Following Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari collision in Friday’s second practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Mexico, Mercedes’ George Russell set the fastest lap times. While Leclerc watched from the Ferrari garage, uninjured, Russell gave a glimpse of Mercedes’ promise with a solid performance in a session dedicated to testing tyres, in variable circumstances. The 24-year-old Brit made the most of his opportunity to shine by setting a new track record on soft tires in 1 minute, 19.970 seconds. He was one of just a select few drivers that were allowed to use 2022 tires.
This put him eight-tenths of a second ahead of Alpha Tauri driver Yuki Tsunoda and Alpine’s Esteban Ocon, who had both been given half the session to concentrate on set-up with ordinary tyres after giving their cars to guest rookies for the first practice.
In a practice with two red lights, Lewis Hamilton, Russell’s Mercedes teammate and seven-time world champion, was fourth fastest.
Leclerc’s dramatic Ferrari spin happened first, followed by Zhou Guanyu’s hydraulic failure with a few laps remaining in the race.
As a result, the session had to be cut short, leaving Ferrari disappointed after leading the first practice thanks to Carlos Sainz’s fast speeds.
Max Verstappen, a two-time world champion, finished sixth, one spot behind Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez, who received fervent cheers from the crowd in his native country.
Leclerc finished ahead of Sainz, Valtteri Bottas of Alfa Romeo, and Pierre Gasly of Alpha Tauri to in eighth place.
An atmosphere of welcome peace descended over the track for the start of the second practice session after the morning’s political turmoil around the FIA’s punishment of Red Bull for last year’s cost-cap violation and Ferrari’s domination of the first session.
The 90 minutes were forecasted to be used for a comprehensive Pirelli tyre test, focusing on a variety of soft compounds to be considered next year. The weather was forecasted to be warm but gloomy, with rain threatening.
Because of this, the atmosphere was more akin to preseason testing than race preparation, although those drivers who sat out the first session—perhaps because they had handed over their cars to rookie reserve drivers—were allowed to use the second half to fine-tune their cars’ settings for the new tires.
Tires from the year 2023 were unbranded and erratic.
There was minimal tension until Sainz got top for Ferrari, and although Russell and Ocon were quickly engaged in the race, and Perez gave his devoted supporters something to shout about on every lap, there was ultimately no one to pass until Sainz.
After 20 minutes on new soft tyres, Russell pulled ahead by 1.6 seconds with a lap of 1:19.970 on mediums, then Verstappen on a pair of tester softs, and finally Perez.
After 33 minutes, Leclerc crashed, sliding backwards into the barriers at turn seven and severely injuring the rear of his Ferrari, bringing out the red flag and forcing a 20-minute delay.
He escaped without serious injury, but the incident was a disappointment for him and the Ferrari team since they had not won there since Alain Prost’s 1990 victory.
The weather became worse, and the course got more muddy. As the temperatures dropped, the cars slid around the track, keeping Russell’s lap time unchallenged.