Sebastian Vettel took pole for tomorrow’s Mexican Grand Prix – the fiftieth of his Formula 1 career – as he looks to keep his World Championship chances alive.
The Scuderia Ferrari driver saw off intense competition from a fired up Max Verstappen in the Red Bull Racing car and his championship rival Lewis Hamilton at a hot Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez. With Valtteri Bottas in fourth, it marked the first time since Singapore that a Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team car has failed to start on the front row.
Kimi Räikkönen took fifth, nearly one second off of team-mate Vettel, but ahead of the Sahara Force India F1 Team‘s Esteban Ocon and Daniel Ricciardo in the second Red Bull.
The Renault Sport Formula One Team pair of Nico Hülkenberg and Carlos Sainz Jr. and home hero Sergio Pérez rounded out the top 10.
Qualifying 1: Hamilton on top
Hamilton asserted his fine form in the opening set of qualifying runs. A 1:17.518 needed no improvement later on, with Bottas trailing by six-hundredths of a second. Practice 3 leader Verstappen sat a tenth behind in third just ahead of Vettel with Fernando Alonso providing the best display, ending the first session fifth fastest for the McLaren Honda Formula 1 Team, a fraction under two tenths adrift of Hamilton’s time.
Pierre Gasly was afforded no chance to show his worth, the issues that blighted his Scuderia Toro Rosso car left him stranded in the garage despite a late effort by his mechanics.
Predictably, the Sauber F1 Team duo of Pascal Wehrlein and Marcus Ericsson saw their afternoons end at the climax of the first session, although both of them showed more pace than Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen, as the Haas F1 Team endured another miserable Mexican qualifying.
Qualifying 2: Verstappen emerges as favourite
The order changed heavily in the second session. Verstappen obliterated the ever decreasing track record, a 1:16.524 over half a second clear of provisional pole man Hamilton. Both the Dutchman and Brit took extra – potentially involuntary in the case of Hamilton – preparation laps; Verstappen’s initial charge was thwarted by Brendon Hartley suffering a problem in the second Toro Rosso.
A singular puff of smoke from the New Zealander’s car looked eerily similar to Gasly’s Practice 3 failure and he faces a frustrating wait to see if he is subject to a grid penalty. Two men who already know their fate were Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne, who saw no point in setting lap times.
As track temperatures rose in Mexico City, only Vettel and Ocon could improve on their first runs – Vettel leapt up ahead of Hamilton into second in the process.
Williams Martini Racing fizzled out after a sub-standard Q1 – both Felipe Massa and Lance Stroll fell foul to a lack of front-end grip, Stroll’s lap looked notably wild and scrappy.
Qualifying 3: Vettel versus Verstappen
Verstappen continued to shine in the final shoot-out, another 1:16.5 lap was enough for provisional pole on the first runs, but the Red Bull came under pressure from Vettel and Hamilton, who both entered the 1:16 bracket.
However, Verstappen faces yet another meeting with the stewards after potentially distracting Bottas on his first run. The Dutchman slowed to let the Finn go past on the exit of Turn 12, but caught Bottas unawares, the Mercedes locking up into Turn 13 and abandoning his lap as a result.
The final tries saw both Verstappen and Hamilton make critical mistakes, whilst Vettel kept his calm to oust Verstappen from top spot, a 1:16.488 eight-hundredths ahead of the Red Bull.
In a race the German has to win, he’ll start it from the best possible seat.
UPDATE: The stewards have said no penalty for Verstappen is warranted, and he will start from the front row on the grid on Sunday.
[table id=2642 /]