How much does Mexico City’s altitude affect the car, from engine performance, to brake performance to aero performance?
“Brake cooling is an issue because of the air density. From there, we also have very little downforce because we’re at altitude. I guess the biggest thing for us to feel is the downforce loss. The biggest challenge for the car is the cooling.”
How much does Mexico City’s altitude affect you physically, especially during the race?
“It’s been fine in previous years, but with these new cars, and if the track has rubbered up a little bit, it could be harder.”
Grip was in short supply at the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez in 2015 and it remained that way last year. What did you have to do to compensate for the lack of grip?
“Find the right setup and find the right way to get the tires to work at their best in those conditions, which is always a challenge.”
With the higher levels of downforce these current-generation cars achieve, do you expect grip to be less of a factor in this year’s race?
“No, I think it’s always going to be the same, because that’s the key to perform. The more grip you have, the better you are. I think even with more downforce, we’re still going to lose the same amount as we did last year in terms of percentage, compared to a normal track. It’s going to be slippery.”
Finding grip means getting the tires into their proper working window. With 17 races having been run this season, have you discovered any tricks to the trade in getting a particular tire compound into its appropriate working range, and if so, how do you keep it there?
“I guess that’s still our Achilles’ heel. We’re still struggling a bit with getting our tires right. That comes with time and experience. We are getting better. We’re all working hard to find the right answers. Sometimes though, we still don’t have them. We do on some occasions, which is great, but on others we don’t. We just have to come to a racetrack and see, then we try to do our best from there.”
Explain what you do in qualifying to get the tires into their proper working range so you can extract the maximum amount of performance out of them for a fast lap.
“It depends a lot on the circuit. Some circuits you need a slow out-lap not to heat the tires too hard. Other circuits you really need to push hard on the out-lap to generate the temperature and the grip. It really does change circuit to circuit. We just have to go and see.”
After a 22-year absence, Formula One returned to Mexico in 2015. You competed in that race. What was the atmosphere like?
“It was a great atmosphere. During the driver parade, I don’t think I’d ever seen such a big crowd than in the last part of the circuit at the stadium section. It was an awesome race with a lot of fans.”
The stadium section seems to be the most talked about portion of the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez because of its sheer scope. What is it like to go through that area with all the fans in attendance during the driver’s parade, and what is it like to drive through there at speed during the race?
“During the race, unfortunately, we don’t get the chance to see the fans. But on the finish lap, after the checkered flag, you really get a chance to see everyone. The podium being there makes for a great image. It looks awesome from the outside.”
What is your favorite part about Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez?
“I like the first three corners. They’re pretty good.”
Describe a lap around Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez.
“Long straight line going into turn one with big braking, 90 degrees right-hand side, followed by a small chicane. It’s very important to get the second part right because you’ve got another long straight line. Then you’ve got another 90-degree left corner, and then a 90-degree right corner. That’s followed by a very weird double right-hander. It’s very difficult to find a line. Then you go to the middle section which is flowing, with mid- to high-speed left and right corners. Next it’s the entry to the stadium – big braking here, very tricky with the wall facing you. Then it’s a very slow hairpin in the stadium, as slow as Monaco. Finally, it’s the double right-hand corner with very important traction going into the old part of the oval to finish the lap.”