Mexican Grand Prix Qualifying Report: Sebastian Vettel takes 50th career pole
After just 0.248s separated the top five drivers during free practice three, the battle for pole position was on, and it looked as if pole could be taken by anyone of Red Bull, Mercedes, or Ferrari.
Ferrari struggled for pace compared to Red Bull and Mercedes during Friday’s sessions, but a quick turnaround overnight saw the Maranello team find a few extra tenths in terms of pace. Although Sebastian Vettel quickly showed his pace in FP3 and early parts of qualifying, Kimi Raikkonen continued to struggle and never looked in contention for the pole.
Red Bull looked strong all weekend – Daniel Ricciardo set the pace in Friday and Max Verstappen set the pace during FP3.
Mercedes were always in contention for pole after a strong Friday and FP3. Valtteri Bottas also looked the strongest he has since the summer break. Although Lewis Hamilton was struggling in Friday, he brought his act together just in time for qualifying.
Verstappen looked set to take pole position after setting the early pace in Q3 with a 1m 16.524s, but Vettel pulled out his best in the closing seconds of qualifying to take his 50th career pole position with a new lap record of 1m 16.488s.
Mercedes opted to use the ultrasoft tyres and set the pace for everyone else in Q1. While both Ferraris and Red Bull drivers saved a set of ultrasofts by opting to use supersoft tyres instead. McLaren ace driver Fernando Alonso set a surprisingly quick time to go fifth fastest, while his teammate Stoffel Vandoorne also made a late improvement to go into the top 16, eliminating Pascal Wehrlein, Marcus Ericsson, Kevin Magnussen, Romain Grosjean, and Pierre Gasly.
Q2 was a better representation of Ferrari and Red Bull’s true pace. The battle for pole was wide open until Verstappen put in a blistering quick lap time of 1m 16.524s, three tenths quicker than Vettel and five tenths quicker than Hamilton.
Good runs from both Force India drivers and Renault drivers saw them complete the top 10.
Williams driver Felipe Massa narrowly missed out on the top 10, while his teammate Lance Stroll ended 12th. Both McLarens decided not to run given that they will starting at the back of the grid due to heavy gird penalties for this weekend. Meanwhile, Brandon Hartley in the Toro Rosso was unable to set a time after his car suffered an engine problem on his out lap.
Verstappen also set the early pace in Q3 with a 1m 16.524s, identical to his Q2 time. Vettel was again three tenths down and Hamilton four tenths down. Unfortunately, Bottas’s first run was compromised due to misjudgment following Verstappen abandoning his lap.
During the round of second runs in Q3, Verstappen failed to improve, but Vettel improved significantly and brought his best when it mattered to take his 50th career pole position by 0.036s from Verstappen setting a new lap record of 1m 16.488s. Likewise, Hamilton failed to improve, but Bottas put in a strong lap to qualify fourth. Raikkonen continued to struggle and only managed fifth.
Lower down, Ocon produced a mighty lap to go sixth fastest ahead of Ricciardo. Nico Hulkenberg managed to outqualify his new Renault teammate Carlos Sainz by three tenths of a second to finish eighth and ninth. Sergio Perez in the second Force India completed the top ten.