Verstappen on Mexico pole as Bottas crashes heavily
Mexico City (AFP)
Max Verstappen took pole while title-challenging Valtteri Bottas crashed heavily in the final seconds of Saturday's dramatic qualifying session for Sunday's Mexican Grand Prix.
The Dutchman, who is chasing a hat-trick of Mexican triumphs for Red Bull, outpaced the Ferraris of Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel with a best lap in one minute and 14.758 seconds.
Verstappen's success consoled him for missing out on pole at the same event last year when he was beaten by his then team-mate Daniel Ricciardo, now with Renault, and gives him a great chance to add to his wins in 2017 and 2018.
Lewis Hamilton qualified in fourth place in his Mercedes, the champion-elect never finding the pace to challenge for a front row grid position, ahead of Red Bull's Alex Albon and Bottas who was sixth.
Hamilton will wrap up his sixth drivers world title if he can finish on the podium and 14 points ahead of Bottas, his only remaining rival this year.
Bottas lost control of his Mercedes at the high-speed sweeping Peraltada corner, veering off track and into the barriers.
He sat still in his car for several minutes, breathing heavily, before he climbed out.
The team asked him if he was ok to which he responded: "Yep, I am ok." After the session, he was transferred to the circuit medical centre.
Hamilton said: "The last sector went to pot" after thinking third place, on the second row, was possible.
"However, I am feeling generally happy," he added.
"I have a fighting position to start from and I will give it everything. Red Bull look very strong on the long runs, but let's see if their tyres will last -– that's the name of the game."
For Verstappen, it was remarkably only his second career pole position.
"To come out on top is incredible," he said. "We know Ferrari is quick on the straights, but to come back like this… A big thanks to the team.
"It will be a bit different to start from first instead of second! So, I will give it all and we have a good race car so if something happens at the start, I think we can get it done."
- Altitude -
Leclerc said: "The start will be very important -– our top speeds are very good so I hope we can take it on."
Vettel said: "I made a mistake on my first run and I was confident on my second but a double yellow (flag) meant I had to slow down. The car was good. It's a long race so let’s see – I feel we have the speed and with a good start we can see!"
Carlos Sainz was seventh ahead of his McLaren team-mate Lando Norris and the two Toro Rossos of Daniil Kvyat and Pierre Gasly.
Verstappen was soon on top of Q1 as both Williams men dropped out, with Hamilton leading in Q2 from Bottas.
Out went local hero Sergio Perez of Racing Point, by just 0.008 seconds, along with Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg and Daniel Ricciardo along with the two Alfa Romeos of Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi.
After the opening Q3 runs, Verstappen was on top ahead of Leclerc and Vettel, clear proof that Ferrari's power advantage was less effective in the thin air at 2,250 metres, the altitude of Mexico City, where the Red Bulls revelled in their own aerodynamics and superior tyre performance.
Hamilton was fourth, Albon fifth and Bottas sixth, all of them within four-tenths of the pace-setting Dutchman, before the action resumed with a final and dramatic flurry.
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