

The FIA decision was not a surprise.

Red Bull was interested in the 22-year-old Californian and considering giving Herta a seat at AlphaTauri, its junior team. AlphaTauri has already said that Pierre Gasly will return next season and Yuki Tsunoda received a contract extension earlier this week.

However, AlphaTauri has acknowledged it would release Gasly, who is apparently wanted at Alpine, but only if it had a compelling driver such as Herta to put in the car. F1 has not had an American on the grid since Alexander Rossi in 2015, but Herta did not particularly want the FIA to make an exception to the licensing system to get him a seat.

At issue is how the FIA rates IndyCar, a series it does not govern. The points it awards to IndyCar drivers rank somewhere between F2 and F3, the two junior feeder series into F1.

IndyCar drivers have criticized the system in defense of Herta and the intense, close racing of their own highly competitive series. Herta has won seven IndyCar races, is the youngest winner in series history and has four starts in the Indianapolis 500. He qualified on the front row in 2021 and finished a career-best eighth in 2020.

Rossi, who has spent the last four seasons as Herta’s teammate at Andretti Autosport, lashed out this week because “I’m so sick and tired of this back and forth” regarding the licensing.

“The whole premise of it was to keep people from buying their way into F1 and allowing talent to be the motivating factor,” Rossi wrote on social media. “That’s great. We all agree Colton has the talent and capability to be in F1. That’s also great and he should get that opportunity if it’s offered to him. Period.

“Motorsport still remains as the most high profile sport in the world where money can outweigh talent. What is disappointing and in my opinion, the fundamental problem, is that the sporting element so often took a backseat to the business side that here had to be a method put in place in order for certain teams to stop taking drivers solely based on their financial backing.”

Rossi added those decisions “whether out of greed or necessity, is what cost Colton the opportunity to make the decision for himself as to if he wanted to alter career paths and race in F1. Not points on a license.”

The system favors drivers who compete in FIA-sanctioned series. For example, Linus Lundqvist earned his Super License by winning the Indy Lights championship.

Lundqvist’s required points come via the 15 he earned for the Lights title, 10 points for finishing third in Lights last year and his 2020 victory in the FIA-governed Formula Regional Americas Championship, which earned him 18 points.

That gave the 23-year-old Swede a total of 43 points, three more than needed for the license.

Herta, meanwhile, ended the IndyCar season with 32 points. He can still earn a Super License by picking up one point for any free practice sessions he runs this year; McLaren holds his F1 rights and could put him in a car. Herta could also potentially run in an FIA-sanctioned winter series to pick up some points.

Michael Andretti, who has petitioned the FIA to expand its grid to add two cars for him to launch a team, said he never bothered to explore potential replacements for Herta on the IndyCar team because he was confident the Super License request would be rejected.

Andretti has been met by severe resistance from existing F1 teams and even F1 itself in his hope to add an 11th team. Andretti could still get on the grid by purchasing an existing team and he’d like to build his program around Herta, who is under contract in IndyCar to Andretti through 2023.