The Mexican Grand Prix is “one of the hardest strategies of the year” to predict, according to Pirelli, and the front-running teams are remaining wary about the impact high tyre degradation may have on strategy come Sunday.
With Ferrari, Red Bull, and Mercedes all having at least one car in the top four for Sunday’s race, a three-way fight is more-than-expected and, if previous races this season are anything to go off, that battle should mostly take place during the pit stops.
Pirelli said in a statement released after qualifying that a two-stopper would be the quickest strategy in Mexico for frontrunners starting on the mediums. After the opening stint, they should switch to another set of mediums and then close the race out on the hard tyre, Pirelli said.
“The slowest approach would be a one-stopper, but it’s a big ask to run such long stints here,” the statement said. It warned that some soft tyre starters may need to pit three times, given the high degradation levels that have been prominent all weekend.
In a post-qualifying statement, Ferrari Team Principal Mattia Binotto suggested the race could be a one or two stopper for his team. “We will see different strategies come into play,” he affirmed.
The Ferrari boss said he was expecting a “tense and difficult” race given the close margins with Mercedes and Red Bull in qualifying. He added that strategy would play an important role.
Ferrari will start the Mexican Grand Prix in first and second, following a post-qualifying penalty for Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, who initially took pole position.
The penalty means Verstappen starts fourth, with Lewis Hamilton ahead of him in third and team-mate Alex Albon and Valtteri Bottas behind in fifth and sixth, respectively.
The top three teams in qualifying were all covered by just under seven-tenths of a second and their drivers will all start the race on the medium tyre.
Championship leaders Mercedes did not make it clear what they thought would be an ideal strategy for the race but did stress the prevalence of tyre degradation, which should factor majorly into strategic considerations on Sunday.
“It will be interesting to see whose tyres last long – that’ll be the name of the game,” Lewis Hamilton commented. He, however, didn’t think there would be much strategic variation during the race.
Mercedes race engineer Andrew Shovlin said he expected the high tyre degradation to “open up some options on strategy” during the 71 lap race.
“Tomorrow will be all about tyre life, so this might create some opportunity for us.”Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen noted that tyre life would be “important” during the race, but insisted the team had a good package.
His team-mate, Alex Albon, said that tyre degradation was “really high” on Friday and he was expecting major tyre management on Sunday.