Mexico FP1: Verstappen fastest, Albon just behind

Mexico FP1: Verstappen fastest, Albon just behind

Max Verstappen topped the first practice session for the 2023 Mexico City Grand Prix, but Alex Albon was a surprise second fastest in the Williams.

It was business as usual for the triple Formula 1 Champion, going topping the timing screens regardless of the tyre compound he was on.

But the big surprise was Alex Albon who was flirting with the top three all session long an finished second behind Verstappen, less than a tenth slower.

Local hero, Sergio Perez, was third fastest in the sister Red Bull.

Of the young drivers taking part in the session, Oliver Bearman was the fastest in the Haas, 15th fastest and over two seconds off the pace.

Buildup towards FP1

The F1 circus soared more than 2Km over sea level for this weekend’s Mexico City Grand Prix at the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez.

This event, being so high above sea level, meaning thin air, poses unique challenges for the teams in terms of cooling their car and the power units as the turbos will be working extra hard to make sure the engines get the air they need for combustion.

The previous race in Austin saw Mercedes bring what they called their final major upgrade to their W14, a new floor that seemed to re-energize Lewis Hamilton, so will the Black Arrows continue their strong form this weekend.

Haas and Aston Martin also brought major upgrade packages for Austin, but with limited practice – being a Sprint weekend – they couldn’t really their cars working. Haas were underwhelming while Aston Martin even reverted Fernando Alonso to the previous car spec for the race.

So maybe, with Mexico being a standard weekend, they can now get to evaluate their new packages properly.

Verstappen was pushed hard in Austin by Mercedes, Ferrari, and McLaren, so will that be the case in Mexico? How will his brakes hold up?

The other Red Bull driver, Perez, will be driving with the extra of motivation of racing at home. Will he be able to rise up to the occasion?

As part of the rule mandating every team gives driving time for young drivers in two practice sessions, five young talents will be driving F1 cars in FP1. Those are: Jack Doohan (Alpine), Oliver Bearman (Haas), Isack Hadjar (AlphaTauri), Theo Pourchaire (Alfa Romeo) and Frederik Vesti (Mercedes).

They replace Pierre Gasly, Kevin Magnussen, Yuki Tsunoda, Valtteri Bottas, and George Russell respectively.

As for Pirelli, they have brought the softer array of their compounds this weekend, the C3 (Hard), the C4 (Medium), and the C5 (Soft).

Pirelli are also bringing prototype of C4 tyres for next season to be tested, offering each driver two sets. Those tyres can be identified by their black tyre-walls.

Mexico FP1 session highlights

The session started in partly cloudy conditions, with air temperature at 23 degrees Celsius, while the track temperature was 42 degrees Celsius.

With the cooling challenges teams will face with their cars, all the changes brought to Mexico were targeting optimized cooling solutions for their F1 challengers.

Alonso kicked off practice with a huge aero rake attached to the back of his AMR23 as Aston Martin look to get a better understanding of their upgrade package.

Pourchaire soon reported problems with the Alfa Romeo. He informs the team: “The [brake] pedal feels strange.”

Hadjar soon reports that he “has anti-stall” and head back to the pits. A steep learning curve for these guys.

Charles Leclerc also reported some strange noise with the engine of his SF-23. He said: “The engine does a slight strange noise when I’m full throttle, like a metal noise, just for info.”

Replay showed a piece fly away of Daniel Ricciardo’s AlphaTauri, with Piastri reporting a “metal piece” on the track.

The Yellow flag came out 12 minutes into the session, and replay showed Carlos Sainz going off track with an issue on his Ferrari.

The Spaniard reported a hydraulics problems and slowly drives back to the pits: “I lost the car, hydraulics, I will try to make it back, no power steering.”

The #55 SF-23 was soon being taken apart by Ferrari mechanics.

Lando Norris also reported that the revs on his engine shot up to the limit, the team acknowledging the situation. He said: “It over-revved like hell.”

Oscar Piastri, on the other hand, also was asking his team about loss of power on his car.

Doohan had a small moment, his Alpine getting out of shape at Turn 4, but he kept on track and going, but Pourchaire was having a miserable session.

The Frenchman soon reported the same pedal problem on the Alfa Romeo, the team instructing him to box.

Albon in the Williams reported he felt like he was down on power on the straights. That was mid-session, when he was actually second fastest, just 0.004s behind Verstappen who was on top.

In the second half of the session, the Soft tyres started to make their appearance, as the Mediums and the prototype C4 were in use in the first half.

Lewis Hamilton had a moment at Turn 3, after hitting the kerbs hard, losing the rear of his W14, but nothing the seven-time F1 Champ can’t handle.

In the meantime, TV footage shows Alonso’s car being worked on by the Aston Martin mechanics, that was past the midway of the session and the Spaniard did not even set a time yet.

Again, with 25 minutes remaining, Pourchaire still couldn’t catch a break, his brake pedal still misbehaving.

Verstappen, just after setting the fastest time on his first run on Soft tyres radioed his team saying he needed to box as there was something loose between his legs.

With 21 minutes remaining, Bearman in the Haas had a brief off-track moment at Turn 12, but no damage done, he keeps going.

With less than twenty minutes remaining, Alonso finally returns to the track. Not a great start for the double F1 Champion in Mexico. He had an oversteer moment at Turn 12 on his first lap.

The drivers started doing some long runs on high fuel in the final 15 minutes of the session, while Pourchaire’s Alfa Romeo was up on the stands, a premature end of his session. Tough luck.

In the meantime, Norris and Perez couldn’t wait till Sunday and had a mini race of their own.

It is a brake-by-wire that has marred Pourchaire’s session and ended it so early.

How they finished

Verstappen posted a 1:19.718 to go fastest of all in FP1, with Albon a surprise second, just 0.095s off the pace of the Dutchman.

Perez was third fastest in the sister Red Bull, 0.297s off the pace of his teammate and 0.222s ahead of Norris, who was fourth in the McLaren.

Leclerc was fifth fastest, 0.060s behind Norris, and 0.166s faster than Piastri who was sixth in the other McLaren.

Sainz who had a scare with his hydraulics early in FP1 finished the session seventh fastest, and 0.761s off the pace of Verstappen.

Ricciardo was eighth fastest for AlphaTauri with a 1:20.568, and 0.109s faster than Esteban Ocon who was ninth fastest in the Alpine.

Lance Stroll was tenth fastest, while Hamilton was 11th, the Mercedes not showing an competitiveness so far.

As for the young drivers, Bearman was fastest of the lot in 15th place, Hadjar was 17th, Doohan was 18th, and Vesti was 19th.

Pourchaire who suffered session-long brake issues was 20th with no time posted.

FP1 Results