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Max third after surprising Mexico qualifying: 'It was still close'

Published on 29 October 2023 by Florence Cobben

Max Verstappen is starting from third during the Mexican Grand Prix on Sunday. After being fastest in all free practices, the Dutchman had to content himself with qualifying in third place. Ferrari was unexpectedly strong in the last leg of qualifying, earning Charles Leclerc pole position and a close second place for Carlos Sainz. Daniel Ricciardo, too, surprised the crowds in the stands by coming fourth. Hometown hero Sergio Pérez completed the top five. 

“We were all very close in time to each other. We didn’t manage it. The car was slipping too much, and the balance wasn’t there to really attack. But it’s difficult on this track because you have so little grip. If you just miss that stability in a lap, it can go in the other direction. Especially in the last sector we seemed to struggle a bit more than I would have liked. But nevertheless, it was still close.”

How does Max feel after that quali? “Just fine. Sunday is when the points get handed out, and we have a good car. Of course I would have liked to start first, but I’ll have a good slipstream into turn 1 and we’ll see what happens.”

Max will still get investigated by the stewards because he possibly obstructed some drivers in the pitlane. To this Max says: “I have absolutely no idea what I did wrong there. I just tried to make a gap to the cars in front of me. Suddenly I see a car behind me pass five other cars, he also wants to pass me. But I’m busy making that gap to the cars in front of me. So yes, I’m not sure what I could have done differently.”

The air temperature on the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriquez is 25 degrees, and track temperature hovers around 46 degrees. When the lights go green in the pitlane, it seems relatively quiet on track at first. Kevin Magnussen opens the competition with a 1:19.730. Hometown hero Sergio Pérez improves on this time, setting a 1:18.553. Max is just a tad faster, and sets a first time of 1:18.099. Valtteri Bottas goes to P2, and provides Daniel Ricciardo with a slipstream that allows him to knock Bottas from second place. 

Oscar Piastri goes from P18 to P2, while his teammate struggles to get out of the elimination zone. When Q1 ends, it’s Lando Norris that failed to make it through to Q2. Fernando Alonso spun on exiting turn three, briefly causing a yellow flag in the first sector. Although Alex Albon was close to Max in the first and third free practices, now the Williams doesn’t seem to have the pace. He reports on the team radio that the car feels completely different. He still manages P9, and to get through to Q2. Besides Norris, Logan Sargeant, Lance Stroll, Kevin Magnussen and Esteban Ocon also do not make it out of the elimination zone. The stewards announce they will investigate if Max obstructed drivers in the pitlane. Alonso and Russell are also under investigation.

Pérez opens Q2 with a 1:18.124 time, but Max improves on his teammate’s time by half a second. Ricciardo drives into second, but the position goes to fellow countryman Piastri moments later. Albon is still struggling with his Williams, and asks if there is damage to his rear. Just like in Q1 it’s incredibly busy at the end of the pitlane, with everyone scrambling to get onto the track. Yuki Tsunoda drives into a jack from the Williams team while leaving the pitlane. There appears to be no damage to the car. In the last moments of Q2 Lewis Hamilton sets the fastest time with a 1:17.571. He is about five-hundredths faster than Max. Russell goes third fastest. Albon seems to go through to Q3 on P9, but his lap time is deleted because he exceeded track limits. In his stead Zhou Guanyu goes through to Q3. The drivers that don’t make it out of Q2 are Albon, Pierre Gasley, Hülkenberg, Alonso, and Tsunoda.

In Q3 too it is Pérez that sets the first time, to loud cheers from the public. The Mexican sets a 1:17.788, but Max is half a second faster. Ricciardo nestles in between the two Red Bulls on P2. Then both Ferraris take to the track with some additional speed: Sainz goes fastest, a position which he forfeits to Leclerc moments later. The Monégasque races to the top of the timesheets with a 1:17.166 time. Max reports over the team radio that his floor took a hard hit and needs to be checked by the team. Sainz and Leclerc don’t improve their times. Max improves his time, but only manages third place. He is almost a tenth slower than polesitter Leclerc. Ricciardo takes fourth, while Pérez has to content himself with fifth. 

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Results qualifying Mexico:

1Charles LeclercLECFerrari1:18.4011:17.9011:17.166
2Carlos SainzSAIFerrari1:18.7551:18.3821:17.233
3Max VerstappenVERRed Bull Racing Honda RBPT1:18.0991:17.6251:17.263
4Daniel RicciardoRICAlphaTauri Honda RBPT1:18.3411:17.7061:17.382
5Sergio PerezPERRed Bull Racing Honda RBPT1:18.5531:18.1241:17.423
6Lewis HamiltonHAMMercedes1:18.6771:17.5711:17.454
7Oscar PiastriPIAMcLaren Mercedes1:18.2411:17.8741:17.623
8George RussellRUSMercedes1:18.8931:17.6731:17.674
9Valtteri BottasBOTAlfa Romeo Ferrari1:18.4291:18.0161:18.032
10Zhou GuanyuZHOAlfa Romeo Ferrari1:19.0161:18.4401:18.050
11Pierre GaslyGASAlpine Renault1:18.9451:18.521
12Nico HulkenbergHULHaas Ferrari1:18.9691:18.524
13Fernando AlonsoALOAston Martin Mercedes1:18.8481:18.738
14Alexander AlbonALBWilliams Mercedes1:18.8281:19.147
15Yuki TsunodaTSUAlphaTauri Honda RBPT1:18.890DNF
16Esteban OconOCOAlpine Renault1:19.080
17Kevin MagnussenMAGHaas Ferrari1:19.163
18Lance StrollSTRAston Martin Mercedes1:19.227
19Lando NorrisNORMcLaren Mercedes1:21.554
0Logan SargeantSARWilliams MercedesDNF