Mexico City – High altitude, low containment.
Formula One has arrived at one of the top circuits in the calendar: the Autodromo Hermanos Rodríguez. Compared to Denver’s Mile High at 1,609.344 meters (one mile) above sea level, Mexico’s track is just over two kilometers (nearly 1.5 miles). The next F1 track in terms of height is Brazil’s Autodromo José Carlos Pace (Interlagos), which sits at 800 meters (just under 0.5 miles). The change in altitude brings more obstacles than thin air but allows for engine power, cooling and downforce to name a few.
For the most part, the circuit layout is the same as the original 1959 track, except for the Peralta corner (turns 16 and 17) and zipping through the old Foro Sol baseball stadium. Autodromo Hermanos Rodríguez is located southeast of the bustling metropolis, and the paddock is decorated to the nines in Mexican culture. It’s a balance of passion, culture and motorsport.
Before the drivers hit the track, here’s what you need to know about Mexico’s premier racing circuit.
How it all started
The origin of the track is captured by its name, which literally translates to “Rodriguez Brothers Autodrome”.
Ricardo and Pedro Rodriguez helped grow the popularity of motorsports in Mexico. According to F1, his father served as an adviser to Mexican President Adolfo López Mateo. The president proposed the creation of a motorsport circuit using the interior roads in the Magdalena Mixuhaca Sports Park in Mexico City. The president agreed, and the district was built in less than a year.
The first complex offered various layouts, including oval. The first district, however, was not originally named after the brothers. According to racingcircuits.info, its name was Autodromo Magdalena Mikhuka.
F1 did not reach a major non-championship race until 1962, but it was marked by tragedy after Ricardo Rodriguez died after his car overturned and caught fire during practice. A year later, the sport returned as a world championship and Jim Clark took over the Grand Prix. F1 lasted until the 1970s, but due to safety concerns, it was discontinued in the mid-1980s. Renovations were made and the sport returned from 1986 to 1992. But Mexico fell off the calendar until 2015.
The track was officially named Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez shortly after the death of Pedro Rodriguez in the early 1970s. He suffered fatal injuries during a sports car race and died in hospital in 1971.
Why the height is a game changer.
Low air pressure and low air affect the performance of the cars.
For example, let’s take the power of the engine. Modern F1 cars are turbocharged, and the air is electronically compressed by a power recovery system. Although the car can burn as much oxygen as it can at sea level at this altitude, when the turbo is working hard, more pressure is put on the housing.
In addition, air-dependent systems tend to struggle on such tracks, and heat up more, which makes cooling more difficult.
And then there is the concept of low power. The Autodromo Hermanos Rodríguez is a short circuit with a long main straight, and normally in this layout the teams gravitate towards the underpowered car. The altitude, however, will force the teams to have more downforce to get the speed the fans will see at Monza. The wings used in Mexico are more significant than those used in Italy.
What does Paddock say?
This circuit is special for Red Bull’s Sergio Perez – it’s home.
“It’s the weekend you want to be perfect, the weekend you want to maximize your score,” he said Thursday. “And if there’s one particular Grand Prix you want to win, it’s your home Grand Prix.”
But it can be very difficult to gather laps together. Sector 1 starts with the long main straight triangles and straights before heading into the more difficult Sector 2. “If you’re confident in your braking here, it’s usually a good weekend for you,” said Esteban Ocon. Turn 1 down, turn all 4, there’s plenty of time to get it. And it’s so tricky, in fact, that you’re at such a high speed that you have such low torque that it can make your lap disappear in seconds.
“Nailing all the braking points and not overheating your tires on those braking points will keep you in good speed corners and good exits,” says the main Alpine driver.
“It’s a technical track where you always feel like you have to drive a bit,” added Nico Hulkenberg. If you want to push too hard, you pay the price quickly, and you lose more than you gain, with a feeling of lower torque in the car and a feeling of lower grip.
Autodromo Hermanos Rodríguez has created a challenge that pushes drivers to their limits. Williams head of vehicle performance Dave Robson said at the team’s preview, “The cars need to be nimble at low speeds but stable in the high-speed segment.
(Lead image: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)