After a messy set of practice sessions where some terse words were spoken and a crash from Alexander Albon, qualifying also brought its own mayhem. Max Verstappen is involved in both, with some choice language being used as what he perceived to be dangerous driving from Sebastian Vettel, only to be queried by the stewards late on Saturday afternoon (Mexico time) for allegedly passing a crashed Valtteri Bottas in Q3 under yellow flags.
Bottas had come into a long right hander and his car had caught the top of the ripple strips. A moment of understeer and the car had broken the left front, sliding along the wall, and nosed straight into the beginning of a set of tire barriers. Onboard footage from Verstappen’s car allegedly shows him passing a yellow flag at speed, and a lap that had given him provisional pole. Verstappen himself alluded to the fact during the post-qualifying press conference, where he said he’d been aware of the Bottas crash.
FP1 had seen Lewis Hamilton set the fastest time here, whilst Lance Stroll had interrupted proceedings with his own incident. There had been some light rain, dampening the track, and having cars out on intermediates. Stroll had a tag with his car going side-on into the barriers, but he was able to get the car back to the garage.
FP2 and it was Sebastian Vettel that had set the pace. He’d headed Verstappen and Charles Leclerc, whilst the Bottas and Hamilton cars were a full half second off, on a track still damp from earlier in the day. Albon’s rear tires grabbed the ripple strips and turn 7, and his Red Bull would go into a high speed power slide. The right side would take the impact with, in real terms, minimal damage as his front wing and wheel assembly took the brunt of the impact. The damp track would also see other drivers such as Leclerc and Bottas spinning without impact.
FP3 and Ferrari again set the pace. Renault’s woes continued, with both Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg failing to set times after issues were found with their engines’ pollution management systems. Their week has been a horror story, with the team being found guilty of an illegal practice and the team deciding not to contest the guilty ruling.
Q1, and it was, sadly, a couple of the usual suspects that didn’t progress to Q2. Robert Kubica and George Russell were nowhere near being on the pace, with Kubica banking a 1:20.179, a full 4.2 seconds off Q1’s quickest, Verstappen. lance Stroll also dipped out, and this could be more a reaction from his earlier crash, whilst Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen have some sore heads from a lot of scratching. The pair were also out early, with their times 7/10ths and 8/10ths slower than P15’s Antonio Giovinazzi. His 1:17.794 would improve by a half second to be nearly the same as his team mate, Kimi Raikkonen’s time in Q1, but both would also fail to dent the top ten.
Renault also would not make the top ten, with Ricciardo admitting to feeling angry after the session. “Yeah, I think that’s where a lot of my rage came from after the lap, I wanted to do better, I wanted to do more. I think the team did an awesome job again to get us out of a situation. I don’t think it’s something we asked for again but unfortunately it’s how it’s been going lately.” Sergio Perez in P11 failed to make the top ten cut by a mere 8/1000ths from Pierre Gasly, who’d been suffering a stomach illness during the day. He’d improve by only a tenth to lock down P10 in his Toro Rosso.
P9 and it’s Daniil Kvyat making the rear row of the top ten a Toro Rosso affair. P8 and P7 also a pair, with Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz continuing the gradual improvement of McLaren late in the season. Valtteri Bottas was pipped by just 4/1000ths to sit in P6 behind Alexander Albon, with the pair both deemed medically fit to race after their respective crashes.
Initially the top four would be Hamilton in P4, Vettel, Leclerc, and Verstappen for pole, however as we went to press, news had come through confirming verstappen had been slapped with a three grid place penalty for passing under a yellow flag. “The Stewards noted from the on board images of Car 33, that the waved yellow flag was clearly visible and was shown with enough notice.” This demotes Verstappen to P4, and promotes Leclerc to another pole position. Verstappen has also been handed two penalty points.
As is Verstappen’s typical attitude, he said after the decision: “It is very disappointing to be handed a grid penalty for the race and Ferrari will be very quick tomorrow so tyre life will be important but we have a really good race car so it should be a close fight.”
Eyes are on the current championship leader and 6th title holder contender, Lewis Hamilton. With the late position boost to his chances, he’s still not focusing on the long term result, saying only: “I have no thoughts of the championship. I’m thinking, ‘How can I win this race?” He’s also well aware of his competitors: “The Red Bull, I think will be gone. They’re always quickest here each year. I don’t know exactly why, but they’ve got a great chassis, and Max, it’s obviously one of his favourite tracks. So a podium is the goal tomorrow, but obviously I’ll try to win.”
The Mexico F1 Grand Prix starts at 13.10 local time, Sunday October 27.