Mercedes-AMG ran their power units at lower settings during Friday’s two ninety-minute practice sessions as a precaution against overheating, the team has confirmed.
The team’s technical director, James Allison, said after FP2 that overheating issues, caused by Mexico’s unusually high altitude, led to the decision to run the power units at a lower-than-normal setting.
Both Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas under-performed during the first practice sessions, with neither driver recording a top-three finish. In FP2, Hamilton and Bottas were 7th and 9th respectively, both more than a second adrift of Max Verstappen’s session-topping time.
Mexico’s surprisingly high altitude at over 2200m above sea level gives the teams a unique power unit dilemma. Because the air pressure is lower, the entire package is forced to work harder. The air pressure also affects the ICE and puts more strain on the MGU-H. Honda’s Technical Director, Toyoharu Tanabe said ahead of the weekend that cooling must be “carefully managed.”
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However, power unit overheating wasn’t the only issue for Mercedes in Mexico. Hamilton said Friday’s problems were not related to one particular area of the car. Bottas added to the mystery, telling media the team doesn’t have a definitive answer to explain the lack of pace.
Technical Director Allison said the track’s unusual characteristics create an unusual setup dilemma, which the team haven’t fully understood yet. He said the team has “plenty of work” in order to produce stronger results.
Hamilton, who’s on the brink of winning his fifth World Championship this weekend, does think Red Bull is “out of reach” at the moment and admitted Mercedes has ground to make up.
Red Bull performed particularly well on Friday, producing 1st and 2nd finishes in both sessions. Each time, Max Verstappen led home Daniel Ricciardo.