Daniel Ricciardo snatched pole position from Red Bull Racing teammate Max Verstappen with a brilliant final lap in a thrilling qualifying session for the Mexican Grand Prix.
Verstappen had been quickest throughout practice and set the pace on the first laps in Q3, beating Sebastian Vettel by nearly 0.2s. Behind Verstappen, Vettel, Lewis Hamilton and Ricciardo were covered by just 0.06s but drivers were struggling to improve on their final laps, except for the Australian.
Ricciardo pulled out a stunning lap with the fastest final two sectors of the session to take pole with a 1m14.759s — a new track record — and beat Verstappen by just 0.026s as his teammate failed to improve.
Vettel also couldn’t better his time and that opened the door for Hamilton to get ahead of the one man who can deny him the championship, with the Mercedes driver ending up 0.135s off pole. Vettel will start from fourth and has to win on Sunday to have any chance of taking the title battle on to Brazil. Even if Vettel manages to take victory, a top-seven finish will be enough for Hamilton.
Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Raikkonen will start from row three as a little over half a second covered the top six drivers, while Renault secured best of the rest with Nico Hulkenberg in seventh ahead of Carlos Sainz in eighth. Charles Leclerc and Marcus Ericsson round out the top 10 as both Saubers also made it into Q3.
Q2 saw a number of different tire strategies play out, with Red Bull, Mercedes and Ferrari all advancing on the ultrasoft compound. After the first runs, the Renaults and Saubers occupied the top 10 on hypersofts, with Force India opting to first use supersofts.
Both Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez then switched to ultrasoft tires for their final attempts and the move didn’t quite pay off. While Ocon in 11th is well placed with a free tire choice for the race, Perez was beaten to 12th by Fernando Alonso on the hypersofts as McLaren looked more competitive than in recent races.
Brendon Hartley had looked strong for the majority of the weekend but then made an error at the stadium section on his final Q2 lap and dropped out in 14th, while Pierre Gasly didn’t set a time as he is already consigned to a back of the grid start due to power unit and gearbox penalties.
In a repeat of last year’s qualifying session, both Haas drivers dropped out in Q1. While Kevin Magnussen had been struggling for pace for much of the weekend and missed FP3 with as the team carried out an intercooler change, Romain Grosjean was surprisingly eliminated in 16th place.
Stoffel Vandoorne split the two Haas drivers as he also delivered a competitive showing despite dropping out — missing out on Q2 alongside Alonso by a little over 0.1s — while Lance Stroll and Sergey Sirotkin were the slowest two cars as Williams struggled.