Fittipaldi column: Mastering Mexico after lucky escape
In his latest column, Pietro Fittipaldi talks through his clean sweep of Formula V8 3.5's first visit to Mexico, which has allowed him to once again assume control of the title fight.
It was a big two-month break in the Formula V8 3.5 championship from the last round at the Nurburgring to Mexico City last weekend.
It was sort of supposed to be the vacation but we didn't really have a vacation. Instead, I spent a lot of time working on the simulator and doing a bunch of different types of training to get ready for Mexico.
I probably did more than 1,000 laps on the simulator, and the team was working hard too.
It was a critical round because it was the first of the last three rounds and the championship was still tight.
New track and challenges for everybody
Heading into the round, no one really knew the track and nobody has been here with this car so it was important to be really efficient and execute every session.
I liked the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez circuit a lot. The asphalt was really smooth - I was expecting it to be a lot bumpier after speaking about it to my uncle Christian and my other uncle Max Papis, who had both raced there before.
Another aspect that made this a unique round was that the series' car has an aspirated engine, so when we come to a really high altitude, like Mexico City, we lose about 20% power.
It wasn't full, like on the usual tracks, and you could feel that straight away in the first practice session.
I was expecting it to be more physically challenging as well but I didn't really feel too much of a difference and I don't think the other drivers felt it either.
With the lower air density, there was less drag but also less downforce. A high-downforce set-up felt like medium downforce, so it was a bit tricky to get used to.
But then I think everything went well. I really adapted well to the track and I liked it a lot.
Topping both qualifying sessions
We actually didn't have really good free practices, and we were a bit worried about the pace in the first session.
Then in the rain in the second test, I outbraked myself in a corner and went off and couldn't do any more laps in the wet.
Yet qualifying was very strong - we got the two poles, my ninth and 10th of the season, which is very nice.
In every qualifying session, I head out there to take first place, and it is not easy to do it every time - everything has to run perfectly and smoothly with the car and I can't make any mistakes on the track.
But I am finding this season that I'm really able to maximise the peak of the tyre on one lap to put everything together.
In Mexico the track is really smooth, we were expecting the fast lap to come on lap two or three, but I got it done on my first lap.
I think, my warm-up procedure and everything, I was just really able to put everything together on the first lap - and then you get that extra two tenths out of the tyre and nobody can really do that on the second or third lap.
Lucky escape in Race 1
While the first race was a pretty comfortable one, we were really lucky not to be taken out at the very beginning.
From the start to the first corner, it's probably around a 1km run - a pretty long way - so I knew I was gonna have to have a good start.
I knew that as soon as I started that I wanted to use the DRS because if I didn't, the guys were just gonna overtake me before I even get to the first braking zone.
So I had a decent start, Alex Palou got a pretty good start as well, and then he pulled to the outside.
Once he did that I moved a bit more to the middle of the track and I braked pretty late because I wanted to clear him.
Then I saw on my right mirror a glimpse of one SMP car - Egor Orudzhev's - braking way too late. In my head, I was thinking: "This guy is never gonna stop, he is just going to go straight".
I turned, later than usual because I knew Egor was going straight, but I also had to be careful as Palou was on the outside and I didn't want to hit him either.
Looking at the video, it was really close between me and Egor - and honestly, I don't know what he was thinking. He just missed the corner or something happened to his brakes, but we were really lucky to escape the corner.
After that scare, it was a pretty comfortable race, all about managing the gap and saving DRS in case there was a safety car.
Completing perfect weekend
Race 2 was not so different. I had a pretty good start and then it was just about opening up a gap, so that I could comfortably pit without having to take any risks.
If you pit when you have a second and a half or two seconds on the guy behind you, if you have a slow pitstop or you come in too slow, he can pass you pretty easily if he undercuts you or if he pits later.
This time, I had a four-second lead when I pitted and everything was good.
My teammate Rene Binder had made a fantastic start, and it was a shame that he eventually had an issue with his gears, which weren't changing anymore, forcing him to retire.
Later in the race, Alfonso Celis was closing in on me but I had like six or seven DRSs left so it was pretty comfortable.
The team gave me a great car all weekend and it was a really important race for me.
It's like a home for my sponsors. I'm part of Escuderia Telmex, which is a Mexican drivers' programme where I am the only Brazilian.
It was their home so it was really important to win and I was really happy to have delivered.
Confident about Austin
I'm back in the lead of the championship, but Matevos Isaakyan is only 15 points behind.
He is my main rival but we can't forget about the other guys either. Alfonso in the press conference said he has been to the next track in Austin so he is confident.
I have never been there, but I'm sure I'm gonna run well there as it is my type of track.
We just have to keep working and make sure we're ready. But I think we're gonna be strong in Austin as well.
Mexico F3.5: Fittipaldi completes weekend sweep in chaotic Race 2
Austin F3.5: Binder claims maiden pole in Lotus domination