Arriving in Mexico City tends to be a shock to the system. Perched on a plateau, more than a mile in the sky, the air is pretty thin. The Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez sits precisely 2,280m above sea level: air density is low so aerodynamic grip is low, cooling is poor and the turbo is working overtime. It's a tough race for drivers, everyone in the team and a very tough race for cars.
It's all worth it, though, because when the crowd in the Foro Sol stadium section of the circuit gets into full voice, the impact is mesmeric. It's loud, it's raucous, it's joyous – and we really want to put on a good show here. Team Principal Mike Krack has got a few things to say on this, but also a lot to unpack from a difficult, but ultimately useful, weekend at the Circuit of The Americas (COTA).
This is Mike on…
The magic of Mexico
"The Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez is a tough place to go racing, but also a great place to go racing. Why? The fans. They're so passionate. They create a fantastic atmosphere for an F1 race.
"The track is tough, though – really tough. The altitude means air density is very low, which means the cars have a lot less downforce than normal – even less than with the skinny wings we used at Monza earlier in the season.
"Allied to that, the track is very smooth, so we have less aerodynamic grip and less mechanical grip. Pirelli is bringing the softest tyres in its range to Mexico for the first time and perhaps that will help – but at the start of the weekend the drivers always think it's like driving on ice."
The job ahead
"For us, the important task this weekend is furthering our understanding of the upgrade package we took to COTA. We've taken the first step, but we have to understand more to try to optimise our performance.
"I think we understand the car more now than we did a week ago, and certainly Lance's pace in Austin was encouraging. Starting from the pitlane disguises that a little, but his laptimes were closer to the leaders than on Saturday, so it looks like we're on the right path – but we really need to confirm that this weekend."
A difficult weekend in Austin
"We didn't do ourselves any favours last week. My briefing to the team emphasised the need to have everything right for practice – that we couldn't afford to lose any time and that we had to get it 100 per cent right, first time. That didn't happen. We were on the back foot from the start with a brake problem unrelated to our upgrade. We lost a lot of running we couldn't afford to lose, went into parc fermé in less-than-ideal circumstances and we paid the price.
"Sprint weekends are always difficult – you saw that with the Mercedes and the Ferrari getting disqualified. You're constantly teetering on a balance of legality, reliability and performance, and as soon as you cross any of those thresholds, that's it, your chances of success are reduced.
"If we'd learned our lessons earlier, I think we'd have emerged with a chunk more points than we did. As it happened, I think we learned our lessons eventually, and that makes the weekend profitable, but I'd still like to have those points.”
"Do I regret that we put ourselves in a situation in Austin where things could go wrong? No. In the past, I've talked about keeping a Sprint weekend simple and getting the basics right – but bringing an upgrade package to a race with just one practice session is clearly contrary to that.
"However, you have to make decisions based on to the situation in which you find yourself, and in our situation at this point in the season, you need to be willing to take risks. To become, in effect, less risk-averse.
"There were a lot of points at stake in Austin. We would have struggled to collect many of them with the old spec car, therefore it made sense to try the new spec. It was the right thing to do, and we'd probably do it again. We can't change the way things played out in Austin, and we move on."
Lance returning to the scoresheet
"It was great to have Lance back in the points and on a similar pace to Fernando. I'm sure it will boost Lance's confidence. I hope it does – and I hope he has another good weekend in Mexico. Not just because it's his birthday and he deserves a nice present, but also because it's what he needs to get some real end-of-season momentum going and finish 2023 on a high. Lance has not had a lot of luck this season, particularly since the summer break, and I hope Austin was the turning point."
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