Valtteri Bottas has wicket position for the Mexico Grand Prix Saturday with the “shocked” world champion Lewis Hamilton next to him in a Mercedes front-row lockout. Championship leader Max Verstappen, who has a 12-point lead over Hamilton in the title race with five items left, was third fastest. The other Red Bull rider Sergio Perez was fourth ahead of his home fans in Mexico City. “Valtteri did an incredible job, he rode so well for the team. Excluding the front row is so special,” said Hamilton of his teammate who 1 min 15.875 sec. recorded, the only rider to dive below 1:16.
“They (Red Bull) were six tenths ahead at one point, but when we got to the qualifiers, we had a better pace. I’m as shocked as everyone else.”
For Bottas, it was a career 19th pole position, which improved the 18 from Rene Arnoux as the rider on most poles without ever winning the world title.
“Honestly, that first run in Q3 was one of my best laps. It’s a good feeling,” the Fin said.
Verstappen admitted there was a problem with the balance on his Red Bull.
“It seemed as if the balance had gone away a bit through qualifying, but actually I was the last lap for a good lap,” said the Dutchman.
“I do not know what happened in front of me, but there were two guys who went down and I thought there was going to be a yellow flag, so I withdrew and the round was of course destroyed.
“Even with that and not having a good balance, I think we could still have gone for that pole vault.”
Mercedes team chief Toto Wolff later said team orders could take effect to enable Hamilton to reduce the championship gap to Verstappen.
“I’m a competitor at heart and I always find those kinds of decisions disappointing in a way, but sometimes it’s necessary,” Wolff told reporters after qualifying.
“We will first discuss it with Valtteri and Lewis, because it is they who are involved and then we will see if the situation requires us to do so.”
AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly, Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz, Daniel Ricciardo in a McLaren, Charles Leclerc in a second Ferrari, Yuki Tsunoda of AlphaTauri and Lando Norris in a McLaren completed the top 10 on Saturday.
The first qualifying session was marked by Lance Stroll burying his Aston Martin in the barriers at the spectacular Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez.
The opener was red-flagged to clear the debris.
With the resumption, Verstappen, a two-time winner in Mexico, roared away from the two Mercedes with a lightning fast 1: 16.788.
Former two-time champion Fernando Alonso in the Alps was the most high-profile rider unable to make it to the second quarter.
Hamilton finally found his pace in Q2, under 1 min 17 sec. with a time of 1: 16,474, only 0.009 sec. for Verstappen’s previous attempt.
Japan’s Tsunoda achieved an impressive 1: 16.071 in the Alpha Tauri to be third fastest in the session at some point.
However, he already knew he was starting Sunday’s race from behind on the grid, along with Stroll, because he took too many engine parts after both also changed engines this season.