Carlos Sainz led FP1 for the Mexican Grand Prix but the top six drivers were covered by just 0.192s as the teams stayed close together.
Charles Leclerc followed just behind his teammate, ahead of Red Bull duo Sergio Perez and Max Verstappen, while Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and Alpine’s Fernando Alonso completed the top six.
The dominant topic of conversation in Mexico City was Red Bull’s punishment for violating the 2021 cost cap, with the FIA slapping the team with a $7 million fine, along with a 10% time penalty, which was measured in their wind tunnel was allowed to test new aerodynamic parts, which team boss Christian Horner predicts could cost up to half a second per lap in 2023.
But in terms of on-track action, FP1 was a key session for the drivers. With FP2 reserved for a 90-minute tire test for Pirelli’s 2023 tires, FP1 was the best opportunity for the teams to perfect their setups in representative conditions.
As at Austin, there were several driver changes to note, with Logan Sargeant given another chance behind the wheel at Williams as he seeks to earn the FIA Super License points needed to race alongside Alex Albon next year, taking over the Thai-British driver’s FW44 for the session.
Meanwhile, new AlphaTauri driver Nyck de Vries took the wheel of George Russell’s Mercedes as they filled one of their ‘rookie’ FP1 slots for the season, with Pietro Fittipaldi filling in for Kevin Magnussen at Haas.
Good to see Nyck Debris getting a run out again in FP1. Kid has talent 😬#MexicoGP #F1 pic.twitter.com/F4lb29yrcX
— PlanetF1 (@Planet_F1) October 28, 2022
At AlphaTauri, Red Bull junior Liam Lawson took Yuki Tsunoda’s seat for the second time this season, while Alpine junior Jack Doohan, son of motorcycle racing legend Mick, rode in Esteban Ocon’s A522.
However, Red Bull seemed unfazed by his on-track performance from the start as Verstappen and local hero Perez – who received an enthusiastic reception upon exiting the pits – were more than a second clear of their pursuers in the opening 15 minutes of the session, Verstappen clocks a 1:22.291.
However, Lawson struggled early and reported that his brakes were “completely gone” as he tried to slow down for Turn 1 – the heaviest braking zone on the track.
After initially running on hard tyres, the field switched to soft and Leclerc set a new benchmark with a 1:21.546.
That was still more than three seconds slower than the 1:18.341 set by Valtteri Bottas in FP1 last season, perhaps a sign that the altitude and thinner air in Mexico are the biggest differences between the current and previous iterations of Formula 1 cars to date, with the 2022 Challenger’s ground effect aerodynamics relying on air flowing under the car to generate downforce.
But it didn’t take long for riders to start finding more time, Leclerc falling into the 1’20s on his second run on soft tires and others following him, making big jumps compared to their fastest laps on hard tyres.
One driver who couldn’t make the most of the soft tires was Zhou Guanyu, who was stranded at the end of pit lane because he couldn’t upshift to get onto the track.
Having narrowly passed the pit exit line, his Alfa Romeo mechanics were unable to save him, leaving Zhou helpless in his car until the marshals were able to drag him back into the pit lane a few minutes later.
A rare but harmless spin occurred for Verstappen at Turn 11, which saw him lose control as he tried to force his car through before the session was red flagged shortly afterwards when Fittipaldi crashed his car into Turn 2 with him Haas stopped at the back with a smoking engine.
The break only lasted around five minutes but both Ferrari drivers led the way as the field tried to make the best of what was available to them in FP1.
The drivers largely opted for FP2-style cross-country sims towards the end of the session, with the Pirelli tire test set to take place in the later session and wasting their usual chances for a longer stint.
Thank you Seb 💙 pic.twitter.com/G5RwPvBovK
— Oracle Red Bull Racing (@redbullracing) October 28, 2022
Another suspension for Lawson at Turn 4 showed his braking problems hadn’t eased before he came to a complete halt when his AlphaTauri’s left front brake overheated before catching fire as marshals passed.
That was a serious end to the session, but if the lap time scarcity continues from FP1 through to Saturday it could be a tightly contested weekend.
1 Carlos SAINZ Ferrari 1:20.707
2 Charles LECLERC-Ferrari +0.046
3Sergio PEREZ Red Bull Racing +0.120
4 Max VERSTAPPEN Red Bull Racing +0.120
5 Lewis HAMILTONMercedes +0.142
6 Fernando ALONSO Alpine +0.192
7 Valtteri BOTTAS Alfa Romeo +0.376
8 Lando NORRIS McLaren +0.413
9 Pierre GASLY AlphaTauri +0.603
10 Sebastian VETTEL Aston Martin +0.818
11Daniel RICCIARDO McLaren +1.055
12 Guanyu ZHOU Alfa Romeo +1.113
13 Lance STROLL Aston Martin +1.158
14 Mick SCHUMACHER Haas F1 Team +1.245
15 Nicholas LATIFI Williams +2.205
16 Liam LAWSON AlphaTauri +3.154
17 Logan SARGEANT Williams +3.539
18 Nyck DE VRIES Mercedes +3.875
19 Jack DOOHAN Alpine +3,908
20 Pietro FITTIPALDI Haas F1 Team +6.059
RegardingView more: The full FIA report on Red Bull’s 2021 budget cap breach
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