Max Verstappen earned his fifth pole position of the season but it was Mercedes who impressed most during qualifying for the Mexican Grand Prix.
The session at the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez produced the closest fight for pole we have seen all season, with the top four drivers separated by just 0.353 seconds.
There was also the best qualifying performance in 16 races for one driver, while another made a costly error that saw him knocked out of qualifying in Q1.
Here are the winners and losers in qualifying for the Mexican Grand Prix:
It is testament to how strong Mercedes have looked this weekend that despite earning a P2 and P3 finish, their best qualifying result of the season, they are still left wondering what could have been.
Unlike the other 19 tracks visited this season, it seems the Mexico City circuit is one that is perfectly suited to the rather inconsistent strengths of the W13. An upgrade package fitted for the last race in Austin has been given a chance to shine and when George Russell topped the timesheets for both FP2 and FP3, Mercedes moved from outsiders to genuine contenders for pole.
Russell was just 0.304 off Verstappen, the Briton rueing his “terrible lap”, while Lewis Hamilton was a further 0.005 seconds behind to give them the best qualifying performance of any team this weekend.
They missed out on pole but given the long straight heading to Turn 1, there is an argument to be made that pole in Mexico is the least valuable of any race in the calendar.
Toto Wolff may not have been happy either, saying the whole team “wasn’t good enough”, but away from the public eye he will no doubt be pleased the W13 conundrum may finally have been solved.
Lando Norris warned everyone Bottas looked quick, but perhaps even the McLaren man was not expecting quite a performance from the Finn.
Heading into the session, Bottas was on a 14-race streak of failing to finish in the top six and having missed out on Q3 in all but three of those races, there was little to suggest that run would end in Mexico.
But end it has. Bottas produced an excellent performance that saw him split the two Ferraris, beat both McLarens and both Alpines and finish 0.626 seconds off pole.
For the race itself, keeping Charles Leclerc behind him may prove to be a stretch too far but given the pace he has shown all weekend, the Finn will have confidence in his ability to leave Fernando Alonso, Norris, Esteban Ocon and Daniel Ricciardo staring at his exhaust.
Anyone suggesting Max Verstappen may take his foot off the pedal now the Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championships have been sewn up was soon given an answer of “not likely”.
Like a movie villain that steps in to defeat the dreams of the protagonist, the Dutchman was on hand to end the Mercedes redemption story before it achieved its fairytale ending.
The 25-year-old reminded everyone Mercedes may have been quickest in both FP2 and FP3 but it is again the number ‘1’-emblazoned Red Bull with its golden-helmeted driver that will be lining up at the front of the grid.
Mercedes have confidence the long straight to Turn 1 gives them a chance to battle Verstappen but knowing the Dutchman, he presumably believes it will give him time to pull away. History, in the form of a record-breaking 14th win of the season, awaits for the two-time World Champion.
You can already picture it now. Drive to Survive season five, one of the last few episodes which has been telling the story of the vacant 2023 Haas seat. A dramatic score is heard as Mick Schumacher heads out onto the track for qualifying in Mexico.
There is a brief moment of relief as he sets a time quick enough for Q2 but, as the camera cuts to concerned faces within the Haas paddock, the message comes through that the German’s lap has been deleted for exceeding track limits.
Schumacher ran wide in Turn 2 and you cannot help but feel this could have a more damaging effect than just a low starting position.
Fighting for his seat, Schumacher, who spun during FP3 and was lucky to avoid crashing into the wall, will start P15 after his team-mate Kevin Magnussen received a five-place penalty for his fifth ICE of the season and the 23-year-old will need to produce one of the drives of his career if he is to finish within the points.
All of Aston Martin’s recent momentum was quickly snuffed out as they went from having a driver in Q3 at the last two races to seeing both of their cars knocked out in Q1.
Sebastian Vettel performed the better of the two with a time of 1:20.419, but the German seemed dismayed over the team radio at the lack of performance following his early exit.
Truth be told, the car has not looked quick all weekend with Vettel finishing second last in FP3 while Lance Stroll was marginally better in P16.
Aston Martin have collected 26 points in the last three races, bringing them to within three points of Alfa Romeo, but given the latter’s far superior grid positions, it is hard to see that gap not being extended come the chequered flag on Sunday.
Charles Leclerc and Ferrari
While Mercedes and Red Bull were battling it out for pole, Ferrari, and in particular Charles Leclerc, were feeling rather left out.
Carlos Sainz qualified P5, 0.576 seconds off Verstappen, but it is Leclerc’s performance that will worry the Scuderia. The Monégasque finished P7 behind Bottas and cited “loads of problems” with the engine as the reason behind his poor showing.
Barring the Canadian, Belgian and United States Grands Prix where Leclerc was given penalties, it is his worst qualifying performance of the season and it will be a long night for the Ferrari engineers to ensure his engine is behaving properly by the time he lines up on Sunday.
To make matters worse, Mercedes, who are 53 points behind Ferrari in the Constructors’, have a golden opportunity to close that gap going into the final two races of the season.
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