Sebastian Vettel has put Red Bull’s huge Friday practice advantage at the Mexican Grand Prix down to the way in which the cars are using their tyres.
Vettel could only manage the fourth fastest time in second practice and finished the session 1.234s off the fastest time set by Max Verstappen’s Red Bull. The result was a reversal of the majority of Friday practice sessions this season, in which Mercedes and Ferrari have usually held a significant single-lap advantage over Red Bull.
Mexico City’s 2,250 metre altitude is believed to be the main factor upsetting the order this weekend. The thin air results in a significant reduction in downforce for all cars and appears to play to the advantage of Red Bull’s high-downforce package.
The lack of oxygen in the air also results in the tyres overheating more easily – an issue that is exaggerated when the car starts sliding due to a relative lack of downforce. Vettel thinks Red Bull’s ability to keep the car glued to the track was offering the biggest advantage while its rivals were struggling to keep tyre temperatures under control.
“I think everybody is on the limit with tyres and trying to get them to work in order to slide less, apart from perhaps the Red Bulls,” he said. “The difficulty is that you don’t have any grip, so we are sliding a lot and the problem is that if you don’t have a lot of grip and downforce because the air is so thin then you don’t get the tyres to work, and when the tyres don’t work it is really tricky.
“That is why you sometimes see such big jumps in lap time and if you don’t get it right you are quite far off the pace. That is the main job to get it right for tomorrow because you have one lap in qualifying and I think, with the hyper-soft, it should be a bit easier but it is difficult to keep a clean balance from the beginning to the end of the lap.”
When he was asked if Ferrari’s qualifying engine mode would be enough to close the gap to the Renault-powered Red Bulls on Saturday, he added: “Everybody still has something to step up tomorrow, but we tried pretty much to go as fast as we can.
“I think the key will be the tyres and if you have two or three more km/h on the straight then I don’t think it will be detrimental, but I think it will be much more important to get the tyres in the right window because then around here you can gain 0.3s, 0.4s or 0.5s — it’s quite a lot of lap time.”
Vettel also confirmed that Ferrari has opted against running its most recent updates for the second weekend in a row after it enjoyed a significant performance boost by reverting to older spec parts at the last race in Austin.
“For us it was an interesting morning and I think we learned a lot and we are sticking to the old package,” he said. “In the afternoon we prepared the car for qualifying and the race. Kimi [Raikkonen] on the long run was not too bad, but on one lap we are struggling to get the balance right and squeeze everything out of the tyres.”