Sebastian Vettel delivered a stunning final lap to secure pole position for the Mexican Grand Prix, denying Max Verstappen a first pole by just 0.086s.
Verstappen had delivered an eye-catching time in Q2 to go fastest by over 0.3s from Vettel and Lewis Hamilton, and was then more than a quarter of a second clear after the first attempts in Q3. The Dutchman looked poised for the first pole position of his career before Vettel’s final lap, with the four-time world champion finding a big improvement to snatch it away.
Needing only a top-five finish to secure the drivers’ championship, Hamilton is set to start from third place but there remains some uncertainty over Verstappen’s position on the grid after he was placed under investigation for impeding Valtteri Bottas at the start of Q3. Verstappen was doing two warm-up laps before setting a time and backed off in the stadium section, staying to the left as Bottas approached. The Finn stuck to the racing line and was close to the rear of the Red Bull, but slid wide at the next corner and aborted his lap.
Bottas recovered to secure fourth place alongside his teammate on his final run, ending up just 0.024s adrift of Hamilton in a much-improved display from recent races. Kimi Raikkonen will start from fifth but was a quarter of a second off polesitter Vettel, while Esteban Ocon impressed with sixth place ahead of Daniel Ricciardo.
Ricciardo never looked on Verstappen’s level throughout qualifying and was pipped by Ocon by 0.01s, but it could have been worse as Nico Hulkenberg was only 0.019s away from beating the Red Bull. Hulkenberg’s impressive lap saw him outqualify ninth-placed Carlos Sainz by over 0.3s, with Sergio Perez a somewhat disappointing 10th in front of his home crowd.
Running only one car throughout qualifying, Toro Rosso’s dismal weekend in terms of reliability continued as Brendan Hartley stopped on track in Q2. At the start of his first flying lap, Hartley’s car released some smoke at Turn 1 and he then crawled to the end of the first sector before pulling off track.
With both McLarens not taking part in Q2 due to heavy power unit penalties – despite Fernando Alonso having been fifth fastest in Q1 – Hartley’s stoppage meant there were 12 cars attempting to secure the 10 places in the final part of qualifying, and Felipe Massa and Lance Stroll dropped out in 11th and 12th, respectively, with Massa winning the Williams battle by over a second.
Q1 saw only four drivers on track dropping out, with Pierre Gasly not running. Sauber was once again more competitive than earlier in the season, with Marcus Ericsson missing out on a spot in Q2 by just over a quarter of a second. Ericsson finished 16th, getting the better of teammate Pascal Wehrlein as both Saubers – running a year-old Ferrari power unit – outqualified the Haas pair of Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean.
If permitted by the stewards, Gasly will start the race with just 12 laps to his name this weekend after failing to take part in qualifying. Gasly – who sat out FP1 while Sean Gelael had a practice run – was limited to 10 laps in FP2 due to a power unit problem and then similarly hampered on Saturday morning. With a power unit changed needed after stopping on only his second lap in the final practice session, Toro Rosso couldn’t get the Frenchman’s car ready in time for Q1.
Gasly will need special dispensation from the stewards to start the race, based on the times he has previously set this weekend.