Following on from his victory at the Mexican Grand Prix last year, Max Verstappen topped the Free Practice 1 timing screens at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez ahead of his Aston Martin Red Bull Racing team-mate Daniel Ricciardo.
Verstappen’s time of a 1 minute 16.656, set on the hyper-soft tyres late in the session, proved to be four-tenths faster than Ricciardo. Renault Sport Formula 1 Team duo Carlos Sainz Jr. and Nico Hülkenberg were Red Bull’s closest competitors, 1.2 seconds back, ensuring that the top four spots were occupied by Renault Sport powered cars – taking advantage of Mexico City‘s thin air.
A dusty surface and warm weather greeted Formula 1 and made for a slow start to the morning. The first proper timed laps didn’t arrive until 20 minutes into the session, Sebastian Vettel and United States Grand Prix winner Kimi Räikkönen setting the early pace for Scuderia Ferrari.
With a lack of grip, tyres were the talk of the morning. Having ruined a set of hyper-softs within six laps, Vettel brandished the early stages a “waste of running” – a feeling that was shared by the majority of the 20 drivers.
Soon after, Sainz Jr. slipped and wrestled his Renault past Vettel’s time as times started to fall. In quick succession, home hero Sergio Pérez, Lewis Hamilton, Verstappen and Ricciardo all set a new benchmark in the space of three minutes. Räikkönen found his morning programme marginally changed by an unwelcome spin at Turn 6 as he fed the power in on corner exit.
Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport shared a powercut in the garage with neighbours Ferrari and Red Bull, while Hamilton had power issues of his own to contend with on track. His report of “drops in power” may need to be monitored through the day and weekend.
As the hour mark passed, Ricciardo returned to top spot briefly with a 1:17.738 before Verstappen became the first man to step into the 1 minute 16s, over a second quicker than the Australian. Ricciardo’s answer came in the closing stages, but he could only manage a 1:17.139 – four tenths away from the Dutchman.
The top eight came in pairs. Mercedes were the third best team of the morning, Hamilton two-tenths ahead of Valtteri Bottas. Ferrari struggled for performance as they continued to experiment with the floor of the SF71-H. Vettel pipped Räikkönen to seventh but both were two seconds adrift of Red Bull.
With Pierre Gasly taking on an older engine, Brendon Hartley was the only Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda to set a time and saw his efforts earn him ninth spot. Racing Point Force India F1 Team reserve Nicholas Latifi assumed Esteban Ocon‘s car and rounded out the top ten in an impressive showing, four-hundredths ahead of Pérez.
The two other Friday drivers, Antonio Giovinazzi and Lando Norris, were also faster than their respective team-mates – Marcus Ericsson and Stoffel Vandoorne.
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