Hi my name is Christian and I will be covering the highly anticipated qualifying session of the Mexico city Grand Prix. After the tense last round at the Circuit of the Americas, where Red Bull took the win with a mature drive from young superstar Max Verstappen, he will be looking to solidify his spot at first in the drivers Championship; and it all begins in qualifying.
After last years Grand Prix was cancelled due to Covid 19 restrictions, the drivers will be looking forward to take on the challenge that saw Verstappen come out on top claiming pole in 2019. Unfortunately for him, Lewis Hamilton won the race in 2019 but for the previous two years it was Red Bull and Verstappen domination proving that this high altitude track suits the Bulls in the Mercedes dominant turbo hybrid era.
From the Practice sessions over the Friday and Saturday, Home Hero Sergio Perez set the fastest lap of a 1:17:024 to go top of FP3 as he looks to improve on his best result on this track of 9th in a car that could really be challenging for Pole Position and the win.
However as we move to the final five races of the season engine penalties are becoming more apparent with Lance Stroll, Lando Norris, Esteban Ocon and Yuki Tsunoda all to start from the back of the grid on Sunday due to engine component changes while the Williams of George will take a five place grid penalty for a gearbox change – he will really be needing one of his magical “Mr Saturday” qualifying sessions.
Nicolas Latifi is the first car out shortly followed by the Hass rookie duo of Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin, both drivers who have never raced at this circuit before.
More cars such as the Alphas of Antonio Giovinazzi and the retiring Iceman, Kimi Raikonnen begin to start laps as these are the cars who will be looking to get out of Q1.
As the bigger hitters, such as the Ferraris come out on track Carlos Sainz goes Purple with Charles Leclerc immediately taking the top spot away from his teammate who are soon split by the former Scuderia driver, and now Aston Martin driver Sebastian Vettel.
RED FLAG – 10:58
Aston Martin driver Stroll hits the barriers on the final corner of the track. After going wide in turn 15 it put him on the dirty part of the track coming round the left hander. He was fighting the car the whole way through until he eventually lost the back end causing a collision with the barriers. Luckily he is ok and out of the car and this is what his team boss Otmar Szafnauer had to say: “Yea a bit unlucky and ran wide on the last corner.”
With one Aston out it leaves Vettel on his own for the rest of quali where a toe from your teammate is very important down one of the longest straights on the calendar. While speaking to Szafnauer after the Stroll crash he had this to say, regarding the slipstream: “if you get it absolutely right its a couple of tenths.”
During the Red flag Red Bull are still working on Verstappen’s rear wing as he is yet to exit the pits for his first qualifying run.
Raikkonen will be investigated after the session due to red flag protocols after crossing the line to go into the pits but then crossing back onto the track after deciding against it. A high chance at a penalty for the Fin.
After Michael Masi and the marshals finish off clearing away any debris from the crash and fixing the barriers the session is set to resume at 14:33.
As the cars begin to exit the pits Sainz’s Ferrari has no power. His race engineer tells him its coming but still the Ferrari is trundling along the pit straight until eventually with low gear and high revs the power is back. A nervous minute for the Spaniard who would have most likely been out if the problem had stayed.
As more times are being set Pierre Gasly goes top but is quickly taken away by Hamilton who goes -0.170 faster.
Valtteri Bottas then goes -0.060 faster with Perez also beating that time by -0.065 until Verstappen wipes the floor with a time going -0.663 faster than his Red Bull teammate.
With the Alpines being the only cars yet to set a lap, the inform Brit Norris splits the Mercs momentarily until Bottas closes the gap to Verstappen’s time going only +0.171 away from the Flying Dutchman. Hamilton then moves into third as Ocon’s first lap is good enough for 10th while Fernado Alonso sits in P13.
With the final few runs Sainz is the driver at risk in P15 until a solid lap catapultes him to p5 with his teammate going purple. “Mr Saturday” Russel is setting green sectors and looks good to move out of the bottom five with his lap good enough for 12th as Bottas ends the session going fastest overall.
END OF Q1 – with these five cars heading out of the qualifying showdown
A pit lane exit drama with both Williams drivers will be investigated after the session after allegedly forcing a Hass over the white line.
The Flying Bulls waste no time and are first out alongside the Ferraris where Sainz finds himself in between Perez and Verstappen. As more cars exit the garage they all seem to be on mediums as the teams plan ahead for the strategy for Sundays race.
After the first flying laps are set Verstappen goes top but Hamilton is only +0.016 away with Bottas in third.
Surprisingly Ocon and Tsunoda are out on softs even though both drivers will be starting from the back in Sundays race alongside Norris who moves up to eighth while his papaya teammate Daniel Ricciardo sits sixth. While Ocon’s softs only bring him to 12th Tsunoda puts in a great lap for P3.
With only seven mins left as it stands Raikkonen, Giovinazzi, Ocon, Russell and Vettel will be out of qualifying.
Final Q2 runs begin with Sainz putting on some shiny new slick Medium tyres as he looks to improve but changing track conditions of a rocketing temperature up to 45 degrees means we really don’t know what to expect.
Norris cant improve a stays on the verge in P10 while Vettel narrowly misses out in P11. Gasly moves to P5 with a great lap as yellow flags are brought out in sector three from a spinning Alpha Romeo of Giovinazzi. Lucking he misses the wall and keeps the engine going.
As Russell moves to p13, Hamilton goes purple to the end the session on top.
END OF Q2 – with these five cars heading out of the qualifying showdown
Its a “two by two by two by two by two” as simply put by David Croft as Norris, Perez, Sainz, Tsunoda and Bottas all look to give their teammates a toe.
Bottas is flying on this first lap in Q3 as he sets a purple sector one and carries on the fine drive to go p1 ahead of his teammate Hamilton and surprisingly both the Red Bulls as he sets a lap time that breaks the 1:15’s.
PROVISIONAL POLE for the FLYING FIN
One interesting point to note is that Verstappen has no slipstream effect from Perez on that run that gave him P3 as the Mexican set off on his lap to far ahead. Red Bull really need to get this right on the next run if they are going to have any chance of making the most of a so called dominant track for them.
As the cars come back out for the final showdown with only 2:30 left its more of the same for Bottas who sets another purple sector one.
HONDA HASH UP – Tsunoda goes off track in sector two causing the sister Red Bull car of Perez to be distracted and also leave the track narrowly avoiding the you Japanese driver. Things then go from bad to worse as Verstappen is forced to lift off slightly to avoid any further danger. At this point his lap may be ruined.
Verstappen continues on but in the stadium part of sector 3 he locks up going deep and losing a few tenths and the chance at Pole position.
With a front row lockout confirmed for the Mercs its now a battle for Pole between Bottas and Hamilton and with Bottas unable to improve all eyes are on the 7 time world world champion as he finishes off the last few corners. This is how it went down…
After a thrilling Qualifying session Bottas comes out on Pole with Hamilton second and Verstappen third. That is now Bottas’ third pole of the year and the 19th in his career. Very well deserved from the man on fire at the moment.
This is what he had to say.
Finishing order after the Penalties have been applied.
P1 – BOT P2 – HAM
P3 – VER P4 – PER
P5 – GAS P6 – SAI
P7 – RIC P8 – LEC
P9 – VET P10 – RAI
P11 – GIO P12 – ALO
P13 – LAT P14 – MSC
P15 – MAZ P16 – RUS
P17 – TSU P18 – NOR
P19 – OCO P20 – STR