Why Mexico's reduced air density should favour a Red Bull F1 victory

Red Bull will arrive at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez as favourites to win Formula 1's Mexican Grand Prix, considering its strong form at the circuit.

Why Mexico's reduced air density should favour a Red Bull F1 victory

Championship leader Max Verstappen has won the 2017 and 2018 editions of the Mexican Grand Prix, although contact with both Mercedes drivers in 2019 ensured that he would not be able to convert pole into a third successive victory.

A key characteristic of the Mexico circuit has been conducive to Red Bull's relative stranglehold at the circuit, of which its powertrain disadvantage has been nullified in comparison to its rivals.

Mexico City stands at 2240m above sea level, which means that the air is considerably less dense than those in standard conditions.

Air density at sea level is considered to be around 1.225kg/m3 , while Mexico City's air has a density approximately 78% of that figure – producing a density value of 0.96kg/m3.

Thus, this places more work on the turbocharger components of the power unit; assuming the same volume of air passes through the intake, then the turbine must rotate more to feed the same mass of air into the compressor.

The compressor then increases the density of air, introducing a higher concentration of oxygen into it, to ensure that the pressurised air draws more power from the internal combustion engine.

Across past seasons, Red Bull has had to make do with powertrains with less outright performance compared to Mercedes, but Mexico has been something of a leveller in that regard.

Honda has also been able to draw on its experience in other industries to optimise its turbo, using ideas from its HondaJet turbine design to improve the rate at which air is forced into the compressor.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB16B

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB16B

Photo by: Charles Coates / Motorsport Images

Naturally, this gives Honda something of a leg-up since jet engines are designed to work at high altitudes, and it means that the turbine blades can be shaped in order to displace a higher volume of air.

In the latter half of the 1980s when both turbocharged and naturally-aspirated engines raced simultaneously in F1, Mexico's altitude strongly favoured those with turbos - with the NA runners expected to face around a 20% drop in power.

In 1988, the final year of the old turbo formula, Alessandro Nannini was the highest-placed non-turbo driver in qualifying, a full 3.2 seconds away from Ayrton Senna's 1m17.468s pole time.

The other factor that air density affects lays in the aerodynamics, in that it drastically reduces the amount of drag generally produced by a Formula 1 car.

Read Also:

This means that the teams can run their cars at the highest downforce level without receiving too much of a penalty, but this also comes at a reduced level of outright downforce produced given the reduced density's effect on that too.

Although it affects each team equally, it does reduce the penalty that Red Bull commonly endures with its high-rake package, that naturally produces more drag compared to the likes of Mercedes.

Given that Red Bull has performed strongly at Mexico with cars that have not contested for the championship, it stands to reason that its RB16B should be the breakout star in this year's contest.

 

shares
comments

Related video

Why social media backlash isn’t swaying F1 on sprint race future
Previous article

Why social media backlash isn’t swaying F1 on sprint race future

Next article

Insider’s guide: How an F1 race weekend works

Insider’s guide: How an F1 race weekend works
Load comments
What Ferrari still needs to improve to return to F1 title contention Prime

What Ferrari still needs to improve to return to F1 title contention

After a disastrous 2020 in which it slumped to sixth in the F1 constructors' standings, Ferrari has rebounded strongly and is on course to finish third - despite regulations that forced it to carryover much of its forgettable SF1000 machine. Yet while it can be pleased with its improvement, there are still steps it must make if 2022 is to yield a return to winning ways

How F1 teams and personnel react in pressurised situations Prime

How F1 teams and personnel react in pressurised situations

OPINION: The pressure is firmly on Red Bull and Mercedes as Formula 1 2021 embarks on its final double-header. How the respective teams deal with that will be a crucial factor in deciding the outcome of the drivers' and constructors' championships, as Motorsport.com's technical consultant and ex-McLaren F1 engineer Tim Wright explains.

How getting sacked from Benetton made Mercedes' Allison Prime

How getting sacked from Benetton made Mercedes' Allison

He’s had a hand in world championship-winning Formula 1 cars for Benetton, Renault and Mercedes, and was also a cog in the Schumacher-Ferrari axis. Having recently ‘moved upstairs’ as Mercedes chief technical officer, James Allison tells Stuart Codling about his career path and why being axed by Benetton was one of the best things that ever happened to him.

Formula 1
Nov 28, 2021
The remarkable qualities that propelled Kubica’s F1 comeback Prime

The remarkable qualities that propelled Kubica’s F1 comeback

It’s easy to look at Robert Kubica’s second Formula 1 career and feel a sense of sadness that he didn’t reach the heights for which he seemed destined. But as Ben Anderson discovered, performance and results are almost meaningless in this context – something more fundamental and incredible happened…

Formula 1
Nov 27, 2021
The humbling changes Ricciardo made to deliver for McLaren Prime

The humbling changes Ricciardo made to deliver for McLaren

From being lapped by his own teammate in Monaco to winning at Monza, it’s been a tumultuous first season at McLaren for Daniel Ricciardo. But, as he tells STUART CODLING, there’s more to the story of his turnaround than having a lovely summer holiday during Formula 1's summer break...

Formula 1
Nov 26, 2021
The potential benefits of losing the F1 constructors' title Prime

The potential benefits of losing the F1 constructors' title

As the battle continues to rage over the F1 2021 drivers' championship, teams up and down the grid are turning their attentions to the prize money attributed to each position in the constructors' standings. But F1's sliding scale rules governing wind tunnel and CFD use will soften the blow for those who miss out on the top places

Formula 1
Nov 25, 2021
The invisible enemy that's made Hamilton's title charge tougher Prime

The invisible enemy that's made Hamilton's title charge tougher

After winning his past few Formula 1 titles as a canter, Lewis Hamilton currently trails Max Verstappen by eight points heading into the final double-header of 2021. Although Red Bull has been his biggest on-track challenge, Hamilton feels that he has just as much to grapple with away from the circuit

Formula 1
Nov 24, 2021
Why F1's inconvenient penalties have to stay Prime

Why F1's inconvenient penalties have to stay

OPINION: Quibbles over the length of time taken by Formula 1's stewards over decisions are entirely valid. But however inconvenient it is, there can be no questioning the importance of having clearly defined rules that everyone understands and can stick to. Recent events have shown that ambiguity could have big consequences

Formula 1
Nov 23, 2021