How F1 teams reacted to Mexico’s high-altitude headaches

The Mexican Grand Prix is always considered somewhat of an outlier on the Formula 1 calendar, owing to the altitude of the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez.

How F1 teams reacted to Mexico’s high-altitude headaches

At 2285m above sea level, the rarefied air creates a significant challenge in respect of car aerodynamics, cooling requirements and the performance envelope of the power unit.

All of this leads to teams running what might otherwise be considered odd choices, given it's such a high-speed venue.

Mercedes experimented with its wing levels on Friday, not only as a means to hone in on the performance levels of the car at this venue but also for gathering meaningful data for next year's car too.

Comparing the two front wings put into service during free practice outings, Lewis Hamilton's car was fitted with the older specification version, with the trailing edge of the upper flap cut back quite significantly (left image, below).

Meanwhile, George Russell's W13 was fitted with the new wing design, which features a revised design to the outer section of the flaps and a more contoured endplate to help generate outwash.

However, the team did opt to remove the controversial slot gap separator brackets that first appeared at the United States Grand Prix but remain unraced.

Chequerboard stickers were adhered to the front wing endplate on Hamilton's car, with a camera used to capture footage of the wing when out on track in order that the team can ascertain it is performing as anticipated.

Mercedes W13 front wing detail
Mercedes W13 front wing detail

It was a similar story at the rear of the car too, as both drivers flirted with different arrangements.

George Russell carried a Gurney flap mounted on the trailing edge of the rear wing, whilst Hamilton, matching the cut-down approach taken with the front wing, was running the wing without one on his.

Following the tests conducted by Hamilton on Friday, both drivers opted for the newer front wing specification with a more loaded flap arrangement, plus the Gurney on the trailing edge of the rear wing's upper flap for qualifying and the race.

Meanwhile, the maximum cooling option was taken up on both cars, with the panels beside the cockpit and the engine cover gills both opened up in order to reject the heat being generated.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W13

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W13

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

Red Bull also opted for more cooling to meet the demands being posed, as the RB18 ran with the louvred cooling panels on the shoulder of the engine cover and a new, wider, cooling exit at the rear that also flared on the trailing edge to help with extraction.

Red Bull Racing RB18 rear cooling outlet comparison
Red Bull Racing RB18 side

McLaren decided to take cooling in Mexico pretty seriously, as several new options appeared in order to deal with the demands posed by the circuit and altitude.

A more expansive louvred cooling panel could be found traversing the MCL36's sidepod and engine cover, with two outlets also added to its cooling suite on the engine cover's spine (one of these is mounted above the power unit saddle coolers and the other is just aft of the shark fin (red arrows)).

McLaren MCL36 side cooling
McLaren MCL36 centreline cooling slots

The team also had the option of incorporating a Gurney flap on the trailing edge of the main engine cover outlet, in order to help with extraction.

To increase local load at the rear of the car, McLaren had also made changes to its rear brake duct aero, adding some winglets to the stack already present on the rearward-facing outlet scoop.

Alpine also deployed its maximum cooling configuration, as the A522 was fitted with the open louvred sidepod bodywork and the enlarged engine cover outlet panel that was last seen in Hungary but not raced.

Alpine F1 A522 cooling detail

Alpine F1 A522 cooling detail

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Alpha Tauri invested in revisions to help with its temperature issues in Mexico too, as the AT03's front brakes featured an enlarged rear outlet scoop, resulting in an increase in mass flow through the assembly.

The cooling gill panel on the side of the engine cover was also revised, with the number of louvres reduced, but their spacing increased, as they still filled the same available space within the panel.

Alpha Tauri AT03 cooling panel comparison

Alpha Tauri AT03 cooling panel comparison

Meanwhile, at the rear of the car, the engine cover's bodywork was expanded. This not only increased the size of the rear cooling outlet but also resulted in a larger rear deck upon which the air flowed to the rear of the car.

Alfa Romeo has been proactive in the closing stages of the season as it not only looks to fend off the challenge posed by Aston Martin but also invest in designs that will carry across to its 2023 challenger.

And, while not a new feature, having been used at other high downforce venues, the larger rear wing endplate tip cutout used in Mexico is a feature worthy of our attention, owing to its impact on the resultant tip vortex being generated.

Alfa Romeo C42 rear wing cutout comparison

Alfa Romeo C42 rear wing cutout comparison

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

Compared with the medium downforce wing's cutout (inset), there's a clear difference in approach with its high downforce arrangement, as the flap is undercut (red arrow).

This is the result of the team looking for a better trade-off between the downforce and drag being generated, given it is trying to maintain as much wingspan as possible.

The team has also made changes to the forward section of the floor over the course of the last two races, as it looks to increase the downforce being generated and its working range.

This includes changes to the outermost floor fence and the point at which it connects with the side of the chassis.

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