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Formula 1

Why Mexican GP really is Mercedes’ best F1 2022 victory shot

by Edd Straw
5 min read

Mercedes has flirted unsuccessfully with winning a Formula 1 race several times in 2022, most recently in the United States Grand Prix last weekend where Lewis Hamilton only lost the lead to Max Verstappen in the closing stages. Even with several factors in its favour, the car simply wasn’t quick enough to close out victory there. So why should the Mexican Grand Prix be any different?

The answer is that while Max Verstappen and Red Bull are clear favourites to win from pole position, this was the first time in 2022 that you could make a case that the Mercedes could be, as George Russell put it, “the fastest car”.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Mexican Grand Prix Qualifying Day Mexico City, Mexico

A Friday disrupted by the 2023 tyre test means the long-run data was inconclusive, but it didn’t look bad for the Mercedes W13, a car that tends to be stronger over race stints than a single lap. And this on a track where the altitude of 2200 metres, which equates to a reduction in air density of in the region of 22% that mitigates the drag disadvantage of the car and for which the Mercedes power unit package appears to be well-optimised. Crucially, the car can also run at the low ride height necessary to produce relatively high levels of downforce.

Russell was, by his own admission, “kicking myself” after failing to bag a pole position he felt was there for the taking. Although he took his first F1 pole position in Hungary earlier this year, that was down to circumstances in what wasn’t the quickest car. But in Mexico, he was frustrated to go off late on his final lap while trying to make up for an untidy moment through Turns 4 and 5 and ended up second.

“I believe this weekend we’ve had the fastest car,” said Russell. “And if you’ve got the fastest car there’s no reason why you can’t win the race.

“I think Max did an excellent job, as he’s consistently doing week in, week out. But it’s going to be very difficult to pass him. They’re gaining about three tenths on us down the straight.

“We definitely can beat Red Bull, for sure. But I don’t think we’re going to be able to make the overtake on track. We’re going to have to be strategic.

“The strategy, is it going to be a one- or a two-stop? I guess having both Lewis and I there, we can be aggressive.”

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Mexican Grand Prix Qualifying Day Mexico City, Mexico

The Mercedes has certainly proved quick this weekend, with Russell topping FP2 and FP3 in a car that has given away time on the straights but been quicker than Red Bull in many corners. It’s also had a clear advantage over Ferrari, which has struggled for pace at altitude.

One factor Russell pointed to is the advantage of Mercedes having two drivers in the top three, with Lewis Hamilton qualifying third after an engine oscillation cost him on corner exits in qualifying, while Verstappen’s team-mate, Sergio Perez, starts behind.

“I think we were looking competitive,” said Russell of the Mercedes race pace.

“We don’t really know, but we think we’ve got a reasonable shot.

“Having Lewis and I there at the front gives us an opportunity to maybe do something different with the strategy. And I don’t think anybody really knows if it’s going to be a one- or two-stop. So, let’s see what we can do.”

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Mexican Grand Prix Race Day Mexico City, Mexico

The start will likely be critical for the chances of Mercedes mounting a bid for victory. As Hamilton pointed out, “it’s a long way down to Turn 1”, with the 811-metre run to the first corner the longest of the season. Last year, Verstappen jumped from third on the grid to lead and with two Mercedes up front, it won’t be possible to cover both.

Thanks to this combination of factors, Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff feels that Mexico will be the best chance for the team to win.

Mercedes already had an idea of this based on its pre-event simulations given the altitude and the fact the Mercedes can be run in the set-up window where it works well.

“The good thing is that, in our simulations, we had that on the radar as being the best race,” said Wolff. “So it is good that the virtual world correlates with the real world.

“And the most important is that we really have to have the pace and slowly but surely we are going forward and learning the lessons for next year.”

While the progress Mercedes has made is encouraging for next season given it does show it has built an understanding of a tricky car, Sunday’s race will offer the chance to avoid going through an F1 season winless for the first time since 2011.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Mexican Grand Prix Qualifying Day Mexico City, Mexico

But while he hopes Mercedes will be in the mix, Wolff stopped short of being confident of being in the position to challenge Red Bull.

“I think in all my life, there’s maybe a handful of occasions that I’ve been confident and certainly never in Formula 1,” said Wolff.

“I am annoyed about not being on pole, because it would have ticked the box. But then equally, having Max with his top speed advantage behind us would have been a problem.

“Starting second and third can be advantageous and I hope we can stick our nose or both noses into Turn 1 and then disappear in the distance. But definitely, that’s going to be difficult.”

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