Five things we learnt from Mexican GP qualifying
Nico Rosberg can't be second coming out of Turn One, Honda's engine struggles for air, and F1 rediscovers a core heartland
By Pete Gill, James Galloway and William Esler
Last Updated: 02/11/15 11:06am
The first corner battle won't be for the faint-hearted
Make a date. 7.01pm, Sunday night. The first corner. You watching, them fighting.
"He has to stand his ground," noted Martin Brundle. "He has got to steam in."
No prizes for guessing who the 'he' is or appreciating just why it's now or never for Nico Rosberg to stand his ground against Lewis Hamilton after being shoved aside in Austin last weekend. It's not much of an exaggeration to suggest that unless Rosberg sends his team-mate a clear message that he won't be pushed around then his recent subservience will threaten to become permanent. Rosberg's fightback needs to start with just that: a fight back.
And he knows what's coming. "It's going to be a long run down to Turn One." But it's what happens if they both get there at roughly the same time which matters.
The portents are not promising - Rosberg has only converted two of his last 10 poles into victories. More often that not, he has simply been beaten off the line by Lewis. With another fast starter, Sebastian Vettel, looming large behind the pole-sitting Mercedes, there is no guarantee that a straight, elbows-out fight between the Mercedes team-mates will materialise. But it probably will - and if it does, Rosberg can't afford to lose it after losing too much, and too often, already this year.
Rosberg is turning the qualifying tables
Even if Nico Rosberg stretches his current pole streak all the way to the season finale in Abu Dhabi, a 12-7 qualifying defeat to Lewis Hamilton over the balance of the season would still look rather comprehensive. Yet, if the battle for next year's world championship - or at least the one of psychology and momentum - has already begun in Mexico City then Rosberg's fourth consecutive pole will certainly do him no harm in his attempts to restock his armoury and go again - and this time the distance - in 2016.
Having won their Saturday duel outright last season, and also often given as good as he got in their first year as team-mates in 2013, Rosberg's sudden evaporation as a qualifying force in the first half of this was as curious as it was sudden. The German's pole at the Spanish GP in May was the only time in the first 13 races he got the better of Hamilton in qualifying, a near whitewash that appeared to leave him firmly puzzled.
Of course, as Rosberg's 11 poles last year and Hamilton's three consecutive wins from second on the grid in recent weeks both highlight, starting first doesn't guarantee anything once Sunday comes around - particularly where the German is concerned. After all, his 19 previous pole positions have brought about just six wins, a mediocre conversion rate of 32 per cent.
So, while Saturday's problem may have been solved for now, Rosberg must show at some stage soon that Hamilton doesn't hold all the answers for Sundays.
Kvyat responds to pressure
There is no doubt the spotlight is on Daniil Kvyat at Red Bull and its brightness has intensified after a driver error saw him crash out of the United States GP last weekend.
That was a race which saw standout drives from Toro Rosso's Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz - the next pair on the conveyor belt of talent from the Red Bull junior programme.
Speculation is growing that Verstappen could be promoted to the senior team and therefore it was vital that Kvyat hit back in Mexico.
The Russian out-qualified team-mate Daniel Ricciardo for the first time in five races and only the second time since July's British GP. It may have only been by a thousandth of a second, but to quote a line from Vin Diesel in The Fast and The Furious "it don't matter if you win by an inch or a mile".
It was an important win for Kvyat and having arguably performed better in the races in 2015, he has a great chance to cement his position ahead of Ricciardo in the Drivers' Championship.
Mexico makes an impression
Too often F1 finds itself heading to new venues lacking character and racing in front of empty grandstands, but that hasn't been the case in Mexico.
Granted, F1 has raced at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez before, but given the last time was in 1992, it can certainly be counted as a new addition to the calendar.
The circuit has been revamped for F1's return and perhaps some of the corners have lost their flow. Some changes were made for safety reasons, others saw corners tightened which may improve overtaking on Sunday.
The old Peraltada corner has gone, but in its place has come an amphitheatre of noise. Utilising the old baseball stadium inside the corner, the fans are practically on top of the cars as they weave through the final sequence of bends.
"They have been very clever by putting in that stadium section that everyone is talking about and the fans love it," said Sky Sports F1's Martin Brundle. "They have cunningly put in a new attraction."
Of course it is one thing putting the track through the stadium, but it wouldn't have any impact if the stands were empty. The fans have turned out in force, packing the grandstands right from first practice - a rarity in F1 these days.
Whatever Sunday's race serves up, Mexico has already made an impression.
Altitude sickness for Honda
It's often what someone doesn't say, more than what they do say, that tells you the full story about a particular situation and so that proved the case with McLaren after qualifying. Although neither of their cars got out of Q1 - Fernando Alonso missing the cut in 16th and Jenson Button not even taking to the track after an engine misfire - both the Spaniard and the team made a point of flagging up what they felt were clear positives of the performance.
It was the MP4-30's narrow deficit to the pacesetting Mercedes in the twisty second and third sectors of the lap - just three tenths of a second - which Alonso hailed as "the minimum difference to P1 of the season", before adding "great job everybody in the team on this progress". Eric Boullier, F1's resident press release wordsmith, had this to add: "Fernando drove a good lap here this afternoon, carving the 16th-fastest Q1 lap in so doing. That may sound like a non sequitur, but, since our car's performance envelope is ill-suited to a circuit whose main straight is 1.2km long, in fact it's both logical and true.
"Moreover, aware of the power unit penalties he would unavoidably incur, we biased his car's set-up more towards a race configuration than we usually would. That being the case, we're pretty pleased with our car's Sector Two and Sector Three pace."
But what about sector one, you may ask? Well, you certainly don't need an F1 supercomputer to work out that, with an overall deficit to the front of 1.3 seconds in Q1, the Honda-powered car was shedding a full second across the first third of the lap. And given that sector is made up of two long straights and two-and-a-bit corners, it's pretty obvious where their problems continue to lie. With the Mexico City circuit sitting 7,000ft above sea level, Honda were always expecting their engine to struggle to breathe in the thinner air, and so it has proved. The new-look Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez has given with two hands, but taken away with just one.