Lewis Hamilton has claimed pole position for the Mexican Grand Prix ahead of title rival Nico Rosberg who recovered to finish second in qualifying.
Rosberg was consistently 3 to 4 tenths slower than Hamilton in practice and the early parts of qualifying putting him behind both Red Bull cars with just minutes remaining but he turned in a strong lap when it counted to end 0.254 seconds adrift.
Red Bull has again locked out the second row of the grid with Verstappen taking a rare qualifying victory over team-mate Ricciardo to start from third.
Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg delivered a surprising performance to qualify fifth and within sights of the podium ahead of Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel who will start from sixth and seventh places. The Williams drivers of Bottas and Massa took eighth and ninth on the grid.
Hamilton Outpaces Rosberg
Hamilton and his engineers had done a nice job tuning his car into the challenging Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez track finding the right combination of down force and balance.
The Englishman set good times during practice and brought that form to qualifying where he was consistently quicker than Rosberg.
And for a while it appeared that Hamilton may have gotten a welcome break with Rosberg trailing the Red Bulls in the early stages of Q3. But Rosberg kept a cool head and turned in a crucial last-ditch lap to start alongside Hamilton on the front row – the eleventh front row lock-out for Mercedes this season.
“I put it together when it counted in the end, so I’m relatively pleased with that, to definitely make sure I’m on the front row, even though it’s not pole position of course,” said Rosberg.
“But still that gives me a great chance for tomorrow anyways.”
With 26 points separating the pair in the championship, Rosberg can afford to finish second in every remaining race to take the title while Hamilton must keep winning.
Red Bull Again In Contention
Red Bull have put themselves in a strong position to challenge Mercedes and are again mixing up the tire strategy.
Both Mercedes drivers will start the race on the more durable soft tyres with Red Bull using the slightly faster super-soft tires with better grip.
Verstappen and Ricciardo will be looking to get the jump on Mercedes going into Turn 1 to take advantage of their strategy.
Said Max Verstappen: “definitely in the start with such a long run to the first corner, if we can have a good start then we have a lot of opportunities from there onwards.”
Ferrari Stumble In Q3
Early signs that Ferrari could potentially challenge for a high grid place soon dissipated with Vettel and Raikkonen struggling to pull together competitive laps in Q3 on the supposedly faster super-soft tires.
In the end, the Prancing Horse could only manage sixth and seventh on the grid with just 0.005 seconds separating the pair.
“Very disappointed,” reflected Vettel afterwards.
“The car is quick. Q2 was a walk in the park with soft tires. I had a much better feel than with the super-softs.”
“It’s clear that on the super-soft we did not make the step like everyone else. Everybody was improving by half a second; we didn’t improve at all. That’s why I’m so annoyed.”
“We start where the car doesn’t belong. We are quicker than most people, we should start second row and even have a crack at first row if everything goes well.”
The race will start at 13:00 local time and will run over 71 laps.