Max Verstappen topped the opening practice time sheet to be the first man to top a Formula One session at the Mexican Grand Prix since 1992.
As Formula One returned to the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez, the drivers had to get to grip with a new track that had very little grip. The new asphalt surface also caused many drivers to run off the track and spin, while things got heated for Rosberg as his brakes caught fire and Verstappen topped the session with an illegal lap.
For Formula One’s return to Mexico, the track welcomed an early flurry of action as teams began to run their practice programmes. In fact, over the first few minutes everyone ventured out on to the track. However the early runs needed to be on the intermediates due to overnight rain which did not help the tricky grip levels.
One corner which caught drivers out regularly in the early stages was turn 8 as the corner through the esses led to Alonso, Ericsson & Massa running off. Alonso even described the early track conditions as “like ice”.
It took a while before the first timed lap was posted as drivers continued to get to grip with the surface but it eventually came with Raikkonen and a 1:37.169, even if Verstappen and Vettel instantly moved ahead of the Finn.
Before he posted his first flyer though, Verstappen found himself having his first moment through turn 10 when the rear of his Toro Rosso kicked out on exit, forcing him to take to the run off.
Rosberg soon joined the Toro Rosso’s and Red Bull’s at the top of the time sheet, sitting behind Sainz while still on the inters, as other drivers began to switch onto the slick, medium tyres with Bottas instantly dropping Sainz by six tenths.
Bottas’ time initially remained at the top of the order after the top 10 switched to medium tyres with Hamilton tucking into second by four tenths. But grip was still at a minimum and Rosberg joined the list of drivers to continue to go off through esses.
Even with grip at a minimum, the high altitude levels at the circuit was creating low downforce, allowing staggeringly high top speeds as shown by the Mercedes powered Williams at the hands of Bottas who posted 353km/h (219.3mp/h) in the opening half of the session. His speed sat at just one km/h slower than Monza earlier this year, while McLaren were 11 km/h off the fastest pace from Italy.
At the mid-session mark, Maldonado and Verstappen moved ahead of Bottas before Fernando tucked his McLaren into second ahead of the Lotus and Toro Rosso in his McLaren with a new Honda power unit on board. Button is also using a new power unit this weekend & will double-pen the engines to get a second unit into their system to avoid later penalties in final two rounds. However Jenson pitted early on reporting an engine fault with just over half an hour remaining, stating “I’ve lost deployment”.
Elsewhere on track, Hamilton was setting about flying laps on the medium tyres and went six tenths up in the first sector. But he soon caught up with Raikkonen, causing him to lose a lot of time over the rest of lap and finish six tenths off the pace before Palmer and then Rosberg went fastest overall.
Maldonado was continuing the sessions theme of drivers running wide as he ran off the track at turn 12, bringing out the yellows as he got close to the wall. Marcus Ericsson was also bringing out yellows at turn 16 in his Sauber after spinning his car when taking too much kerb. But following a swift spin around, he was back underway unlike Rosberg who also ran off the track soon after as he lost the rear brakes due to overheating. Nico’s brakes also caught fire causing him to pit with the team informing Hamilton to cool his brakes shortly after going 362km/h (224.9mph) through the speed trap.
As most pitted towards the end of the session, Red Bull flew to a one-two with Kvyat fastest overall by nine-tenths to Ricciardo and Rosberg. But Kvyat’s time was later beaten by Verstappen despite the young star shortcutting the track as he ran off at turn 10.
Alonso also came back out onto the track late on but he was interestingly running on the inters despite the dry track. This turned out to be due to a cut on his mediums and the team wanted to add miles onto the new engine, but more interestingly the intermediate tyres allowed Alonso to find more grip in certain corners.