Williams are baffled by Alex Albon‘s stunning pace in FP1 for the 2023 Mexico City Grand Prix, as he was the only driver to get within half a second of Red Bull finishing second and just nine-hundredths behind Max Verstappen.
Albon was competitive throughout the session and was well ahead of home favourite Sergio Perez, with Lando Norris next up in a very distant fourth place.
But Dave Robson, Williams‘ Head of Vehicle Performance, was at a loss to explain the result with the other FW43 of Logan Sargeant way down in 15th ahead of just Fernando Alonso and the F2 drivers.
“It’s quite a big surprise if I’m honest, we still don’t fully understand why,” Robson told the media. “I think it’s quite clear that Alex was very confident and happy in the car, right from the first lap which which makes a big difference.
“The debrief is going on now so I’m not exactly sure whether they’re able to pick it apart, but it’s definitely a surprise. A nice way to start the weekend, but a bit of a surprise.”
Williams expect cooling to be major issue in Mexico
Robson admitted Williams are still split on whether to prioritise one-lap pace or long-run speed for their setup – with Mexico City the only non-sprint weekend in four races it gives teams two more practice sessions before locking in for qualifying.
The Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez is notoriously tough for overtaking – there’s not been a standout grand prix in Mexico since it returned to the calendar in 2015 – and cooling remains an issue with the thinner air at a whopping 2,200m above sea level.
Mercedes routinely came unstuck at the track even at the height of their dominance, and though Max Verstappen showed no such troubles in FP1, Williams will wonder why they can’t be in with a podium shot in 2023.
McLaren, Ferrari and Mercedes were all well off the pace, while even Perez was unable to get as much out of his car as Albon.
“That’s something we need to try and work out tonight,” Robson added. “Here of all places, the race pace between the different cars can vary a lot depending on how everyone is on top of the cooling.
“So I don’t think it’s necessarily just about having the most downforce or the best balance potentially on Sunday. If people don’t have the right levels of cooling and struggle to follow, the race could be a bit different so we’re gonna have to figure that out.
“Qualifying is important. Overtaking if all the cars were well managed is not easy here, so I think we’ll have to take a view after FP2 on where we think everyone else is and how they’re lining up for race pace, and then we’ll decide how to cut our pace.”