Alfa Romeo F1 Team Stake arrives in Mexico City for the second leg of an exciting triple-header in the Americas, with the aim of returning to scoring ways in its quest for seventh place in the constructors’ championship.
The venue for the race, the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, is unique in the calendar for its elevation, and the thin air that affects the aerodynamic flow of the cars, creating a very peculiar challenge for all competing teams.
The Mexican Grand Prix weekend will also be the occasion for Alfa Romeo F1 Team Stake reserve driver, Theo Pourchaire, to take part into his first Free Practice session of the season, taking over Valtteri’s car during the first hour of track action on Friday.
It’s not something you immediately feel. Altitude sneaks up on you, quietly, invisibly, just like the oxygen that your body craves, and of which it is, partially, deprived. You can go around your day, not feeling a difference, but the change is there: working its way into your lungs, forcing your heart to work a little bit harder. Go for a run, a gym session or a game of tennis, and that’s where it hits you: your body doesn’t respond how it used to, it wants more energy, more fuel, more air.
Ever since sports became science, the effects of high altitude have been studied, analysed, exploited for performance. From the sprinting world records at the 1968 Summer Olympics to the effect on endurance for those training in the highlands of Kenya (or, for those more inclined to local pursuits, St. Moritz), exercise and competition at altitudes have forged an indissoluble bond with sport.
The rarefied atmosphere affects in particular ways anything that sucks in air, uses it as part of the engine power development, and eventually moves through it as quickly as it possibly can – effectively, anything that a Formula One car does. Just like any athlete, cars struggle a bit more at higher altitudes: cooling is reduced; power output stunted; and downforce much reduced as there’s not as much of the stuff pushing down on the bodywork.
Each of these elements contributes to creating a bigger challenge for engineers, crews and drivers: setups are adapted, with downforce levels not seen since Monaco on a track that very much resembles Monza; mechanics work hard in hypoxic conditions; and drivers, well, have to stop the car with much less downforce that they’d like to have.
There are many striking elements to the Mexican Grand Prix: a week-long celebration of the country, a party atmosphere from day one to well after the chequered flag, thanks to amazing fans and an attentive race promoter, one of the best podiums in the calendar – but the most crucial of all, just like the rarefied air, is one you can’t touch or see. As the championship enters crunch time, with just five races to go, we will all need to adapt to what our hearts do at altitude: work harder and push for our targets.
Alessandro Alunni Bravi, Team Representative: “The event in Austin was quite challenging for us, and it didn’t allow us to extract the full potential of our cars. Still, the team quickly regrouped and went through what happened, to thoroughly analyse what exactly didn’t work out for us and figure out how we can quickly recover the lost ground already from this weekend. Although our direct competitors ended up extending their advantage over us in the championship, we remain confident: the Mexico City track should suit our car better, as we have seen last year, and we know we have it in us to quickly overturn a difficult race – we have done it in the past, and we will do it again.”
Valtteri Bottas: “Austin was a difficult one to take in, especially with the post-race results which ended up awarding our competitors points and the chance to move forward slightly in the standings. Our hope, though, is not lost: despite lacking pace, our car felt decent, and we saw last year already how Mexico suited us better track-wise. We still have four races – including a Sprint event – to score more points; the margins, as always, are minimal, and just a couple of hundredths of a second can make the difference between Q2 and Q3: if we do our job right, we’ll be able to further improve our grid positions and charge our way through the field on Sunday.”
Zhou Guanyu: “The Austin weekend was without doubts a disappointing one, as we expected to keep on maximizing the potential of our recent upgrade package – but we couldn’t. The team has put in a lot of work in these few days to understand where we fell short, and we are confident that we can build something better this weekend; I think we have the potential to do well, and quickly get back on our feet. I enjoyed Mexico last year – the fans are definitely passionate, and they do know how to throw a fiesta: I am looking forward to being back this weekend. We revert back to the standard race weekend format, with three practice sessions which will allow us to study the track and come prepared when it matters. By doing our homework, I am positive we will manage to get back into the points.”