Verstappen fends off Russell and Hamilton for Mexico pole

Max Verstappen (NLD) Red Bull Racing RB18. 29.10.2022. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 20, Mexican Grand Prix, Mexico City, Mexico, Qualifying
© XPB 

Red Bull's Max Verstappen pulled an extra-special lap out of the bag at the end of qualifying for the Mexican Grand Prix to beat Mercedes pair George Russell and Lewis Hamilton to pole position at Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez.

Hamilton had been quickest in Q1 and Q2 but had his initial lap in the final round deleted for exceeding track limits. Verstappen was then able to produce a dazzling lap of 1:17.775s to finish three tenths ahead of Russell.

Hamilton did manage to set a competitive time with his final effort but missed out on the front row by five thousandths of a second. He will start from third alongside Sergio Perez, with Carlos Sainz fifth in a disappointing session for Ferrari.

It was still bright and sunny with temperatures in the mid 70sF and a gentle breeze at the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez at the start of qualifying for this weekend's race, although there was a small risk of showers forecast as the drivers prepared to take to the track. For once it seemed that pole position was wide open, with both Ferrari and Red Bull hitting various problems during practice while George Russell had succeeded in topping both FP2 and FP3. It seemed that the rarefied high altitude air of Mexico City was helping to offset Mercedes' season-long drag issues, but whether that would still prove to be the case again on Saturday afternoon remained to be seen.

Sergio Perez (MEX) Red Bull Racing RB18. 29.10.2022. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 20, Mexican Grand Prix, Mexico City, Mexico, Qualifying

Q1: Hamilton pips Verstappen, as Aston Martin struggle and miss the cut

First out on track were Haas pair Mick Schumacher and Kevin Magnussen, followed by their Williams counterparts Nicholas Latifi and Alex Albon. They were soon joined by the Aston Martin drivers Sebastian Vettel and Lance Stroll. Schumacher set the first representative time of the session with 1:21.024s after an initial warm-up lap to get the soft tyres up to temperature, which proved two hundredths quicker than Magnussen. Albon then went top, clocking in with a time of 1:20.859s.

By now, other cars including some of the big-hitters had joined the action. AlphaTauri's Yuki Tsunoda took over at the top from Albon but Sergio Perez was quicker still. However his Red Bull team mate Max Verstappen complained of sliding all over the place and had to abort his first run. Instead it was Ferrari's Charles Leclerc who set a new top time by almost a full second, before Verstappen belatedly got a better run second time round to go quickest with a time of 1:19.222s. Lewis Hamilton then made his bow, his time good enough for third ahead of Carlos Sainz, George Russell and the Alpines of Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso.

A strong run from Valtteri Bottas then nudged the Alfa Romeo ahead of Hamilton, By now everyone had completed their first run and set a time, with Schumacher, Albon, Vettel, Magnussen and Latifi finding themselves in the drop zone and Stroll on the bubble in 15th. Even Perez had been pushed down to 10th and not entirely comfortable; having pitted at the end of his first lap he now came straight back out and the crowds roared as he soon moved up to sixth, despite having lost time in the final sector. Schumacher was also back in action, and improved to sixth place ahead of Perez - only to have the lap deleted for exceeding track limits at turn 2. Even so, it illustrated just how much the dusty track was still evolving minute by minute.

The top ten were all safely through, and Verstappen, Perez, Leclerc and Sainz all stayed put on pit lane to save a set of tyres for later. Hamilton came out and used the opportunity to snatch the top spot from Verstappen by 0.053 s. The final seconds also saw Lando Norris find more time to move up to eighth ahead of Tsunoda. Kevin Magnussen also improved but was then pushed back to the brink by improvements around and ahead of him. He just survived in 15th but Schumacher, Vettel, Stroll and the two Williams were all eliminated. Albon had been on course to improve but ran wide at turn 8 and was lucky to avoid crashing out, although his flying lap was deleted by the vigilant race stewards.

Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 W13. 29.10.2022. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 20, Mexican Grand Prix, Mexico City, Mexico, Qualifying

Q2: Hamilton stays ahead of Sainz and Russell, Ricciardo just misses out

After a small pause, the action resumed with Mercedes first to send their cars out onto the empty track. They were on a fresh sets of the soft compound while many others were fielding used tyres. Others followed, but Sainz, Ocon and Alonso initially staying put.

Hamilton took the early lead with a time of 1:18.552s, 0.013s ahead of Russell, but once again the surprise was Bottas popping into third ahead of Verstappen, Norris, Ricciardo, Tsunoda, Perez, Zhou Guanyu and Pierre Gasly. Leclerc's subsequent lap on used tyres was only good enough for P5, and after that Sainz headed out and claimed seventh. Ocon was also in motion and went into fifth, with Alonso making his bow in ninth. The top four were told that they were safely through, but Ricciardo now found himself on the brink in tenth and Tsunoda, Perez, Zhou, Gasly and Magnussen all very much in jeopardy and needing to run again, now on new softs rather than hoping to save a set.

A deafening blast of noise from the fans in the grandstands propelled Perez safely into third place with his final run. Verstappen then went quicker than his team mate, as Sainz jumped up to second place. He split the two Mercedes drivers, who were back out on track albeit now on used tyres, running as a safeguard against others making late improvements and not seeking to improve. Just 0.063s covered the top five when the clock ran out, with Bottas just under two tenths behind in sixth place.

When the dust settled, Ocon, Leclerc, Norris and Alonso had also done enough to survive into the final round. However Ricciardo was now half a tenth on the wrong side of the cut, joining Zhou, Tsunoda, Gasly, and Magnussen consigned to the sidelines. The Dane had largely opted out of Q2 in the knowledge that he already had a five place grid drop for tomorrow after changing his engine.

George Russell (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 W13. 29.10.2022. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 20, Mexican Grand Prix, Mexico City, Mexico, Qualifying

Q3: Verstappen blasts to pole to deny Russell and Hamilton, as Ferrari falters

With Hamilton having headed the first two sessions, now the question was whether Mercedes could carry that momentum through to the top ten pole shoot-out, or whether Red Bull and Ferrari would find the extra bit of performance they had hitherto lacked to challenge for the front row. There was no sign of those forecast showers as Perez and Sainz headed out on fresh soft tyres to get the show started. First up on the timing screens was Perez with a lap of 1:18.153s, two tenths quicker than Sainz. Further back, Leclerc was uncharacteristically a long way back by almost half a second.

The Red Bulls soon seized control, Verstappen's 1:17.947s proving two tenths quicker than Perez. And then it was the Mercedes drivers turn and they were able to split the Bulls, Russell second and Hamilton third - until the seven time world champion's lap was deleted for exceeding track limits at turn 3. Hamilton himself was also complaining of power drop-outs as he headed back to pit lane to prepare for the last run of the day.

In the meantime, Bottas had split the Ferraris in fifth. Alonso was the last to complete a lap and went into seventh ahead of Norris and Ocon, with Hamilton classified in tenth due to the lack of a valid lap time. The pressure was on - but Hamilton is no stranger to such trifles.

Alonso had barely returned to pit lane before Perez was back in action with three minutes remaining, followed by Sainz, Leclerc, Norris and Ocon. Verstappen has half a lap behind with Bottas, Hamilton and Russell in hot pursuit. When he completed his lap, Perez was only able to edge forward up to third place, and the Ferrari duo simply didn't have the pace to challenge. Verstappen's latest bid clocked in at 1:17.775s, stretching his lead over Russell to a comfortable three tenths. Hamilton did manage to finally set a time but it was five thousandths of a second behind his team mate, who had made a tiny but significant error on his final run to prevent him fully responding to Verstappen.

Pole position for Max Verstappen (NLD) Red Bull Racing 2nd for George Russell (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 and 3rd Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1. 29.10.2022. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 20, Mexican Grand Prix, Mexico City, Mexico, Qualifying

It meant Verstappen will be on pole for tomorrow's Grand Prix, with Russell joining him on the front row. Hamilton will line up alongside Perez on row two. Sainz was the best of a disappointing showing from Ferrari in fifth, but an impressive Bottas had pipped Leclerc to P6. Norris will start next to Leclerc, leaving the row behind as an all-Alpine affair comprised of Alonso and Ocon.

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