FP1: Carlos Sainz narrowly fastest in tightly-bunched opening Mexico City session

Henry Valantine
Carlos Sainz runs during FP1. Mexico October 2022.

Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz during a flying lap in FP1. Mexico October 2022.

Carlos Sainz topped FP1 for the Mexican Grand Prix, but the top six drivers were covered by only 0.192s as teams looked closely matched.

Charles Leclerc followed just behind his team-mate, ahead of Red Bull pair Sergio Perez and Max Verstappen, with Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and Alpine’s Fernando Alonso rounding out a tight top six.

The dominant topic of conversation in Mexico City has been Red Bull’s punishment for breaching the 2021 cost cap, with the FIA fining the team $7million alongside a 10% deduction in time allowed in their wind tunnel to test new aerodynamic parts, which team principal Christian Horner predicts could cost them up to half a second per lap in 2023.

But in terms of on-track action, FP1 was a key session for the drivers. With FP2 being reserved for a 90-minute tyre test for Pirelli’s 2023 tyres, first practice represented the best opportunity for the teams to perfect their set-ups in representative conditions.

Like in Austin, there were several driver swaps to note, with Logan Sargeant given another chance behind the wheel at Williams as he looks to build the FIA Super Licence points required to race alongside Alex Albon next year, taking on the Thai-British driver’s FW44 for the session.

Meanwhile, incoming AlphaTauri driver Nyck de Vries took the wheel of George Russell’s Mercedes as they fulfilled one of their ‘rookie’ FP1 slots for the season, with Pietro Fittipaldi filling in for Kevin Magnussen at Haas.

At AlphaTauri, Red Bull junior Liam Lawson took over Yuki Tsunoda’s seat for the second time this season, while Alpine junior Jack Doohan, son of motorcycle racing legend Mick, ran in Esteban Ocon’s A522.

Red Bull seemed unperturbed in their on-track performance early on, however, with Verstappen and home hero Perez – who received a rapturous reception as he left the pits – more than a second ahead of the chasing pack in the first 15 minutes of the session, Verstappen clocking a 1:22.291.

Lawson struggled early on though, reporting his brakes were “completely gone” as he looked to slow down for Turn 1 – the heaviest braking zone on track.

After initially running on hard tyres, the field made the switch to softs and Leclerc set a new benchmark by setting a 1:21.546.

This was still more than three seconds slower than the 1:18.341 set by Valtteri Bottas in FP1 last season, perhaps a sign that the altitude and thinner air in Mexico have highlighted the biggest differences between the current and previous iterations of Formula 1 cars so far, with the 2022 challengers’ ground-effect aerodynamics relying on air running underneath the car to generate downforce.

But it was not long before the drivers began to find more time, Leclerc dropping into the 1:20s with his second soft-tyre run and others following suit in making big leaps compared to their quickest laps on hards.

One driver unable to make the most of soft tyres was Zhou Guanyu, who found himself stranded at the end of the pit lane as he could not upshift to get moving on track.

Due to having narrowly passed the pit exit line, his Alfa Romeo mechanics were unable to rescue him, leaving Zhou sat helplessly into his car until marshals were able to pull him back into the pit lane a couple of minutes later.

A rare but harmless spin came for Verstappen at Turn 11, losing control as he tried to wrestle his car through, before the session was red-flagged shortly afterwards as Fittipaldi stopped his car at Turn 2 with a smoking power unit at the back of his Haas.

The hiatus only lasted around five minutes, but both Ferrari drivers led the way as the field looked to make the most of what was available to them in FP1.

Drivers largely opted for FP2-style long-run simulations towards the end of the session, with the Pirelli tyre test to come in the later session and squandering their usual chances to take in a longer stint.

Another lock-up for Lawson into Turn 4 showed his brake issues had not eased, before stopping altogether as his AlphaTauri’s left front brake overheated before catching fire as marshals made their way over.

That ended the session in earnest, but if the tightness of lap times from FP1 continue into Saturday, it could be a closely-fought weekend.

FP1 classification

1 Carlos SAINZ Ferrari 1:20.707
2 Charles LECLERC Ferrari +0.046
3 Sergio PEREZ Red Bull Racing +0.120
4 Max VERSTAPPEN Red Bull Racing +0.120
5 Lewis HAMILTON Mercedes +0.142
6 Fernando ALONSO Alpine +0.192
7 Valtteri BOTTAS Alfa Romeo +0.376
8 Lando NORRIS McLaren +0.413
9 Pierre GASLY AlphaTauri +0.603
10 Sebastian VETTEL Aston Martin +0.818
11 Daniel RICCIARDO McLaren +1.055
12 Guanyu ZHOU Alfa Romeo +1.113
13 Lance STROLL Aston Martin +1.158
14 Mick SCHUMACHER Haas F1 Team +1.245
15 Nicholas LATIFI Williams +2.205
16 Liam LAWSON AlphaTauri +3.154
17 Logan SARGEANT Williams +3.539
18 Nyck DE VRIES Mercedes +3.875
19 Jack DOOHAN Alpine +3.908
20 Pietro FITTIPALDI Haas F1 Team +6.059

Read more: The full FIA report into Red Bull’s 2021 budget cap breach