Daniel Ricciardo of Red Bull Racing stormed to a very unexpected pole position at the Autodrome Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City. He beat his in-form teammate Max Verstappen by less than three-hundredths of a second. Behind the Red Bulls, title rivals Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel could only mange P3 and P4 respectively. The Finns – Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Raikkonen rounded off the top six positions on the grid.
Daniel Ricciardo Storms to a Surprise Pole Ahead of Max Verstappen
Q1: Bottas tops as the Haas drivers drop off
The first qualifying session started under cool and overcast conditions with air temperatures at 19 degrees C and track temperatures at 27 degrees C. The weather forecast showed 40% chance of rain. Most teams started the session on the stickiest available hypersoft tyres, except for Mercedes who experimented with the ultrasofts. Vettel set the initial benchmark time, to be quickly overhauled by both the Red Bull drivers. Mercedes then switched to hypersofts as well. Immediately Bottas went to the top of the time sheets with a lap of 1:15.580s.
Fernando Alonso‘s initial lap time was disallowed for venturing out of track for a moment and was in danger of dropping out in Q1 again. But, as track conditions improved, he managed to get a provisional P7 and scrape through to Q2. The Haas drivers were a little out of sorts and eventually dropped off at P16 and P18. Others in the dropzone were Stoffel Vandoorne, Sergey Sirotkin and Lance Stroll.
Q2: Verstappen tops as Gasly sits out
Most teams started the second qualifying session on the mid-range ultrasoft tyres, which is expected to be the tyre of choice for the start of the race. The Force Indias and the Renaults experimented with an alternate strategy of using hardest available supersofts. True to his form throughout the weekend so far, Verstappen topped the Q2 session with a time of 1:15.640s.
Pierre Gasly of Scuderia Toro Rosso did not set a time in Q2 as his engine penalties were to move him back of the grid in any case. Others to drop out were Brendon Hartley, local boy Sergio Perez, Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon. Alonso’s P12 is the best qualifying position for McLaren in a while.
Q3: Ricciardo overturns the form book to claim pole
The top-ten shootout started with the expectation of Verstappen breaking the record for the youngest driver to claim pole. He had topped the time sheets in all the free practice sessions of the weekend and was looking good in qualifying too. He duly went fastest in the initial run with a time of 1:14.785s. The lap times were expected to fall further in the second runs for the drivers, but mysteriously none of the drivers in the top six could improve much. Then, out of the blue came a scorching lap from Ricciardo that shaded his teammate’s time by a whisker. A new lap record was set by Ricciardo at 1:14.759s. Verstappen was left stunned.
The Last Word
Red Bulls are the team to beat, having locked out the front row for the first time in the turbo-hybrid era. Verstappen would be pumped up to overtake his teammate by the first corner of the first lap of the race. The title rivals behind them are expected to be more cautious. Vettel may also go for broke as he needs an outright win to keep his slim championship hopes alive and pray for Hamilton to finish below 7th. Renault and Sauber drivers with their alternate strategies may also come into the picture in mixing things up for the points. It’s all to play for in a tight fight on Sunday!
Mexican GP Qualifying Results:
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