Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel claimed pole position for the Mexican Grand Prix with an impressive last ditch effort which saw him snatch pole position from Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.
Vettel pulled it out the bag with a tremendous final lap time of 1: 16.488, which was eight hundredths of a second quicker than Verstappen’s time he set in on his first run in Q2 – as close as it gets!
For Ferrari, Vettel in particular, it was a great effort as they had been out of sorts in practice, struggling to find the sweet spot at the high altitude venue. Kimi Raikkonen was fifth fastest, albeit three quarters of a second down on his teammate.
Vettel said afterwards, “It was quite a lap I have to say. I’m really really happy. I had a little bit in the first sector and got that right, I had a bit of a moment in Turn Six but didn’t lose any time. I knew if I kept it clean it would be enough and it was. I’m really happy.”
“Yesterday wasn’t that good for us but we improved overnight. All the changes worked. Tomorrow we will see but the race pace should be really good.”
“We have to maximise every session. [The championship] is not as much in my control as I’d have liked it to be. It depends on Lewis. For us, we go all out. We deserve a good result so let’s see what we can do tomorrow,” added Vettel after scoring his 50th top spot grand prix start.
Verstappen was in sizzling form throughout the afternoon, way faster than his Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo ending the session seventh, nearly a second down on the Dutchman. The Aussie confused about where the grip went on his car.
Verstappen said, “I’m super annoyed. Q2 was really good but in Q3 we lost it with the temperatures and no grip. I think my lap was better but the grip was not the same. We are still second so it’s not a big nightmare.”
Ricciardo told reporters, “I was confused and didn’t know what was going on in terms of grip. We didn’t touch the car but every time we left the garage just had no grip. Sometimes you get one set of tyres which you can’t turn on but every run was the same story.”
“I’m super frustrated, confused. I’m sure we’ll find something but it doesn’t make the session any easier. We couldn’t do anything. This afternoon should have been a breeze to warm the tyres up and get them going so that’s where it’s more confusing.”
“If we figure it out and get back to the car we had for the rest of the weekend then I think we can race up to a podium. I was helpless in that Qualifying,” added Ricciardo.
Mercedes could not find the extra edge that they normally find in the latter part of qualifying, with Lewis Hamilton third fastest but four tenths down on the top time. Valtteri Bottas was fourth, 0.024 of a second shy of his Silver Arrows teammate.
Hamilton summed up, “Those guys did a great job. I gave it everything I could. I think the last lap could have been a couple of tenths quicker but it wouldn’t be enough. I’m hoping I get to have at least a battle with one of them.”
Verstappen was in hot water after qualifying as he appeared to impede Bottas, the Finn explained, “I was on my lap and could see he was going quite slowly. He compromised my line a little bit for Turn 13 and definitely ruined my lap.”
“I don’t know how the rule book says but I know it ruined my lap and only had one attempt in Q3 as opposed to two,” added the Finn.
Verstappen countered, “There is no incident. It’s his own problem if he out brakes himself at the next corner. I was on the inside and didn’t hold him up. I moved to the inside and was past the point where you go to the right. I don’t see an incident.”
After the session at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez stewards summoned both drivers to race control and after a hearing, which included a review of the available footage, they deemed that no further action was required.
Also intriguing was the battle behind the big three teams, which saw Esteban Ocon deliver a sublime lap to claim sixth on the grid in the Force India. His teammate, local hero, Sergio Perez rounded out the top ten, 0.37 of a second down on the Frenchman.
Nico Hulkenberg was eighth, only two hundredths of a second shy of Ricciardo, with Renault ‘new boy’ Carlos Sainz in ninth, three tenths adrift of his teammate.
Williams drivers Felipe Massa and Lance Stroll were 11th and 12th respectively.
It was a torrid session for Toro Rosso, with Pierre Gasly not able to complete a lap, which means that during the two days, having sat out FP1 for Sean Galeal, he has only completed 12 timed laps.
Brendon Hartley found some handy pace during his second grand prix weekend, 13th in Q1 for the New Zealander was as good as it got because he was forced to park his car with an engine issue as he set out for Q2.
Hamilton set the pace in Q1 with a lap of 1:17.518 that put him six hundredths of a second clear of team-mate Bottas. Both Mercedes set their times on ultrasoft tyres while behind Verstappen slotted into third on supersofts.
Vettel also opted for the red-banded Pirellis to take fourth place ahead of Alonso and Perez. The only other drivers to book Q2 places on supersoft tyres were seventh-placed Räikkönen in the second Ferrari, Ricciardo in the second Red Bull in P8 and Vandoorne in 19th place.
At the lower end of the table Ericsson was the first man eliminated, the Swede missing out on a Q2 berth by just under two tenths of a second to Stroll. Behind Ericsson, team-mate Wehrlein finished 17th ahead of the Haas cars of Magnussen and 19th-placed Grosjean. Gasly failed to set a lap during the session, as his team were unable to fix an engine issue encountered in FP3 in time for qualifying.
After aborting his first lap in Q2, Hamilton then set the pace for the majority of the session with a time of 1:17.035. That put him two hundredths of a second ahead of Vettel with Bottas third.
Hartley then ground to a halt in Turn 6, reporting a loss of power, and the yellow flags came out. Behind him Verstappen has just set a session-best first sector time but had to abandon the lap.
It didn’t disadvantage the Red Bull driver, however, and on the next lap he blasted past Hamilton’s time, setting a lap of 1:16.524 to top the timesheet by more than half a second.
Vettel leapfrogged Hamilton to claim P2 at the end of the segment, with the German closing the gap to Verstappen to just over three tenths of a second. Hamilton took third ahead of Bottas, Räikkönen and Ricciardo.
Also through at the end of Q2 were Sainz in seventh place, team-mate Nico Hulkenberg, and the Ocon and Pérez.
Out though went Massa in 11th place, the Brazilian finishing ahead of team-mate Lance Stroll, the unfortunate Hartley and the McLarens of Alonso and Vandoorne.
Verstappen was again in command in the first runs of Q3. After setting a quick time in the first sector of his first flyer, he then abandoned the lap in Q2, winding up for another attack.
In the meantime, Hamilton took P1 before being beaten by Vettel who set a time of 1:16.833. Verstappen, though, was flying again and the Red Bull man soon jumped to the top of the order with a time just two thousandths off his Q2 best.
With Hamilton third, Ricciardo slotted into fourth place ahead of Ocon, Sainz, Perez, Räikkönen, Hulkenberg and Bottas who suffered a large lock-up on his first run.
It was Vettel, though, who dug deep to find the time necessary to claim pole in the final runs. As Hamilton and Verstappen made small errors that prevented any improvement, the German put in a superb lap to brush past Verstappen’s first-run time by eight hundredths of a second.
Verstappen held second, for the third time in his career, but the Dutch driver was placed under investigation for possibly blocking Bottas in the opening runs.
Bottas then finished fourth ahead of Räikkönen and Ocon. Ricciardo, in the other Red Bull, also failed to improve in the final runs and finished seventh ahead of Hulkenberg, Sainz and Perez.