2021 Mexico City Grand Prix - Preview

Nov 2, 2021
Brackley

Formula One returns to the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez in Mexico City for the 18th round of the 2021 season

  • Toto Talks Mexico City
  • Featured: What Impact Does High Altitude Have on an F1 Car?
  • Stat Attack: Mexico City and Beyond

Toto Talks Mexico City

The last race in Texas was more proof of just how intense this championship battle is. It’s challenging, it’s pushing both teams to higher levels and the positive pressure we’re putting on ourselves is making this a hugely enjoyable fight. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

Lewis put together a perfectly executed charge on the alternative strategy, to try and snatch the win away from a very quick Max. It wasn’t enough in the end, but we know that we gave it our all and Lewis was relentless in his chase for the win. Valtteri drove very well after starting in a tricky position because of the grid penalty, which was the right call for us to make for the remaining five races. He gained positions, scored some good points and that was useful for us in the Constructors’ battle.

We’re all excited to be back in Mexico City, it’s such a vibrant place, full of character and we always receive a warm welcome. We’re looking forward to being back there and the atmosphere at the track is always electric.

Red Bull have gone well there in the past and it hasn’t been our strongest circuit. But this year has shown that anything is possible and circuits where you were previously weak, you are suddenly strong, and vice versa. So, it adds a layer of unknown in the build-up, which only increases the excitement.

We’ll keep taking things race by race and preparing the best we can, and we’ll land in Mexico ready to hit the ground running on Friday, get a good understanding of the car’s performance and build from there.

Featured: What Impact Does High Altitude Have on an F1 Car?

While it’s easily forgotten in the heat of a wheel-to-wheel battle or stunning pole position lap, the performance of a Formula One car and the ability for it to even run is largely down to the many, many invisible air particles floating around us.

Many of the F1 tracks that we visit are fairly close to sea level, and in Zandvoort’s case very close, so the air density and altitude are pretty similar. But Mexico is an outlier. It has the highest altitude of any circuit and by quite some margin, situated 2,285 metres above sea level, five-times the height of the PETRONAS Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur. 

And that change in altitude has a surprisingly large effect on many elements of an F1 car, changing how it performs and operates…

How does Mexico’s altitude level compare to other F1 locations?

The Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez is located to the south-east of Mexico City’s centre, with an ambient pressure of just 780hPa - normal sea level is around 1,000hPa, so it’s roughly 20% less. Despite its high altitude, it is one of F1’s flattest tracks with an elevation change from the lowest to highest point of just under 3 metres. This is partly because Mexico City sits in the ‘Valley of Mexico’ on a former lakebed.

When it comes to the highest altitudes of other F1 tracks, none come close. In fact, the Mexico City venue is located nearly 1,500m higher than the next circuit on the list, which is Interlagos, measuring in at 800m above sea level.

So while the weather and temperatures experienced at the Mexico City Grand Prix aren’t especially different to other race weekends, the atmospheric conditions are unique and provide teams with some rare challenges to tackle.

Why does high altitude impact the car?

Altitude impacts everything that we do, whether it’s going for a run around Mexico City or a turbocharger pumping oxygen into the engine of a car. And it’s all related to the amount of air particles and the density of the air at that specific height.

The higher you are in the atmosphere, the thinner the air is. This is because air has weight and so the closer you are to sea level, the more the air is being compressed downwards, meaning denser air and more air particles. At 2,285 metres above sea level, there is around 25% less air density compared to at sea level and therefore a quarter less oxygen.

When you think about an F1 car, there are many crucial factors that ensure it operates correctly, three of which are: aerodynamics, cooling and the Power Unit. These elements are greatly impacted by the amount of air available to them and therefore, less air means differing performance.

High altitude doesn’t directly impact the racing itself, because everyone is impacted in the same way and the long main straight and two DRS zones early in the lap do promote overtaking. However, different cars will be impacted by the effects of the altitude in different ways, some faring better and some faring worse, which can mix up the competitive order in Mexico.

How does altitude affect the aerodynamics of the car?

Because of the thin air, the drag of a Formula One car in Mexico City is much lower. There are fewer air particles for the car to move out of the way, so the car cuts through the air quicker and with less disruption. This is why the cars are so fast on the straights in Mexico, with a maximum speed higher than Monza (350 km/h) whilst running wings as big as the ones we use in Monaco.

However, fewer air particles also have the impact of less downforce being generated, as there is less air pushing the car into the ground. In fact, the downforce loss is around 25% in Mexico because of the altitude. As a result, the highest downforce specification - Monaco level of wing - is used but this is generating the same level of downforce (or even slightly less) as the Monza wing because of the lack of air density.

Aero grip is therefore pretty low in Mexico, but you can run a big wing without the penalty of drag, so top speeds are very high.

What impact does this altitude level have on the Power Unit?

If we were talking about naturally aspirated engines, the performance difference at a high-altitude track would be much higher, as it relies on oxygen being drawn into the engine to complete the combustion process. This would produce a 25% performance loss, but on the modern-day F1 Power Units this is avoided thanks to the Turbocharger.

This is because the Turbo spins at an incredibly high speed to pump more air into the engine – around three times more air, in normal altitude conditions. More air means you can pump in more fuel and therefore generate more power. In Mexico, the Turbo has to work harder to compensate for the lower air density and it does this by spinning at a higher speed, in its attempt to make up some of the performance loss.

However, it can’t make all of the performance difference up. Working the Turbo 20% harder just isn’t possible - there isn’t the margin left, because they are designed and built for normal race conditions, not the unique ambient pressure of the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez. So, there is still a sizeable reduction in Power Unit output, but the lower drag helps make up for that and propel the cars to these incredible maximum speeds on the Mexico City track’s long main straight.

There is also less harvesting from the MGU-H in Mexico because less air into the engine means less power and less exhaust gasses for the MGU-H to recover and turn into useful energy. Some manufacturers will fare better than others depending on the size of their Turbo and the layout of their Power Unit system.

And why is cooling impacted by high altitude?

The way F1 cooling works is the cooler air particles pass through the cooling intakes, picking up the heat from the components before being dispersed out of the back of the car as hot air. A higher altitude means less air is passed through the radiators, air intakes and ducts which results in less cooling, meaning the various elements of the car such as the Power Unit and brakes run hotter or require much larger ducts to get things sufficiently cooled down.

Obviously, teams try and open up the car’s cooling outlets as much as they can, increasing the size of the air intakes and ducts to bring more air particles in, but this also reduces the aerodynamic performance and increases the drag of the car, so a balance has to be found between the two.

Cooling the car appropriately is probably the biggest challenge in Mexico. For the Power Unit, the lack of mass flow of air limits the cooling potential, which requires careful management to ensure reliability. And overheating brakes can lead to accelerated wear or glazing (where the surface is burnt off, turns shiny and therefore drops friction). Furthermore, the turbo spinning at higher speeds causes additional mechanical strain on the turbine and compressor elements. These are all delicate issues that teams have to consider, monitor and react to, which all add to the excitement and challenge of the Mexico City Grand Prix.

Stat Attack: Mexico City and Beyond

2021 Mexico City Grand Prix Timetable

Session

Local Time

(CST)

Brackley

(GMT)

Stuttgart

(CET)

Practice 1 – Friday

11:30-12:30

17:30-18:30

18:30-19:30

Practice 2 – Friday

15:00-16:00

21:00-22:00

22:00-23:00

Practice 3 - Saturday

11:00-12:00

17:00-18:00

18:00-19:00

Qualifying - Saturday

14:00-15:00

20:00-21:00

21:00-22:00

Race - Sunday

13:00-15:00

19:00-21:00

20:00-22:00

 

Race Records – Mercedes F1 at the Mexico City Grand Prix

 

Starts

Wins

Podium

Places

Pole

Positions

Front Row

Places

Fastest

Laps

DNF

Mercedes

5

3

7

2

4

2

0

Lewis

Hamilton

5

2

3

1

2

0

0

Valtteri

Bottas

5

0

3

0

0

1

0

MB Power

5

3

8

2

4

2

2

 

Technical Stats – Season to Date (Bahrain Pre-Season Test to Present)

 

Laps

Completed

Distance

Covered (km)

Corners

Taken

Gear

Changes

PETRONAS

Fuel Injections

Mercedes

5,086

25,670

80,520

235,479

203,440,000

Lewis

Hamilton

2,588

12,992

41,119

120,098

103,520,000

Valtteri

Bottas

2,498

12,677

39,401

115,381

99,920,000

MB Power

20,018

99,353

344,512

926,617

799,360,000

 

Mercedes-Benz in Formula One

 

Starts

Wins

Podium

Places

Pole

Positions

Front Row

Places

Fastest

Laps

1-2

Finishes

Front Row

Lockouts

Mercedes

(All Time)

244

121

257

131

243

92

58

78

Mercedes (Since 2010)

232

112

240

123

223

83

53

76

Lewis

Hamilton

283

100

177

101

169

58

N/A

N/A

Valtteri

Bottas

173

10

65

18

43

18

N/A

N/A

MB Power

514

209

536

216

428

189

90

115

 



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