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MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - OCTOBER 28: Third placed qualifier Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing looks on in parc ferme during qualifying ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Mexico at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez on October 28, 2023 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Three Red Bulls versus the two Ferraris in Mexico

Three Red Bulls versus Ferrari duo in Mexico: Third placed qualifier Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing looks on in parc ferme during qualifying ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Mexico at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez on October 28, 2023 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

It’s three Red Bull versus a couple of Ferraris on the bill for today’s 2023 Mexico City Grand Prix after the Italian team stunned the World Champions (and themselves!) in Qualifying on Saturday.

It came as a bolt out of the blue for the Bulls whose Max Verstappen had topped all free practice sessions before Qualy and was the outright favourite to take P1 on the grid for the Grand Prix at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez.

But Ferrari found some performance, enough to annex the front row. Verstappen was next best in P3 and the surprise of the day, Daniel Ricciardo popped the AlphaTauri into P4 beside his former teammate, and ahead of Sergio Perez in the Red Bull the Australian has his sights on – making it three Bulls versus two Reds.

It will be something to behold, the top five, and all the others chasing, in a slipstream rampage as they hurtle down into that faraway Turn 1 and the perils it has on opening laps; and then, of course, the 71-lap race that follows with all the hallmarks of a thriller.

Starting from P3, Verstappen will be aiming for a lights-out swerve past the Reds in that near-1km drag race to T1. But it would be fair to say the Dutch ace was somewhat bewildered to find two Ferraris parked behind the P1 (Charles Leclerc) and P2 (Carlos Sainz) boards in Parc Ferme. Where did they come from? He might’ve asked as his Perez did afterwards.

In the RBR Saturday report, reflecting on his session, Verstappen lamented: “I tried to do the best I could but it just didn’t come together. There’s very low grip around this circuit because of the altitude.

“It’s not as easy to push as hard as I usually would in qualifying. I didn’t have the perfect balance in Q3 and that cost us a few tenths here and there. Nevertheless, we were still close to the Ferraris and it’s a long race.

“I am feeling confident, of course I would’ve liked to start first but we’ll have a good slipstream into turn one so let’s see what we can do,” added Verstappen, who is targeting his 16th victory of this season adding another one to record 15 he scored last year.

Ricciardo: P4 is a little higher than we expected within the top 10

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - OCTOBER 28: Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Scuderia AlphaTauri prepares to drive in the garage during qualifying ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Mexico at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez on October 28, 2023 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images)

Behind the Red Bull World Champion, it was riveting stuff as Ricciardo, with his mind set on becoming Verstappen’s teammate again, gave a glimpse of his old self with a strong run to fourth on the grid and AlphaTauri’s best Qualifying of the season.

Crucially, outgunning Perez in the other Red Bull. It was a big statement by the Australian, back after his hand injury. He said afterwards in the AlphaTauri report: “I’m very pleased. P4 is a little higher than we expected within the top 10, but the pace has been there from the start of the weekend.

“After Austin, knowing we had a normal weekend in Mexico to try things with our setup, we started with a slightly different car and definitely more toward what I was after. I was happy to hit the ground running [on Friday].

“The confidence in the car was there, and we were always a solid P10 car, with some purple sectors sometimes. Before qualifying, it wasn’t about whether we could make it into Q3 but how far up the grid we could qualify.

“Yuki was great and gave me a slipstream in Q1 and 2, so that definitely gave us the extra tenth or two to get in, and then Q3 was just our pace. From that point of view, we had the pace to do it. The lap I was visualising in my head was maybe P7, or P6 at best, but P4 is wild.

“As a team, we have to enjoy it because it’s a big moment. It’s not often that we get this far into the top 10, so there’s a part of me that will be enjoying it for the next hour.

“Points are awarded on Sunday though, and I believe we have a chance to score a lot. Half the job is done but it’s a long run to Turn 1, so I’ll keep calm, pick a good line, and race hard,” declared Ricciardo, ahead of his 235th GP start.

The Australian will be forgiven taking satisfaction for out-qualifying both McLarens, the team that paid him to leave at the end of last year.

Perez: I don’t know where the Ferraris came from

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - OCTOBER 28: Fans of Sergio Perez of Mexico and Oracle Red Bull Racing show their support  during final practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Mexico at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez on October 28, 2023 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Lining up P5, albeit only a quarter second shy of the pole-winning time set by Leclerc, Perez was, like most of the F1 world, flummoxed by what transpired: “I don’t know where the Ferraris came from, we were not expecting them to be that fast.

“Overall, it got a clean lap and it felt okay but I just lacked some progression through qualifying, which I didn’t get fully and that really hurt us. Not having a new set in Q3 wasn’t ideal, that probably proved quite costly with the evolution and being on a used tyre.

“We wanted to be on the first two rows but we are still P5 and a lot of things can happen tomorrow, I need to overtake four cars and anything can be done in this sport. It’s a long race and it’s a long way into turn one, we know overtaking here can be really difficult, but anything can happen.

“I know I have the support of this crowd behind me,” said Perez, whose #11 RBR was met with chants of “Checo! Checo!” every time he passed the colourful and passionate crowd packed into Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez to support their F1 hero.

In the other AlphaTauri, Yuki Tsunoda was destined for a back-of-the-grid start due to a Power Unit change. BUt he did come in handy, helping get his teammate Ricciardo into Q1 with a handy tow.

Tsunoda reported afterwards: “Firstly, a great job to the team and Daniel. We knew I was taking an engine penalty, so we just wanted to maximise the opportunity for my teammate.

“Obviously, I’m frustrated because there was definitely the potential to have both cars in Q3, but I’m happy with how I did and that I was able to help my team and teammate.

“We focused mainly on race pace during Free Practice, so I’m confident the car will be strong. I’ll do my best again and try to overtake as much as possible. Our car’s characteristics seem to suit this track, so we’re aiming to have both cars finish in the points,” added the Japanese driver.

Horner: Ferrari really pulled it out at the end, I think even they were surprised

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - OCTOBER 28: Pole position qualifier Charles Leclerc of Monaco and Ferrari, Second placed qualifier Carlos Sainz of Spain and Ferrari and Third placed qualifier Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing pose for a photo in parc ferme during qualifying ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Mexico at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez on October 28, 2023 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images) qualifying

Red Bull team boss Christian Horner summed up: “Not the qualifying session we are used to seeing. We did well but Ferrari really pulled it out at the end. I think even they were surprised.

“Q1 and Q2 looked like a struggle for them and then they put in a very strong time that first run in Q3. They couldn’t better it on the second run, we put in a strong lap but it wasn’t enough. Congrats to them they were very quick in a very confusing session.

“Equally, good to see both Daniel in P4 and Checo in P5. We are looking forward to Sunday. We have a good race car and as long as they stay out of trouble on that first lap we should be set up well. Arguably starting in the front is not where you really want to be on this track with that huge run down to Turn 1.

“It will be interesting to see if there is some formation driving by Ferrari, but it’s a pretty wide track and it will make a really exciting race,” predicted Horner, whose team are hunting a remarkable 16th win of the season.

Perez’s lead in the 2023 F1 Drivers’ Championship grew to 39 points over Hamilton after he benefitted from the Mercedes driver’s post-race disqualification from the United States GP.

In the #1 car, Verstappen continues to set new records in 2023 for the highest points total (466) and most laps led (795) in a single season. His next win will surpass last season for the most wins in a single year, having scored 15 victories in 2022 and 2023 so far.

With the AlphaTauri in the mix, the wisdom of having two teams in F1, as Red Bull have now, could become apparent as three of the Bulls take on two Prancing Horses for what should be a cracker of a Grand Prix in Mexico today.