Ferrari’s Vettel bests Red Bull’s Verstappen for pole in Mexico City; Mercedes off the pace with Hamilton P3, Bottas P4
Showing the fight of a true champion, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel laid down a track record lap of 1:16.488 for pole in the rarified air at Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez in Mexico City on Saturday. Still mathemeaically alive in the Drivers’ Championship, albeit barely so, Vettel earned his 50th career pole by besting Red Bull’s ultra-quick wunderkind, Max Verstappen, by a scant .09 seconds. Verstappen had looked like the quicker man coming into Q3 but the young Ducthman, driving with a chip on his shoulder after being denied the podium by the stewards a week ago in Austin, couldn’t quite hook his laps up in the final qualifying round. Still, the Red Bull man was faster than both Mercedes, who struggled for outright pace against their usually inferior rivals a week after securing their fourth consecutive Constructors’ title. Points leader Lewis Hamilton, who can secure his fourth championship even if Vettel wins by finishing fifth or better on Sunday, could muster a time good enough for only P3 on the dusty, low-grip circuit. His wingman Valtteri Bottas vaulted himself to P4 on his only timed run in Q3 after a promising early attempt was spoiled by nearly colliding with a slowing Verstappen in the final sector (this tike Vertsappen escaped the stewards’ wrath). So for once in that proverbial blue moon the mighty Mercedes look like the third fastest cars on track, an unusual position to say the least and one that may be caused by the shortness of the circuit and the longness of their wheelbase. However the race could be a different proposition, particularly as the Silver Arrows are at least grouped to fight together while Vettel & Verstappen’s teammates are both separated from them further down the grid.
In fact, Ferrari #2 Kimi Raikkonen will start behind the two Mercs in P5, while the second Red Bull of Daniel Riciciardo looked a bit lost and could do no better than a P7 time. The affable Aussie saw himself bested by Force India’s Esteban Ocon, who qualified ahead in P6. The young Frenchman also outdid his teammate and archrival, Mexican national Sergio Perez, by a considerable margin. Perez could manage no better than P10 despite the passionate encouragement of his countrymen in the stands for his home Grand Prix. Rounding out the top 10, Nico Hulkenberg pipped his new Renault teammate Carlos Sainz, P8 to P9.
Top 10 qualifiers for the Mexican GP:
|2||33||RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER||1:17.630||1:16.524||1:16.574||19|
|6||31||FORCE INDIA MERCEDES||1:18.336||1:17.827||1:17.437||19|
|7||3||RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER||1:18.208||1:17.631||1:17.447||15|
|10||11||FORCE INDIA MERCEDES||1:18.020||1:17.868||1:17.807||19|
Tomorrow’s race airs live on NBC at 3PM Eastern here in the States. Can Vettel live to fight another day or will Hamilton issue the coup de grâce and be crowned 2017’s champion? Might Verstappen steal the spotlight from both veterans by laying down a marker as next year’s man to beat? Hope to see you then to find out!