F1 – Mexican GP – Qualifying

Hola, MiniFans! Colourful Mexico has welcomed F1 back with incredible weather and a bit of a confusing perspective going into qualifying, as only Verstappen going fastest seemed a given, due to everything being tight and very close.

Q1 kicked off as it usually does, with the slowest cars leaving their boxes first with the soft tyres they probably wouldn’t need later.  The first reference came courtesy of Magnussen, but was relegated by Alonso, who stood on top until the top dogs came out and pushed them back down. Halfway through, most of the biggest surprises from the three free practices had just started poking their heads out and both Ricciardo and Bottas climbed up fast, slotting themselves in between both Red Bulls.

The track improvement, shown in part by some of the usual backmarkers up in the timing tower and the McLarens down in the elimination zone, was starting to look like one of the key points to manage in order to get a good starting position. Piastri easily got himself out, but Norris’ lap was so bad it kept him in the same place. With only a few minutes left, everyone else left the pits, but so slowly that there was a traffic jam in there and a couple drivers would be investigated for impeding. Some, such as Sainz, got fed up and used the available space to overtake and get out as soon as possible. Meanwhile, Alonso spun and the subsequent yellow flag meant that many drivers couldn’t improve their first sector and thus their overall lap time. The eliminated drivers in Q1 were Ocon (P16), Magnussen (P17), Stroll (P18), Sargeant (P19) and Norris (P20).

Before Q2 started, more notifications from Race Direction popped up, ranging from not slowing down under yellow flags to delta time infringements. The first car on track for the second session was Pérez, causing the entire grandstand to go wild for the local hero. That support, however, wasn’t enough for him to be close to his teammate. Ricciardo was once again the first to split the Red Bulls, this time until Piastri showed up, pushing him one spot further down. Both Alfa Romeo were in the top ten after everyone had gotten at least one time, bar Tsunoda, as he’d start from the back anyway due to penalties for exceeding the allowed number of components.

The last stint of this second session saw the same mess at the end of the pitlane as only Verstappen remained in his box, losing first place to Hamilton and being sandwiched between both Mercedes as not many more places changed. Albon seemingly managed to get into Q3, but his lap time was eventually deleted due to track limits. The eliminated drivers in Q2 were Gasly (P11), Hulkenberg (P12), Alonso (P13), Albon (P14) and Tsunoda (P15).

Mimicking the start of Q2, Pérez was the first to score a time in Q3, but he was soon pushed down by both Ricciardo and Verstappen. In a very surprising turn of events, both Ferrari drivers, first Sainz and then Leclerc, climbed to the top of the timing tower, revolutionising the paddock. Pérez, meanwhile, had also been passed by both Mercedes, dropping down to seventh, only in front of Piastri and both Alfa Romeo, as Ricciardo was holding the fort strong in fourth.

Clearly out for blood, Verstappen was almost the last on track, as Mercedes got that honour, but Ferrari tried not to back down, almost mimicking their times. However, they didn’t improve them, while Verstappen scored a record in the second sector that wasn’t enough to get past the Ferraris, handing the locked out front row on a silver platter to Leclerc and Sainz. Nevertheless, his teammate was worse off, still stuck behind Ricciardo’s AlphaTauri.

Most part of qualifying saw Verstappen in first, only momentarily losing that place when he didn’t go out for the second stint in Q2. The last session, however, saw how both Ferrari drivers unceremoniously pushed him out of the way, angering a beast that didn’t have enough in the tank to get past even just one of them. There’s no telling if the story will be repeated tomorrow, but both the Ferraris in the front row and Ricciardo splitting the Red Bulls will gather everyone’s eyes at the race start on Sunday.

MiniDrivers – F1
2023 Mexico GP