MEXICO CITY GP – Charles Leclerc beats Carlos Sainz by seven hundredths giving Ferrari a surprise front-row lock-out
Charles Leclerc has beaten his Ferrari teammate Carlos Sainz by nearly seven-hundredths of a second to take pole position for the Mexico City Grand Prix. The Monacan surprised everyone when he set a 17.166 on his final attempt to take pole despite Ferrari looking to struggle for pace in practice.
Sainz had lit up the times to go fastest on the final runs to go three hundredths faster than Max Verstappen, if he was improving it was almost inevitable that Leclerc who is regarded as one of the best qualifiers would follow. He did go fastest on his final attempt and moved to the top of the times, the Dutchman looked almost certain for pole having top Q1 and Q2.
Ferrari hadn’t looked like challenging for pole going into Q3, but on the first runs they moved ahead of the Red Bull. They then managed to hang on as neither Leclerc or Sainz could improve on the final runs, it became a waiting game to see whether Verstappen would take pole he didn’t improve either.
Sainz had only just scraped through to Q3 by the narrowest of margins in P9, while Leclerc finished Q2 in sixth, three tenths off the time Hamilton had topped Q2 with. Leclerc gone into the race looking to end his run of ten poles without a win, but that looks hard given Ferrari’s weakness in tyre management and Verstappen’s performances this season as well as his record of four wins in Mexico City.
Verstappen faced an investigation for a Q1 impeading incident, along with does George Russell, while Lewis Hamilton is also under investigation for a yellow flag speeding incident. But no further action was taken over the impeding incidents, while Mercedes managed to prove Hamilton slowed sufficiently under yellow flags.
Leclerc said: “We did not expect to be on pole. We were struggling in final practice again but for some reason when we put the new tyres on everything came together. But I am not even thinking about pole. I am already thinking about the race. We have had enough poles and we need to do better in the races.”
Daniel Ricciardo split the Red Bull’s in the sister Alpha Tauri, he was just over a tenth behind Verstappen and ahead of Sergio Perez by four hundredths. Ricciardo’s best qualifying since returning to the sport in Budapest despite only being his fourth qualifying for a Grand Prix of the season.
The Mexican starts his home Grand Prix from fifth following a very competitive qualifying which saw the top ten covered by under a tenth of a second. While Ricciardo was helped into Q3 by teammate Yuki Tsunoda, with the Japanese driver starting last thanks to a engine change, they used him to get Ricciardo through to the final part of qualifying.
However, Tsunoda is one of the drivers under investigation, as he appeared to clip a Williams jack leaving the pits ahead of the final Q3 runs.
Hamilton was sixth the Mercedes drivers were unable to run true final attempts in Q3 with them both only having one set of new softs, which left the seven-time champion just under three tenths off Leclerc.
Mercedes had gone into the weekend buoyed by their performance in Austin, however, they have struggled to find the pace they had last weekend. But they tend to have a better race car, Hamilton maybe fired up after being disqualified from second in Austin.
Oscar Piastri split the two Mercedes he was a tenth and a half behind Hamilton and ahead of George Russell by half a tenth. But it was Piastri’s McLaren teammate Lando Norris who gave one of the biggest shocks of qualifying, he struggled to get a lap together in a messy Q1 where several drivers were tripping over each other. Norris struggled to get a clean lap in and that left him nineteenth.
While it was a good session for Alfa Romeo with Valtteri Bottas beating teammate Guanyu Zhou to ninth by just under two hundredths. The sudden upturn in form for the Swiss based team could be because of the high altitude of Mexico City, which has mixed things up this weekend.
Pierre Gasly was eleventh going three thousandths ahead of the Haas of Kevin Magnussen, Aston Martin continued to struggle to find their early season form, and Fernando Alonso could only manage fourteenth. Going into qualifying Williams looked to be a safe bet to get into Q3.
However, while Alex Albon had looked competitive all weekend and looked to be a surprise challenger for pole position, the British-Thai drivers fastest time was deleted for track limits dropping him out of the top ten and out of qualifying. The Williams driver was the slowest in Q2.
Q1 provided a taste of the unpredictability and fine margins which defined qualifying, Alonso spun right at the end of the session at Turn Three as several drivers started their final attempt. The biggest casualty being Lando Norris he needed an improvement to get out off the drop zone, but he was forced to abort the run because of yellow flags leaving him nineteenth.
Also unable to improve despite also improving were Esteban Ocon, Kevin Magnussen, and Lance Stroll. Things looked to be going from bad to awful meanwhile for Norris, the McLaren driver was momentarily pushed to last as Logan Sargeant went nineteenth. However, for the second time his fastest time was deleted for breaching track limits.
Russell, Norris and Zhou face the post-qualifying investigation for apparently going too slowly on warm-up laps, which has typically not led to sporting penalties since they became a regular feature from the Monza round as part of the FIA’s attempt to improve qualifying traffic.
The pitlane impeding incidents involving Verstappen, Russell and Alonso occurred as the pack headed out ahead of the final Q1 runs, with the first named spotted stationary at the end of the pitlane ahead of Russell who then did the same thing.
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