Championship leader Lewis Hamilton says his Mercedes team still has plenty of work to do if it wants to close the gap to practice leader Red Bull Racing after a difficult Friday at the Mexican Grand Prix.
Hamilton need finish only seventh to guarantee he wins the 2018 drivers championship, but seventh was the best he could manage by the end of FP2, placing him behind both Renault drivers, Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley, title rival Sebastian Vettel and the leading Red Bull Racing teammates.
The Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City sits at more than 2.2 kilometres above sea level and therefore in thinner air, meaning aerodynamics are less effective, engines are less powerful and cooling is more difficult. Combined the effects of the Mexico City environment making setting up the car difficult, and Hamilton said there was no one aspect that was lacking after a full day’s running.
“The car was good in some places, but not so good in others,” he said. “It’s not about one particular area; there are lots of different things that we can improve.
“We’ve got some ground to catch up on, so we’re now going to go through everything in the debrief and look at all the details to find some answers.
“Red Bull seem out of our reach at the moment, Ferrari are right there with us, but we’re here to try and compete, so we will do the best we can to have a real race.”
Teammate Valtteri Bottas added that tyre management and longevity was shaping up as the limiting factor of the grand prix, with no team bar Red Bull Racing properly up to speed with the Pirelli hypersoft compound.
“We struggled with the pace in both sessions and like nearly everyone else we also struggled with tyre life,” he said. “Both of the compounds started to grain quickly and it feels like we’re lacking overall grip, so the car is sliding around a lot which is then wearing the tyres.
“Fundamentally it’s grip, but the track is the same for everyone. The car hasn’t taken any steps back from the last few races, so that leaves maybe something with the tyres.
“We don’t have a definite answer why the pace isn’t quite there yet; we’re going to have to analyse it and look at it from every angle.”
Technical director James Allison added that difficulty cooling the power unit in the thinner air was also affecting Mercedes, forcing it to run in a detuned mode for much of the day to compensate.
“We were overheating the power unit in a number of areas today, and that meant we had to protect against this by turning it down as a precaution,” he said. “With a bit luck and a little hard work we can get ourselves into better shape tomorrow and on Sunday, when conditions are also forecast to be cooler.
“From all our running today we have to conclude that we have not yet found the best way to meet those unusual demands with good performance on both single laps and in the long runs.
“We have plenty of work ahead of us overnight and in FP3 tomorrow to put ourselves in a stronger position than we were able to achieve today.”