Thu. Feb 22nd, 2024

With the dust barely settled from Sunday’s United States Grand Prix in Austin, Texas, Formula One has already moved on to the second race of its late-season tripleheader, the Mexican Grand Prix in Mexico City.

Established in 1963, the Mexican Grand Prix at the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez is one of the more compelling and lovable stops on the F1 calendar. It served for many years as F1’s season-ending race, and it’s easy to see why. The track is great, and the fans and storylines are greater still.

Mexico City’s Autódromo is a notoriously technical track, filled with tricky corners that feed into one another. If a driver misses the apex or under-brakes on one turn, chances are good he’ll also ruin his next three or four. 

“If you are confident on braking here, it’s usually a good weekend for you,” Alpine’s Esteban Ocon told The Athletic. “It’s very tricky, actually, because you are at such high speed with very low downforce that can make your lap gone in a second.”

Ocon’s low downforce call-out may raise your eyebrows, as turn-heavy tracks tend to be high downforce because they require more grip. Why is Mexico City different? The answer is one of the key factors in race weekends in Mexico City: elevation.

The Autódromo is the highest F1 track in the world by some distance — it’s well over 7,000 feet above sea level. The air is noticeably thinner at that height and makes the Autódromo a low downforce track despite its technical corners.

Altitude doesn’t only affect downforce. The lower air pressure and lack of oxygen can wreak havoc on engine performance, too. 

F1 engines must work harder to generate power from Mexico City’s thin air, and that can cause them to overheat and fail during particularly fast laps. This is one of the more difficult tracks on the race calendar for engineers and mechanics because the geography and environment of Mexico City create immense mechanical challenges for fussy and complex F1 vehicles.

Eagle-eyed viewers may recognize something curious about the grandstands at the Mexican Grand Prix. They don’t look like traditional race bleachers; instead, they look like they might have been dropped in from another stadium:

That’s because they were. The Foro Sol, the Autódromo’s biggest grandstand, was once a baseball stadium that hosted the Mexican League’s Diablos Rojos del Mexico. The Diablos won four championships there before moving across town.

When the Autódromo needed to make edits to its track layout, it cut straight through the middle of the unused stadium to create two grandstands with some of the best views in all of F1.

All eyes will be on Red Bull this weekend, but for once, they won’t be on world champion Max Verstappen. They’ll be on his teammate, Sergio Perez, the Guadalajara native who is beloved in his home country. Perez has made it to the podium of his home Grand Prix, but he’s never won the race. Could this be the year he wins in front of the Mexican faithful?

The Mexican Grand Prix starts Sunday at 4 p.m. ET.

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