F1 – Mexican GP – Qualifying
F1 is back in Mexico for round 17 of the 2019 FIA Formula 1 World Championship to race in the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez, after coming back in 2015.
A higher track temperature made teams uncertain when Q1 started as to how the tyres would work out. Low grip and possible graining made them careful and Williams was the only team to be out on track for a while, until Hass joined them. The problems that some drivers had at the end of the straight on Friday’s practices seemed to no longer be there and there was no surprise as to which drivers were out in Q1. Both Williams got the last grid spots, with George Russel (19th) in front of his teammate, Robert Kubica (20th), once again. Along with them, Lance Stroll (16th) is back to being eliminated in Q1, and both Kevin Magnussen (17th) and Romain Grosjean (18th) locked out a line for Haas.
Q2 came with three midfield cars trying to get into Q3 with medium tyres, the preferred choice to start the race tomorrow, as softs are threatened by a very short life and graining in all four tyres. However, Sainz and both Toro Rosso had to desist and use softs as well, as it was clear they would not go through otherwise. To no one’s surprise, the top three teams did manage to use mediums and will start on the yellow tyres tomorrow. The local driver, Sergio Pérez (11th), missed out on Q3 by just 0.008s. Behind him, the rest of the eliminated drivers were Nico Hulkenberg (12th), Daniel Ricciardo (13th), Kimi Raikkonen (14th) and Antonio Giovinazzi (15th)
Everyone got their softs out for Q3. After a first set of laps that pretty much showed how qualifying would end, everyone seemed to be taking advantage of how the track had gained grip and felt better than ever, setting faster laps and sector records. A couple of small mistakes by both Ferrari cars made clear that they wouldn’t get a pole position that could have been theirs, but it was Valteri Bottas’ mistake (6th), going too wide on the last corner and crashing due to it, that eased Max Verstappen’s nerves: no one would be able to steal the pole position away from him again.
Ferrari’s great speed on the straights didn’t stop Verstappen from taking a pole that he was denied last year by no other than his own teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, who surprised everyone by snatching the front position in 2018. Charles Leclerc (2nd) will join Verstappen in the front row, just in front of his teammate, Sebastian Vettel (3rd). No one expected the Mercedes to do great, but Hamilton managed a 4th position that couldn’t be matched by Valteri Bottas (6th), who was overtaken by Alexander Albon (5th). Carlos Sainz (7th) was once again the best of the rest by beating his teammate Lando Norris (8th). Daniil Kvyat (9th) and Pierre Gasly (10th) completed the Q3 results.
The controversy of this qualifying run comes from Bottas’ accident, which made the yellow flags come out. Vettel saw them and consequently slowed down, whereas Verstappen seemingly didn’t and managed an even better time, just as Hamilton did. However, it doesn’t look like it will have any consequence that will steal the pole position away from the Red Bull driver, as the mini-sector in which the accident took place was not improved.
Verstappen seems to be destined to win again in Mexico and make it a hat trick, but Ferrari’s great speed in the straight and their superiority in the first sector may pose a threat to the Dutch’s aspirations to the top step of the podium. It is also Hamilton’s first matchball for this year’s title, for which he’s the forefront candidate, and only 14 points come between him and his sixth World Championship.