Friday’s Formula One practice for the Mexican GP at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez was a tale of two sessions as Mercedes topped the charts in Practice 1 with Red Bull Racing closing the gap in Practice 2.
Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton is embroiled in a tight points’ battle with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, but it was Valtteri Bottas that topped the charts by .076 seconds over his teammate Hamilton.
Meanwhile in this session, Sergio Perez had an unwelcome homecoming on his native Mexican track when he spun into the wall in dusty conditions moments after Charles Leclerc also hit the barrier in the final turn of the course. Perez lost nearly half of the session making repairs. He was in the garage for 26 minutes before returning to shake his car down and grab the fourth position on the chart.
Once the asphalt was dusted off, Red Bull found their supremacy on a track where they are favored. Points’ leader Verstappen was more than half a second faster than his principal rival Hamilton. The speed differential may have come with a minor assist from Perez, who recovered from his Practice 1 crash and hounded Hamilton during the second session. Hamilton later complained about the “insane traffic”.
In Practice 2, Bottas also outpaced his teammate by a little less than a tenth of a second.
“We didn’t have any major issues,” Hamilton said at Formula1.com. “We’re giving it everything we’ve got. (Red Bull is) just quicker than us at the moment.
“No real concerns. We’re just chipping away at our setups and trying to improve. But we’re lacking downforce, which is probably why we had the half-second difference between us.”
With five races remaining, Hamilton knows the opportunities are slipping away. The difference of 12 points is 2.4 per race, which means Hamilton controls his own fate if he can finish ahead of Verstappen inside the top four in each race. The gap between first and second is six points, so two more victories than Verstappen provides another path to the Driver’s Championship.
Both drivers have had their share of difficulty in the first 17 races this season. The heated battle has seen on-track incidents that ended both of their days.
But Verstappen has the statistic that matters. A big part of Verstappen’s 12-point lead comes by winning three more events than Hamilton. Verstappen has also dominated in terms of laps led with 504 to Hamilton’s 154.
Hamilton has made up for the lack of domination with consistency. Entering the Mexican GP, Hamilton has scored 12 podiums – just one less than Verstappen.
Despite his spin, Perez posted the fourth fastest lap in both sessions with Pierre Gasly rounding out the top five in P1 and with Carlos Sainz in P2.
Daniel Ricciardo and George Russell lost most of the second practice to gearbox issues. Sitting seventh in the Constructors Standings, Russell said earlier this week that he is ready and willing to take more risks to earn points.
Practice will resume on Saturday.