Mexico City: Red Bull driver Max Verstappen took pole position over the Mercedes pair of George Russell and Lewis Hamilton in a thrilling Mexican Grand Prix qualifying session on Saturday night.
Hamilton led the first qualifying period (Q1) and repeated the feat in Q2, but his first Q3 run was cancelled for track limits, which meant Verstappen held provisional pole over Russell.
A final flying runs saw Verstappen improve again, this time to a benchmark of 1:17.775 seconds, to leave Russell second by 0.304s — as he had his final run chalked off for track limits — and Hamilton another 0.005s off in Position 3. (P3).
Home favourite Sergio Perez (Red Bull) qualified fourth, 0.353s off the pace, and Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) took fifth — over half a second off pole.
Valtteri Bottas split the Ferraris, with the Alfa Romeo driver taking sixth ahead of Charles Leclerc, while Lando Norris qualified eighth for McLaren. The Alpines lined up ninth and 10th, Fernando Alonso ahead of Esteban Ocon to seal the intra-team qualifying battle.
Verstappen will have to ready himself for a scrap with the Mercedes pair of Russell and Hamilton and the world champion admitted he found it difficult to get into a rhythm ahead of his pole-setting effort.
“I think every session it got a little bit better and, in Q3, we finally could push a little bit more with the car and (deliver) two decent laps,” Verstappen told formula1.com.
“I’m very happy, as around here, for me at least, it’s very hard to nail a lap — it’s always very low grip. There are a few kerbs you have to perfectly hit to actually gain time, so it’s definitely not the easiest of qualifying (sessions) — it’s the same with the tyre warm-up. But it seems like in Q3 we had it under control.”
Verstappen will be looking to make it four wins from five races in Mexico on Sunday, having claimed victory there in 2017, 2018 and 2021 — the 2020 event cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
On his chances of keeping Russell and Hamilton at bay, Verstappen said, “I’ve started everywhere except pole here, and we won the races! It’s always important to have a good start here. I think our top speed is not too bad to defend at least with people who are in the draft, so we just need to focus on that. I think if we have good race pace, it will be a good fight (for the victory). Of course, we’ll try to stay ahead (of Russell and Hamilton) into Turn 1.”