Max Verstappen put a Red Bull on pole position at the Mexican Grand Prix, although not the one the home crowd will have been hoping for.
Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez and its expectant fans wanted to see Sergio Perez in P1 but he could only manage fourth fastest, sandwiching Mercedes duo George Russell and Lewis Hamilton who bagged places on the front two rows.
In contrast, Ferrari were below par and Charles Leclerc could not even match the pace of an eye-catching Valtteri Bottas, who flew in each of the three parts of qualifying for Alfa Romeo.
Unlike at some recent races, there was not a glut of grid penalties hanging over drivers, the only ones entering qualifying being a five-place drop for Kevin Magnussen after his Haas had encountered a power-unit problem in FP2 that required a change, and Lance Stroll (three places) for causing a collision with Fernando Alonso in the United States Grand Prix.
Surprisingly, it was Mercedes who went into Saturday’s decisive session vying for favouritism after an impressive display in FP3 with Russell and Hamilton, in that order, having a third of a second in hand of Verstappen. The upgrades the Silver Arrows have introduced at the last couple of races appeared to be working the oracle.
There was a concern for Mercedes before qualifying though as their mechanics were beavering away on Hamilton’s brakes again, as they had on the Austin grid where he still went on to finish second to Verstappen.
It was the reigning World Champion though, rather than the seven-time former title holder, who had an early issue on track for he was struggling for grip and had to abandon his first Q1 effort, but still assumed his familiar P1 with his next attempt.
The unexpected name of Bottas was sharing the rarefied air in the Mexican altitude up near the top of the leaderboard among the usual suspects – but there were problems for Sebastian Vettel who had been unhappy with his Aston Martin in FP3.
The soon-to-retire German needed a big improvement of at least half a second on his final run to reach Q2 having been sitting 19th, but could not manage it as he joined Williams duo Alex Albon and Nicholas Latifi, Haas’ Mick Schumacher and Stroll in making an early exit.
Schumacher had a strong lap time that would have comfortably carried him through deleted for exceeding track limits and then was pipped at the end by Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu.
🚨 OUT IN Q1 🚨
16. Mick Schumacher
17. Sebastian Vettel
18. Lance Stroll
19. Alex Albon
20. Nicholas Latifi
— PlanetF1 (@Planet_F1) October 29, 2022
At least Haas had one car in Q2 for the first time ever in Mexico as the penalised Magnussen went forward, Bottas again showing remarkable pace in part two to mix it with his former team Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari.
This time there was at least a touch of pressure on home hero Perez, for whom it would have been unthinkable not to reach Q3 in front of his adoring home crowd. The Mexican went out for a solo run he needed to make count while 12th on the leaderboard and to shouts of ‘Checo, Checo’, erased any doubts by moving up to third.
It meant no real upsets heading into the top-10 shootout as both AlphaTauris of Pierre Gasly and Yuki Tsunoda, Magnussen, Zhou and McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo bowed out.
🚨 OUT IN Q2 🚨
11. Daniel Ricciardo
12. Zhou Guanyu
13. Yuki Tsunoda
14. Pierre Gasly
15. Kevin Magnussen
— PlanetF1 (@Planet_F1) October 29, 2022
The top three teams and Alpine had both drivers in Q3, along with McLaren’s Lando Norris and Bottas. It was still difficult to pick a pole-sitter, but Hamilton and Verstappen appeared to have the edge on Ferrari at this point.
Verstappen grabbed provisional pole with a 1:17.947 ahead of Russell, Perez, Sainz, Bottas and Leclerc as Hamilton had his first lap time deleted for exceeding track limits. The Briton also reported “driveability issues” with the “power dropping out”.
That left the 37-year-old with an uphill task to get the better of his 2021 title rival and an even harder one when Verstappen took another 17 hundredths off his provisional pole time. In the end, it was Russell who got closest to the double World Champion – but a margin of three tenths represented another dominant display by the sport’s all-conquering force in 2022.
1 Max Verstappen Red Bull 1:17.775
2 George Russell Mercedes + 0.304
3 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes + 0.309
4 Sergio Perez Red Bull +0.353
5 Carlos Sainz Ferrari +0.576
6 Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo +0.626
7 Charles Leclerc Ferrari +0.780
8 Lando Norris McLaren +0.946
9 Fernando Alonso Alpine +1.164
10 Esteban Ocon Alpine +1.235
11 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren +0.773 (Q2)
12 Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo +0.924
13 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri +1.037
14 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri +1.120
15 Kevin Magnussen Haas +1.281
16 Mick Schumacher Haas + 1.250 (Q1)
17 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin + 1.250
18 Lance Stroll Aston Martin + 1.351
19 Alex Albon Williams +1.690
20 Nicholas Latifi Williams +1.998