Pole position for the Mexico F1 Grand Prix has gone to Daniel Ricciardo. He’s pipped his Red Bull team mate Max Verstappen by just 0.026 of a second, edging out Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, and it’s the first time in 2018 that either of those two haven’t been on the front row for a start. It marks Ricciardo’s first non-Monaco pole and just his third in his career, plus it’s the team’s 60th pole. The question now will be how long will his car last in the race?
Practice on Friday showed the Renault powered Red Bull cars to be quick, and perhaps better suited to the atmosphere of Mexico City and its two kilometers above sea level location. It’s familiar territory in the top six with Mercedes and Valtteri Bottas and Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen taking fifth and sixth. Renault steps up for seventh and eighth with Nico Hulkenburg and Carlos Sainz, whilst ninth and tenth are Saubers, with Charles Leclerc and Marcus Ericsson continuing their slow but steady improvement in 2018.
Q1 saw the hypersofts on the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez track greeted by a cool and dry atmosphere. The track may have started cool but it wasn’t long before there was heat. This came from New Zealander Brendon Hartley. The young Toro Rosso driver was vocal in his belief his team mate Pierre Gasly of holding him up on his run. Haas found themselves on the outer for the second year running, with the conditions simply not working for their pair of cars. Leclerc also found the first session hard going; practice had had him as high as sixth but in Q1 an off round had him down to fifteenth and on the cusp of elimination. In the also ran’s basket are Sergey Sirotkin, Stoffel Vandoorne, and Lance Stroll. The young Stroll will be moved up three places as Romain Grosjean’s three grid place penalty from last weekend takes effect here.
Q2 and the ultrasofts make an appearance. Times are dropping and the top six cars will start on the ultrasofts even though the overall lap times are slightly slower than the shorter lived hypersofts. Verstappen leads the field and it’s a 1:15.640, a blink ahead of Hamilton. Outside the top ten were Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez, in 12th and 13th.
Q3 and the pressure’s gone up on track. Ericsson’s found two tenths from Q1 and needed another four tenths to overtake Leclerc. His own pace this year is improving race to race, and in Q3 his 1:16.189 is a huge seven tenths up from his Q1.
Renault and Sainz weren’t far off the 1:15 bracket in Q1 and it’s Hulkenburg that sees that time against his name in Q3with 1:15.827, just two tenths ahead of the Spaniard.
Raikkonen’s Q1 time of 1:16 drops by 9/10ths, but Bottas, although quicker, hasn’t improved by nearly as much, with just 4/10ths of a second his improvement from Q1 to Q3. Sebastian Vettel laid down a 1:16.089, and as the track warmed up throughout the morning, qualified in Q3 with 1:14.970, perhaps one of the biggest improvers from the first session on a cooler track.
Hamilton’s Q1 and Q2 times were almost identical and the 1:14.893 isn’t a huge improvement. But with the session closing it’s the Perth born Ricciardo that gets the jump on Verstappen, with his 1:14.759 ensuring Red Bull lock out the front row and, if his driveline holds together, puts him in a good place to be on the podium at the end of the Mexico F1 GP.