There was a front row lock-out for one team at the the Mexican Grand Prix… but for Mercedes rather than favourites Red Bull.
The Silver Arrows stunned the packed-out crowd in Mexico City as Valtteri Bottas clinched pole position with a 1:15.875 and Lewis Hamilton joining Bottas on the front row after finishing a tenth behind.
Max Verstappen, disturbed by Sergio Perez and Yuki Tsunoda going off track on their final Q3 laps, had to settle for P3, with home favourite Perez starting P4.
All eyes were on the Red Bull garage in the build-up and early stages of Q1 as a lot of rear wing repair work was going on around both of the RB16B cars.
They had a little more time to carry out some fine-tuning, or ‘precautionary work’ as they called it, as Lance Stroll suffered an early exit, crashing out on the exit of the stadium section which has caught out a number of drivers throughout the weekend.
He reported he was all ok, but there was a lengthy stoppage as the marshals cleared the track up and fixed the Tecpro barriers.
The crash also ensured Stroll would line up from P20 on Sunday’s grid, one of four drivers slapped with back-of-the-grid engine penalties this weekend. Yuki Tsunoda, Lando Norris and Esteban Ocon are the others, while George Russell has a five-place drop for a new gearbox.
News also emerged that Kimi Raikkonen would be investigated after the session for a possible infringement during red flag conditions, weaving in and back of the pit lane albeit at very slow speed.
25 minutes later, Q1 resumed with 10:58 on the session clock and a very slow moving Carlos Sainz who reported “no power” over team radio – but he did manage to get going eventually after being told a few instructions.
After the first hot laps of the afternoon, it was Verstappen who set the early pace with a 1:16.788 which was some six tenths clear of home favourite Perez in P2.
The Mercedes duo of Bottas and Hamilton stayed out for a second lap and both found improvement. Bottas closed to within a tenth of Verstappen and Hamilton also leapfrogged Perez into P3, four tenths down.
Bottas finally got himself ahead of Verstappen on his third and final attempt with a 1:16.727, with Charles Leclerc also sneaking ahead of the Dutchman by 0.040 seconds.
Joining Stroll in the Q1 elimination zone was Fernando Alonso, Nicholas Latifi, Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin. Latifi, alongside team-mate Russell, were also subject of a post-qualifying investigation after almost tangling on the pit-lane exit in Q1.
Medium tyres were the firm favourite across the remaining 15 drivers involved in Q2, as starting tyre strategy became the main focus – Ocon and Tsunoda the only two to head out on the soft tyres.
There was barely anything separating Verstappen and Hamilton on the first hot laps of Q2, just 0.016s to be exact as Verstappen continued to get the better of the Mercedes.
That gap became a mere +0.009 seconds, but in Hamilton’s favour as he improved ever so slightly before the session end.
Not making it through to Q3 were Sebastian Vettel, Raikkonen, Russell, Antonio Giovinazzi – who spun out on his first hot lap – and Esteban Ocon.
An hour and 15 minutes since Q1 officially started, it was finally time to witness the battle for pole position.
Perez was out on track ahead of Verstappen, but was too far in front to provide a slipstream to his team-mate down the huge straight to Turn 1.
Slipstream or not, though, Red Bull were still forced to settle for firm second best as Bottas blitzed the timesheet with a 1:15.875 and Hamilton a tenth down on his Mercedes team-mate.
Verstappen had three tenths to find on his final attempt, Perez four tenths.
Verstappen would receive a tow from Perez, who in turn got one from the Ferrari ahead, on his final run, but the laps unravelled quickly for both Red Bull drivers. Perez followed Tsunoda in going off track, and that was enough to see Verstappen back off in fear of yellow flags being waved.
That left the pathway clear for Bottas and Hamilton to lock down the front row ahead of what promises to be a fascinating battle on race day in Mexico City.
1 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1:15.875
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 0.145s
3 Max Verstappen Red Bull 0.350s
4 Sergio Perez Red Bull 0.467s
5 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri 0.581s
6 Carlos Sainz Ferrari 0.886s
7 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren 0.888s
8 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 0.962s 22
9 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri 1.283s
10 Lando Norris McLaren 20.955s
11 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin 1.272s
12 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo Racing 1.484s
13 George Russell Williams 1.698s
14 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo Racing 1.816s
15 Esteban Ocon Alpine 1.931s
16 Fernando Alonso Alpine 1.725s
17 Nicholas Latifi Williams 2.029s
18 Mick Schumacher Haas 2.131s
19 Nikita Mazepin Haas 2.576s
20 Lance Stroll Aston Martin no time set