Red Bull’s Max Verstappen successfully clinched pole position for the Mexican Grand Prix, despite Ferrari having been the hot favourites for a front row lock-out. It’s only the second time in his F1 career that Verstappen has clinched the top spot in qualifying.
Instead, Charles Leclerc had to settle for second place on the grid, while Sebastian Vettel will line up in third alongside Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton, whose team mate Valtteri Bottas crashed in the final corner at the end of Q3.
The accident triggered yellow flags at the end of qualifying that prevented anyone else from improving their times. However Verstappen seemed to go faster despite the local caution, leading to debate in the paddock about a potential protest from Ferrari.
Q1: Verstappen and Albon set the early pace for Red Bull
After the overnight rain that had washed the track clean and led to a subdued damp final practice, conditions in Mexico City were warmer, brighter and crucially drier as the drivers fired up their engines and set out for the first round of qualifying at the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez.
First out was Williams’ George Russell followed by his team mate Robert Kubica, both straight onto the soft C4 compound. The pair had the place to themselves for almost four minutes before the emergence of Haas’s Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen heralded the start of a mass exodus from pit lane.
Russell’s initial benchmark of 1:19.547s was already three quarters of a second quicker than Kubica. However Grosjean’s first effort ended prematurely in the grass at turn 1, following a harmless spin after clipping the curve. It triggered local waved yellows, but the Haas was soon back underway.
Pretty soon, everyone else had put in their first banker lap. Red Bull pair Max Verstappen and Alexander Albon took the top honours ahead of Mercedes’s Lewis Hamilton, followed by the Ferraris of Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel ahead of the two fellow Finns Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Raikkonen. Rounding out the early top ten were the McLarens of Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris, as well as Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat whose team mate Pierre Gasly was also back in action after missing most of FP3 due to illness. After an initial lock-up, Gasly’s second run proved that the Frenchman was fully back up to speed as he immediately improved to eighth.
Both Renaults had also been absent in final practice, but their technical issues appeared to have been fully resolved as Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg took up tenth and 12th respectively on their first Q1 runs. That left the Williams and Haas cars firmly mired in the elimination zone, with the remaining black spot being fought out between Racing Point duo Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll, and Raikkonen’s Alfa Romeo team mate Antonio Giovinazzi.
With the exception of Hamilton, the front runners decided their work was done for now and remained tucked up in the garage, leaving 14 drivers out on track seeking better times. Kvyat was able to jump up to sixth with Sainz just behind, pushing Bottas and Gasly down to eighth and ninth ahead of Norris, Raikkonen, Ricciardo, Perez and Hulkenberg.
Despite some improvement in their times, Grosjean and Magnussen were unable to find their way out of the drop zone with their follow-up runs. That meant they joined Russell and Kubica on the sidelines for the remainder of the session, along with Stroll as Giovinazzi just scrapped through to Q2 in 15th.
Q2: Mercedes pair go top on mediums as local hero Perez misses the cut
The Toro Rossos were the first cars to venture out at the start of Q2, opting for the medium tyres in the hope of being able to use them for the start of tomorrow’s race. They were not alone, as Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes all made the same call for their drivers. But the decision was not unanimous: both Renaults stuck to the softs as did Norris, although his team mate Sainz was on the yellow-banded tyres.
Kvyat set the initial milestone of 1:17.712s but moments later Vettel’s time of 1:15.914s put him on top by three tenths from team mate Leclerc, with Hamilton someway back in fourth ahead of Albon. Verstappen was next to appear on the timesheets, splitting the two Ferraris for second place. However Bottas’ first lap had not gone to plan, and he ran wide though the stadium section leaving him to regroup and go again to order to pop into fourth, a tenth ahead of Hamilton.
The top six were looking reasonably secure despite their medium compound tyres, with Perez, Hulkenberg, Norris and Ricciardo also provisionally in the top ten on the soft options. By contrast, Sainz’s medium gambit had fizzled out leaving him in danger of elimination along with Giovinazzi, Raikkonen, Gasly and Kvyat. However there was still time for everyone to make a second attempt at improving their times.
Sure enough, everyone was soon back out. All bar Hamilton and Bottas had now switched to the red-walled tyres – although the front runners were hoping to have the freedom to abandon their push lap if their initial times were still enough to put them into Q3. The Silver Arrows took advantage of having stuck with the medium tyres to improve their times and go top, while their rivals did indeed back off.
This time Sainz found the extra time he needed to get into the safety of the top ten, along with both Toro Rossos. To the dismay of the Mexican fans, local hero Perez narrowly missed out on getting through to the final pole shoot-out round – but it did leave him with a free choice of tyre for the start of the race. For now though his day was done, along with those of Hulkenberg, Ricciardo, Raikkonen and Giovinazzi.
Q3: Verstappen fends off Ferrari threat as Bottas crashes out
With the business of tyres out of the way, the teams could now get down to the business of a flat-out time trial for pole position on the soft compound.
There was no time to waste with all ten cars soon getting out on track when the lights went green. First on the timing screens were the McLaren and Toro Rosso drivers, but things got serious when Hamilton and Bottas went fastest. Almost immediately their times were bettered by the two Ferraris, as had been more or less expected; but then Verstappen’s impressive 1:14.910s put Red Bull back on top by a little over a tenth from Leclerc and Vettel. Albon was not quite as quick, but his time was still good enough for fifth to split the two Silver Arrows, who were now starting to look somewhat overwhelmed by their rivals.
With a little over two minutes remaining in the session, the drivers were all back out again for their final push meaning that the top cars were running close to one another on track, Verstappen bringing up the rear as he waited to see whether the two Ferraris could challenge his provisional pole time.
Leclerc pushed hard but he was off the pace even before running wide in his determination to wrest the prize away from Verstappen. Seconds later, Bottas own attempt ended up with the Mercedes running onto the kerb at the final corner. The car was deflected into the tyre wall and a heavy impact with the edge of the TechPro barrier, triggering yellow flags which prevented anyone from bettering their earlier times.
That left Verstappen safely on pole ahead of Leclerc, Vettel and Hamilton, with Albon due to start on the third row alongside Bottas assuming that Mercedes can repair the W10 without incurring penalties. Rounding out the top ten in solid McLaren/Toro Rosso team formation were Sainz, Norris, Kvyat and Gasly.
However there are still some matters to be decided, with a question mark as to whether Verstappen did comply sufficiently with the yellow flags for Bottas’ accident. An earlier near-miss in the pit lane between Ricciardo and Kvyat during Q2 will also be reviewed by the race stewards.
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