‘A terrible qualifying’ – Verstappen frustrated after Perez-Tsunoda incident thwarts pole ambitions in Mexico
There were many at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez who thought that pole position for the Mexico City Grand Prix this weekend was already in Max Verstappen’s pocket. But after a last-gasp Q3 incident between his Red Bull team mate Sergio Perez and Yuki Tsunoda ruined his lap, Verstappen was left lamenting a “terrible qualifying” for the team, as rivals Mercedes locked out the front row.
Verstappen had put down a marker in Free Practice 2 on Friday afternoon, lapping the Mexican track F1 last raced at in 2019 over four-tenths quicker than Valtteri Bottas’ Mercedes could manage – while Perez increased the gap to Mercedes to a full 0.651s in FP3.
But into qualifying, the momentum appeared to swing suddenly towards Mercedes, as they led the opening two segments on the session.
Then in Q3, after a poor opening lap put Verstappen a provisional third on the grid, the Dutch driver was on a better second effort when he came across Tsunoda and Perez, who’d both run off the track at Turn 10 – with Verstappen forced to check his speed as the pair recovered, meaning he failed to improve as Bottas took pole, with Verstappen’s title rival Lewis Hamilton claiming P2 ahead of the Dutchman, as Perez took P4.
“I don't know what happened between Yuki and Checo,” said Verstappen afterwards, having ended up 0.350s off pole. “But they ended up of course both going wide, and when you arrive at that speed, you see a lot of dust, so… [you’re] thinking maybe there's a car spun or crashed or whatever.
“So I lifted off in 10, and I realised they're driving slow so they probably ran into each other a bit. But then of course your momentum is gone, I lost two and a half tenths already from my lap time; you try to recover that in the last sector, but that never works. So a big shame – from our side this is a terrible qualifying and we deserve to be where we are at the moment.
“Into Q3, the first lap was just horrible,” added Verstappen. “No grip, sliding around a lot, so when I saw the gap [after the first laps in Q3], I was actually like well, fair enough, we just had a terrible lap. So I tried to make a few changes to how the car was running, and I think that second lap was looking quite okay. Still not a great balance, but it was good enough to fight for pole.”
After the Perez-Tsunoda incident, Verstappen appeared to brand his Red Bull stable mate Tsunoda – who was already set to start the Mexico City Grand Prix from the back of the grid after changing his power unit – a “f***ing idiot” on team radio for having ruined his pole position tilt.
But although no polesitter has won at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez since Hamilton managed it in 2016 – a statistic which Verstappen has been a beneficiary of, having won here twice from P2 on the grid in the past – the Dutchman admitted he was nonetheless disappointed not to have grabbed his first pole position at the circuit, having been fastest in 2019 before receiving a grid penalty.
“I would have liked to be on pole and then see what happens into Turn 1,” said Verstappen. “But we just have to now accept what happened in qualifying. It's of course not what we want, but it's not the end of the world. We'll just focus on tomorrow, try to have a good start and then just see what happens into Turn 1 of course, and then later in the race
“There’s still a lot to fight for,” concluded Verstappen, who’ll look to extend his 12-point lead over Hamilton in Sunday’s Mexico City Grand Prix.