Lewis Hamilton continued to take the fight for the Drivers’ Championship crown to championship leading team-mate Nico Rosberg by claiming the 50th pole position of his career in qualifying for tomorrow’s Mexican Grand Prix. Rosberg recovered from a muted start to the weekend to claim second place on the grid with a final lap that left him 0.254s adrift of his Mercedes team-mate.
Red Bull Racing locked out row two, with Max Verstappen third ahead of Daniel Ricciardo as Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg put in a superb performance to qualify fifth ahead of the Ferraris of sixth-placed Kimi Raikkonen and seventh-placed Sebastian Vettel .
Q1 saw the expected front runners make early and successful bids for progression to the second session. Hamilton took P1 with a time of 1:19.447, just over a tenth clear of Raikkonen. Ricciardo was third ahead of Vettel, Verstappen and Rosberg.
At the rear of the order, just five cars would be eliminated from the session as before Q1 Renault had discovered a crack in the chassis of Jolyon Palmer’s car and he would not take part.
Daniil Kvyat also hit trouble. Midway through the session the Toro Rosso driver reported a power loss. The Russian managed to limp his car back to the pits but he would take no further part and he began to slide down the order. He would eventually qualify in P18.
It was Pascal Wehrlein who dug himself out of danger at the death. Haas’ Esteban Gutierrez might have thought he’d done enough with a lap of 1:21.401 but in the final moments of Q1 Wehrlein powered his Manor to a time of 1:21.363 to bump the Mexican into the drop zone and out of qualifying.
Behind Gutierrez and Kvyat, 19th place went to Sauber’s Felipe Nasr. The Brazilian was followed by Esteban Ocon in the second Manor and Haas’ Romain Grosjean in P21.
As has become habitual this season, Mercedes made the first move in Q2 with Hamilton and Rosberg emerging on the soft tyre. They were joined in that gambit by Vettel and Bottas, though the Williams driver would eventually move to supersofts to ensure passage to Q3.
Red Bull Racing opted for the supersofts straight away and Max Verstappen soon claimed P1 with a time of 1:18.972. Hamilton, on soft tyres, followed in P2 with a lap of 1:19.137, while Vettel also made it through on softs with a time of 1:19.385 ahead of the supersoft-shod Daniel Ricciardo in the second Red Bull.
Nico Rosberg was the only other driver to make it to Q3 on the soft tyre. The championship leader finished in fifth place ahead of Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg and Raikkonen.
Ahead of the final runs of Q2 the target man was McLaren’s Fernando Alonso, who had a P10 time of 1:20.794. As the clock wound down that time was swiftly bettered by Jenson Button and Sergio Perez.
Alonso though was pushing hard and he reclaimed P10 with a time of 1:20.282. Carlos Sainz was going even quicker in his Toro Rosso, however, and as the chequered flag came out the Spaniard crossed the line in 1:20.169 to deny his compatriot the final Q3 berth.
Hamilton sealed the 10th pole of the season and the 59th of his career to date with his first run in Q2. His time of 1:18.704 set a tough benchmark, especially for Rosberg who sat in fourth place after the first hot laps, 0.559 adrift of his team-mate.
Hamilton didn’t improve on his final lap but Rosberg managed to pull it out of the fire, improving by three tenths to steal P2 from Verstappen who improved marginally on his final flying lap. Ricciardo finished fourth, while Hulkenberg put in a superb Q3 performance to finish just over four hundredths of a second ahead of Raikkonen. Vettel was seventh, five hundredths of a second behind his team-mate, while Bottas was eighth for Williams ahead of team-mate Felipe Massa and Sainz.