Unlike driving European race circuits, the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez is a peculiarity. At 6,500 feet above sea level, the thin air has an effect on the driving that the F1 teams don’t experience anywhere else on the calendar. At that altitude the air is thin, meaning less power for the engines, and downforce having less effect. The cars run Monaco levels of downforce on a track that has top speeds of circa 225mph. This result is that teams with the stronger aero-package will have the legs on the teams that are engine dependent. And that’s what we saw in qualifying, with Max Verstappen’s Honda-powered Red Bull taking a stunning pole from Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari.
But it was not to be. Verstappen’s fastest lap was scrubbed from the record for not slowing under a yellow-flag, and only his second fastest lap counted, dropping him to 4th on the grid. Not a the most egregious driving infringement, but one that had consequences. Tangling with Lewis Hamilton off the start, and then dropping into the squabbling midfield. His race went from bad to worse when a puncture forced him into an early pitstop, dropping him to the back of the pack. The fact he finished 6th is testament to his prodigious talents.
At the sharp-end it was no a 4 horse racing. With the prancing horses splitting their strategies and making life very uncomfortable for the one-stopping Lewis Hamilton, who was forced to drive extremely conservatively. What we hoped and expected to become a grandstand finish, it never materialised. As the quintet of protagonists converged with around 5 laps remaining, the race was effectively neutralised due to their inability to follow each other closely enough. All in all, a great race, but missing the killer punch we thought it had promised.