Leclerc takes sensational pole ahead of Sainz and Verstappen as Ferrari lock out front row in Mexico City
Charles Leclerc took a shock pole position for the Mexico City Grand Prix, with Carlos Sainz in second to give Ferrari a remarkable front row lockout as reigning world champion Max Verstappen could only manage third.
Verstappen had been the class of the field throughout practice, topping all three sessions with Leclerc outside the top 10 in FP3 as Ferrari looked like fourth fastest at best.
But Ferrari came out of the bushes in Q3, Leclerc pumping in a sensational 1m 17.166, just 0.067s ahead of Sainz on the first runs with Verstappen a tenth back in third.
The trio headed back to the pits for fresh soft tyres but unusually, neither Ferrari could improve on their second runs. Verstappen did go quicker, but it still wasn’t enough to snatch pole, meaning Leclerc takes back-to-back poles.
FORMULA 1 GRAN PREMIO DE LA CIUDAD DE MÉXICO 2023
|1 Charles Leclerc LEC Ferrari||1:17.166|
|2 Carlos Sainz SAI Ferrari||1:17.233|
|3 Max Verstappen VER Red Bull Racing||1:17.263|
|4 Daniel Ricciardo RIC AlphaTauri||1:17.382|
|5 Sergio Perez PER Red Bull Racing||1:17.423|
Just behind them was Daniel Ricciardo, who delivered his best performance in years to take fourth.
The Australian has been quick all weekend in the AlphaTauri – and made the most of a tow from team mate Yuki Tsunoda in the first two segments of qualifying.
But when he went it alone in Q3 – with Tsunoda exiting in Q2 in the knowledge he’ll be starting from the back because of a series of penalties for engine and gearbox changes – he still got the job done, giving AlphaTauri their best grid slot of the year.
Home favourite Sergio Perez improved on his second run to go fifth, a quarter of a second off the pace, with Lewis Hamilton the leading Mercedes in sixth.
Oscar Piastri was McLaren’s sole representative in the top 10 shoot-out, after Lando Norris’ surprise exit in Q1, and he ended up seventh, a fraction ahead of George Russell.
That left Alfa Romeo to close out the top 10, with Valtteri Bottas just pipping team mate Zhou Guanyu to ninth. There was heartbreak for Alex Albon, who had starred in practice and looked like he was into Q3, only to have his time deleted for track limits.
AS IT HAPPENED
Q1 – Verstappen leads the way, as Norris suffers shock exit
Mercedes and McLaren sent their drivers out on medium tyres for the first runs in Q1 as most others opted to crack straight on with the soft tyres. One of those was Verstappen who pumped in the quickest time with ease.
Albon, who starred in FP3 with the second fastest time, said his Williams felt like a completely different car in qualifying – possibly because the temperatures had dropped since practice – but still did enough to move into Q2.
Elsewhere, Ricciardo picked up a tow from his team mate Tsunoda – who will start the Grand Prix from the back after making a host of engine and gearbox component changes – and that helped the Australian nail the third quickest time behind his countryman and McLaren’s Oscar Piastri.
It wasn’t so good for the other McLaren, though, with Norris getting out of shape on his first timed lap on the softs – and then he didn’t get the chance for another go after yellow flags were brought out for Fernando Alonso’s uncharacteristic slow-speed spin on the exit of Turn 3.
As a result, Norris, who has finished on the podium in each of the last four Grands Prix, was kicked out of qualifying, along with Esteban Ocon, Kevin Magnussen, Lance Stroll and Logan Sargeant, the latter bemoaning traffic on his final run.
The stewards said they would be investigating several drivers – including Verstappen, Hamilton and Russell – for potential infringements after the session was completed.
Knocked out: Ocon, Magnussen, Stroll, Sargeant and Norris
Q2 – Hamilton sets the pace as Ricciardo and Bottas star
Verstappen continued his fine form in Mexico as he topped the times after the first runs on the soft tyres, with Ricciardo and Bottas maintaining the speed they’ve shown throughout practice to ease into the final part of qualifying.
It wasn’t so silky smooth for Albon, though, as he was in the drop zone after the first runs. The Williams driver snuck into the top-10 with his final run only to have his lap deleted a few minutes later for track limits at Turn 2 and he’ll start 14th.
That promoted Zhou into the top 10 shoot-out to make it two Alfa Romeos in Q3. Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz scraped through, having locked up on his final run and failed to improve.
But it was frustration for Pierre Gasly, Nico Hulkenberg, Alonso and Albon, who exited qualifying along with Tsunoda, who had no need to fight for a top-10 start as he’ll be starting from the back anyway because of penalties.
Knocked out: Gasly, Hulkenberg, Alonso, Albon and Tsunoda
Q3 – Ferrari deliver when it counts as Verstappen has no answer
A sense of shock swept through the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez when Leclerc put his Ferrari on provisional pole, with team mate Sainz just a fraction behind in third.
Verstappen, who had commanded the weekend until that point, made a mistake in the middle sector, clattering the Turn 8 kerb hard and asking his team to check for damage to his floor.
When the trio headed back out for one last run, neither Ferrari could improve – but fortunately for them, Verstappen couldn’t find enough time to jump either red car to give Ferrari their first front row lock out since the 2022 Monaco Grand Prix.
Leclerc admitted his surprise on team radio after clocking the leading time with team mate Sainz saying it was the first time he had put a good lap together all weekend.
That left Verstappen in third – the position he won the 2021 edition of the race from – ahead of Ricciardo, who was consistently in the top-five throughout qualifying, and the second Red Bull of Perez.
Mercedes ran used tyres in the first runs but couldn’t improve enough on fresh rubber to challenge for the front two rows, with Hamilton sixth and Russell eighth.
Piastri was the seventh, as McLaren failed to have any car inside the top-six for only the second time in the last 11 races, with Bottas unable to repeat his early form in qualifying where he was teasing the top-six and ended up ninth, ahead of team mate Zhou.
"To be honest I did not expect to be on pole position today, I thought we were lacking in FP3," said Leclerc. "We've had pretty good pace all weekend, but I'm not sure if it will be enough to challenge for the win. First place here I'm not sure is the best starting place."
The 2023 Mexico City Grand Prix kicks off at 1400 local time on Sunday. Can Leclerc hold off Sainz and Verstappen, who will get a tow on the long run down to Turn 4 at the start? Head to the RACE HUB to find out how you catch watch all the action from Mexico City.