Scuderia Ferrari started the Mexican Grand Prix weekend off in strong form with Sebastian Vettel finishing the opening day as the fastest driver.
The first session of the day saw competitors waiting it out for other teams to head out on track to lay down some rubber after the rain of Thursday night.
While other teams experimented with the various compounds of Pirelli rubber available to them, the Ferrari team stuck to the Medium compound and a few exploratory laps on the Intermediate compound from Charles Leclerc.
Between the two drivers, they completed a total of 43 laps with Leclerc finishing the session second fastest, just 0.119 seconds off of the quickest time of Lewis Hamilton, who was on the Soft compound Pirelli’s. Vettel ended Free Practice 1 in sixth place, 0.891 seconds from the fastest time after running wide through Turn 1 several times.
“This morning I was the gardener of Turn 1, in terms of going through the grass,” commented Vettel. “I like mowing the lawn, and I did it this morning a couple of times but didn’t need to do it again in the afternoon, since I was able to find the rhythm and everything went smoothly from then on.”
The afternoon session saw the German lead the way, recording a fastest time of 1:16.607 with 35 laps around the 4.304km Autódromo Hermanos Rodriguez circuit.
For the first part of the Free Practice 2 session, the Ferrari’s lapped on the Medium compound tyre, following the red flag caused by Alexander Albon’s slide into the barriers both Vettel and Leclerc switched to the Soft compound.
Following Vettel’s fastest time, Leclerc put in a lap of 1:17.072 to record the second-fastest time of the session, only to be bumped down a place by Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen.
With a qualifying run completed the focus switched to high fuel load runs, by the end of the session Vettel had recorded 35 laps while Leclerc managed 34.
“Charles and I split the work today. I did most of the work on the Medium tyre, which was ok. We don’t look that bad, but I don’t have the full picture yet. I did only two laps on new Softs, so it’s difficult to say, but I don’t think I had the worst tyre today for the long runs,” added Vettel.
“However, there are still some areas where we can improve tomorrow in terms of the general balance and the feeling I have with the car. Max (Verstappen) looks strong, but all the three top teams are very close, so let’s see what tomorrow brings.”
Leclerc was also in an upbeat mood following the completion of the day, “It was a positive Friday for us as a team. Our qualifying performance was good, and the car looks quite competitive here,” said the Monegasque driver.
“For me, Free Practice 1 was good while Free Practice 2 turned out to be more tricky. I struggled a bit with the car balance, and there are still some improvements I want to make in my driving.
“In general, the grip is rather poor on this track because we find ourselves at such a high altitude and the downforce is not as efficient as it is at other tracks.
“To win this race, you have to get a good start and keep the lead well into turn 1. Being behind someone is a disadvantage here because of the cooling issues everyone faces, so having a strong qualifying result will be a key factor.
“Our competitors are strong, and we will see where we really stand tomorrow, but we are confident of our potential and ready to give it our all once again.”