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Mercedes duo Lewis Hamilton and George Russell puzzled yet optimistic about W14 at Mexico City Grand Prix

Max Verstappen led Lando Norris in a tightly-bunched second practice at the Mexico City GP on Friday but Mercedes were off the pace; watch Practice Three from the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez live on Sky Sports F1 at 6.30pm on Saturday, followed by qualifying at 10pm

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Lewis Hamilton says his car in Friday practice is night and day different compared to last week in the USA, where he finished a close second in the race before disqualification

Lewis Hamilton says Mercedes' car feels "night and day" different at the Mexico City Grand Prix compared to last weekend in Austin, yet is hopeful of being close to the front row in qualifying.

Hamilton was seventh in second practice, the most representative session of the day, while Mercedes team-mate George Russell was 10th after missing first practice as Formula 2 driver Frederik Vesti took over his car as part of F1's mandatory rookie regulations.

Toto Wolff told Sky Sports F1 after the first session that the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez looked as though it would be "a good track" for Mercedes, with the team predicting that Hamilton would have been in the top three in that opening practice with a clean lap.

Several hours on, and reflecting on the opening day as a whole, Hamilton highlighted how different the W14 felt on track compared to last week, when he came close to a first victory in almost two years before being disqualified for excessive plank wear at the United States GP.

"Not that great. Not dodgy, just not the greatest. A bit of a struggle in the car," said Hamilton.

"The car is night and day different compared to last week. I don't really know what to say. You just never know what you're going to get with this one. Some days she's great and some days she's not.

"It's hard to extract the lap. I think there definitely is performance there, it's just trying to extract it and it's quite peaky this weekend maybe just with the aero map or whatever it may be.

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"So we're going to work on it overnight but it definitely wasn't a fun day compared to P1 in Austin. We were a bit off but hopefully overnight we can find something and tomorrow maybe the car will be nicer to drive."

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Lewis Hamilton says his car in Friday practice is night and day different compared to last week in the USA, where he finished a close second in the race before disqualification

Asked how much Mercedes can improve going into Saturday, he added: "Not sure. Again, you just never know what to expect with this car. Maybe we'll make the changes and we'll pick that pace up.

"I think there was definitely some performance in there to be closer to maybe [being] in the top three but we've got to figure out [how] to make it easier for us to extract that performance. So that's what we'll work on."

The Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez has been one of Mercedes' less successful tracks since the event returned to the F1 calendar in 2015, although amid a difficult season last year they did run Max Verstappen close in qualifying before Hamilton finished second in the race.

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Toto Wolff says he would risk disqualification again in an attempt for a race win after Lewis Hamilton was disqualified in Austin for breaching plank rules

Russell admitted he had "no idea" where Mercedes would be in qualifying this time around but is targeting a top-four spot for Sunday's grid ahead of the long run down to Turn One.

"There is potential but we have a lot of work to do overnight. It's very tight, especially with some very unexpected cars," said Russell.

"We saw some cars in the top 10 that we weren't expecting to be there. But we feel like we have got a lot to prove and have got the opportunity to do it as well.

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George Russell admits that he didn't expect some cars in Friday practice to be in the top 10!

"It's all about the tyres then on the long run you are managing the engine, the brakes and that has an impact on the tyres. It's going to be a very tricky race on Sunday and I think that's why qualifying will be key."

The British driver was also asked what the team need to work on and stated: "Faster race car. We were probably in the wrong window. Lewis and I were on two different setups and we probably both weren't in the right window, so that has given us an indication that probably halfway between both is the right place to be.

"It's frustrating in the moment to have a negative car and not the best of days but through those difficult moments you probably learn more than when the car is in a better place."

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Red Bull expect close qualifying

The top eight cars were split by less than four tenths of a second in the second session, with Red Bull, McLaren, Ferrari, Alfa Romeo, AlphaTauri, Mercedes and Alpine all represented.

Verstappen has been imperious in Mexico City in the past, with dominant victories in 2017, 2018, 2021 and 2022. If he stands on the top step of the podium this Sunday, he will break his own record of 15 wins in a single campaign.

Over one lap, Verstappen has been beatable this year but Sundays have generally been all about the three-time world champion, a trend he thinks will continue this weekend.

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Max Verstappen say it was a better Friday than expected While Sergio Perez says Friday practice wasn't straightforward

"Of course we look competitive, so that's good. There are always a few things to still improve but overall, a positive start to the weekend - probably a little better than I expected, so that's always good," said Verstappen.

"The track is very slippery, like always, tyres are very difficult to manage as well on the long run, so there are still a few things we can work on.

"McLaren have been close for a few races now, so for me there's no surprise there. It's going to be incredibly competitive over one lap and the race pace, again, that's a different story."

Verstappen's Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez enjoyed the roars of the crowds at every corner of the track as he looks for his first podium since Monza in September.

Perez, who was fifth in second practice, says he forgot he was driving on home soil when in the car and reckons he has more potential in the RB19 after a mistake on his best lap at the last corner.

"We didn't have a straightforward day. We didn't get a good read on the soft over a single lap. I had a yellow flag on my lap, so I ended up doing it on the second timed lap and it was not very straightforward," explained Perez.

"So plenty of things to understand. We also went with different compounds to understand them for Sunday. Overall, we are looking in a good position. We have a good direction that we need to take."

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Lando Norris and Sergio Perez fight for track position in FP1 at the Mexico City GP

Norris: Things could swing very quickly either way

Lando Norris is looking for a fifth consecutive podium this weekend and was Verstappen's closest challenger, finishing 0.119s behind the Dutchman.

But Norris is not expecting to be able to catch Verstappen, stating "things could swing very quickly either way".

Asked if there were many changes McLaren could make to close up to the lead Red Bull, Norris answered: "Not a lot. I think we started the weekend off well. We generally do and always have a good idea of where to put the car to begin with and it's not far off where we end the weekend.

"There's not a lot to gain through the weekend. There's always little things and little things add up. So still stuff to improve and also my driving, little things here and there, but to challenge Red Bull will be tough around here."

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Lando Norris says he did a lap that was too quick for a Friday at the Mexico City GP

Charles Leclerc was third quickest in the second session on Friday and Ferrari have been very fast over one lap at times this season. The car has good mechanical grip and rides kerbs well, which should suit the characteristics of the Mexico City track.

However, Leclerc feels Ferrari will not be in the fight for pole position on Saturday despite knowing the areas they need to work on.

"It would be a huge surprise if we are on pole position but never say never. It's a difficult track to put a lap together but I feel like this weekend we are a bit too far away," said the Ferrari driver.

"We still have a lot of work to do because McLaren, Red Bull and Max seem to be strong. Mercedes is a bit more difficult to read into for now."

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Former strategist Bernie Collins explains the impact the high altitude will have on the cars at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez

When to watch the Mexico City GP live only on Sky Sports F1

6.15pm: Mexico City GP Practice Three
9pm: Mexico City GP Qualifying build-up (also on Sky Sports Main Event)
10pm: Mexico City GP Qualifying (also on Sky Sports Main Event)

6.30pm: Grand Prix Sunday Mexico City GP build-up (also on Sky Sports Main Event)
8pm: The MEXICO CITY GRAND PRIX (also on Sky Sports Main Event)
10pm: Chequered Flag: Mexico City GP

F1 is in Mexico for the middle leg of the Americas triple header. Watch the whole Mexico City Grand Prix weekend live on Sky Sports F1, with Sunday's race at 8pm. Stream F1 on Sky Sports with NOW

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