Update: Max Verstappen has been stripped of pole position. Verstappen was given a three place grid penalty for failing to slow when the yellow flags were out as he went through Turn 17 on the final lap. Regardless of what was said in the press conference, Mad Max will be raging tomorrow!
By: Myanna Wedes
Max Verstappen managed to claim pole position at the 2019 Mexican Formula One Grand Prix after an action packed session. It is the first time a driver has split the Ferrari team and forced them off the top spot which will be interesting when lights go out on Sunday. Verstappen was fast all weekend though an investigation has been launched to determine if he should be penalised for failing to slow down with Valtteri Bottas crashed. The stewards have summoned the Red Bull driver and will make an announcement in due course.
It was an up and down session for Lewis Hamilton though he is a good position to stay with the front runners and potentially fight for the win. The Mexico circuit has not always been favourable for the British driver so it will be interesting to see what strategy the team chooses whilst frantically rebuilding Bottas car. A stand out was Lando Norris who qualified with strength once again considering his feeling in the car all weekend has not been ideal whatsoever. Norris is growing as a driver plus learning all the time which is important in order to continue progressing forward towards a podium finish and with luck on his side, one day soon a race victory.
“I’m pretty happy with the outcome. I struggled this weekend in terms of just not having a great feeling in the car. Finished up P8 and I don’t think it could have been much better than that with Carlos in P7.
“The team here in Mexico and the guys back at the factory have done a great job. Now we focus on tomorrow. My aim is for a good start and to have a clean race and try to grab some points.”
As we turn towards tomorrow, the drivers are eager and excited to put on a show for the Mexican crowd who go all out to dress up, cheer, eat, drink and be merry as the cars make their way around the circuit. Hamilton will have a big workload if he wants to secure the World Championship in Mexico, Bottas will be looking to recover from his qualifying mishap, Charles Leclerc is hoping his speed advantage will allow him to charge forward whilst Sebastian Vettel looks to take on Mad Max!
Qualifying Press Conference Debrief:
Q: Max, that’s an excellent pole position on a track that had Ferrari written over it in terms of top speed. You missed out on the narrow margins last year but you’ve got the job done and given yourself the best chance tomorrow.
Max VERSTAPPEN: Yeah, it’s been quite an interesting day but of course to come out on top was incredible. Yeah, the last few races we know that Ferrari have been really quick on the straight but for us to come back like this and take pole position here, a big thank you to the team for that. They always kept pushing very hard. They kept bringing new parts to the car and it showed today that we are very quick.
Q: Have you believed all weekend that you’ve had a car good enough for pole position?
MV: Secretly you always hope and you always keep pushing. You try to find the right balance in the car and in Q3 that all came together.
Q: And the start tomorrow? We know these Ferraris are quick down the straight, you’ve obviously got to defend there but you know what you’ve got to do based on last year.
MV: Yeah, it will be a bit different for me, starting first instead of second on this track. We’re going to give it all. We have a good race car anyway so even if something happens in the start and we lose a position I think we are still fine.
Q: Well done Max, nice to see you battling with the Ferraris. Charles, best of the rest I guess. Looked like the lap wasn’t going too bad until a small mistake right at the end of the lap on that last one.
Charles LECLERC: Yeah, the first lap was quite good. The second one, we tried to put a bit more balance in the car to have a bit more front, which helped the first sector but then the last sector was too tricky and I lost the rear, so I lost all the time I made up in the first sector. But Red Bull was very quick. Max especially was extremely quick and the race is still long tomorrow.
Q: I guess when you look in the distance there, you know you have a top speed advantage on these guys, you must be looking forward to the start and applying your strategy to try and optimise.
CL: Yeah, definitely. The start will be very important but the top speed we have is very good so hopefully we can take advantage of this.
Q: Sebastian, third place, I know you’re going to be disappointed with that. You’ve looked in very good shape all weekend, actually, and you were the king of the first sector but it looked like you struggled at the end of the lap?
Sebastian VETTEL: Yeah, I had a mistake on my first run, so I was quite confident that in the second run I could make up for it. But unfortunately there was the double yellow so I had to slow down. So the lap was lost. But yeah, the car is good. Obviously I would have liked to be a bit further up, I think it was possible. But let’s see tomorrow. It’s a long race and I think we have the speed, as all weekend we have been quite quick.
Q: You optimised that in Russia, which was a long run to the first braking zone. Do you still think you can get the business and do well tomorrow?
SV: We’ll see. We hope to have a good start and then take it from there. Obviously it’s a long race, a tough one on brakes, cooling in general, so let’s see. Also with the tyres, I think it will be quite an adventure tomorrow. I think all top six cars opted to start on the medium tyre, so we will see who dares to go the longest. I’m looking forward to tomorrow.
Q: Max, sensational performance by you, well done. Just how tough was it out there to find the limit in those ever-changing conditions?
MV: Well, I think it was just because the track is very slippery and it’s difficult to get the tyres working in the right window, so it all depends on your out lap and everybody is trying to be close to each other and in the last sector we are always slowing down but then you just hope that your tyres are working for Turn 1. This time it was all going well and from the start of qualifying the car was working like I wanted it to be. Of course very happy then in Q3 to get pole.
Q: You said this morning that pole might be a step too far. Did the car exceed your expectations?
MV: Yeah, maybe a little bit. I think compared to yesterday we even made a step forward, so that’s always good, that’s always positive, and like I said before, with the tyres, they were working well this time so that’s good.
Q: Many congratulations and good luck for tomorrow. Charles, you’re starting on the front row for the sixth consecutive race. How happy were you with the performance of your Ferrari?
CL: Very happy, especially in the first run of Q3, I think the car there was very good. In the second run of Q3 I asked for a bit more front and it was just too much for the last sector, so I lost all the time I made up in the first sector. But overall Max was just too quick today for us. But the race is tomorrow. We have got good straight-line speed, which I hope we can take advantage of at the start.
Q: Were you surprised by the pace of the Red Bull?
CL: Yes and no. I think we expected them to be strong. After FP3 maybe we thought we had a shot for pole and then in qualifying they were too quick. So a bit surprised in qualifying.
Q: Sebastian, coming to you: on pole last time out in Suzuka, P3 today. How would you describe your session?
SV: Overall I think it was good. But unfortunately in Q3 on the first run I had a mistake and the second run I was caught out by the yellow flags, so yeah, not ideal. I didn’t peak when it was time to peak in the sessions, especially in Q3. But other than that, the car felt good. I think there was more in hand. Obviously Max was a fair bit faster than us but I think with a clean lap we could have challenged him.
Q: Looking ahead to the race, how big a factor will tyre management be?
SV: Yeah, it will be the most important part of the race. Obviously we’ll see how everything gets going. I think everybody opted to start on the medium tyres. We’ll take it from there. Obviously it’s a long race around here.
Q: (Scott Mitchell – Autosport) Max, what do you think made the difference here to previous races, to have this sort of performance in qualifying and how satisfying is it to hit back after a few near misses since the summer break?
MV: Yeah, I think the last few races we have been really hurt of course on straight line speed and on most of the tracks you can’t gain enough in the corners compared to what you lose on the straights and I think here it’s still big but this track has very low grip so it’s not only aero, it’s also mechanical grip, which is a little bit more important and good kerb riding and stuff like that and I think traditionally our car has always been very good. We just made a mistake in Singapore with the set-up, otherwise I think we could have been really quick there as well. For us it didn’t work out there. We learned a lot from it and I think we came here with a car which was very well prepared already on the simulator, where I was very happy with it and basically we didn’t need to change too much on the track and it was working.
Q: (Fréd Ferret – l’Equipe) Question for all three of you. Do you think that the first straight line will be as at Sochi and how will you deal with the tow?
MV: Well, just look at the last tow year. I guess that says enough.
CL: Yeah, this time I won’t be starting on pole, second, so hopefully I can take the tow from Max and have an opportunity, but yeah, the start will be important for sure.
SV: Nothing to add.
MV: You will have a mega tow.
SV: We’ll see.
Q: (Lawrence Edmondson – ESPN) Max, it looked like you set a fastest final sector despite the accident of Bottas. Can you explain whether you backed off or if you were aware of it, if you saw the yellow flags coming into that corner.
MV: I was aware that Valtteri crashed.
Did you back off?
MV: It didn’t really look like it, did it? No.
Q: (Abhishek Aggarwal – INDIAinF1.com) Sebastian, as we know at this track, in the whole calendar it’s at the highest elevation above sea-level – 2.5km – Do you think there could be something like the thin air changing strategy for tomorrow’s race – comparing it to other circuits?
SV: Well, it is a big challenge around here because obviously it’s a very demanding track for the car. First of all we lose a lot of downforce despite running all the downforce that we have. So, as Max was saying, the cars are sliding a lot, very difficult to drive. So, that obviously leads on to tyres and tyre management. It will be very difficult to get the tyres to work and make the tyres last. The other one, obviously, with such thin air up here is to make sure you cool all of your components such as brakes, engine, oil. A bit of everything.
Q: (Jaap De Groot – Het Parool Amsterdam) Question for Max. Starting now on the pole position, new challenge according to the situation at the first turn. The last year you took a profit out of it form the second position. You see that also as a challenge to keep pole position?
MV: We’ll find out tomorrow. I’m not too worried about it. If they drive by, it’s fine – then we have a good race.
Q: Yeah, but the last two races that you won were decided in the first turn.
MV: Yep, that’s true. Let’s do it a bit different this time!
Q: (Christian Menath – motorsport-magazin.com) Question for all three of you. Usually you all love the downforce, you all love the cornering speed here, it’s quite different. We will get a presentation of the new regulations next weekend. We don’t know exactly what we expect – but would you be happy to lose a bit of downforce in the future? Because for us as a TV viewer it looks quite spectacular to see the cars sliding a lot in the fast corners.
SV: I think as a one-off it’s nice, so obviously if we lose a lot of downforce for all the tracks it would mean that we lose a lot more up here as well. So, yeah, I think it’s always exciting to have fast cars. I think people also on the grandstand see if the cars are slow, hence, I think the trend to go towards faster cars with the regulations to go with faster cars from ’17 onwards – but I’m sure that we are all ready to go a little bit slower as long as it’s a step forward for all of us in terms of racing. If not, then obviously it’s not really what we want.
MV: Yeah, I think that the cars are really quick at the moment and I don’t think you can find a way of following in a better way with the same cornering speeds like we have now, so I think we do have to go a bit slower but, of course, I do not want to go four, five seconds slower. Maybe two, two-and-a-half maximum. Stuff like that. The car will still be very impressive through the corners. And anyway, whenever you drive on the limit, it’s always very hard, so if it’s going two seconds faster, slower, doesn’t really matter. I think at the end of the day it’s more important that we can actually race instead of just be there and can’t do anything.
Q: Max, do you enjoy the car when it’s producing less downforce, like here?
MV: Well, I enjoy this car more, of course – but for sure we’ll find a way of making that car enjoyable as well.
CL: I agree. The feeling in qualifying with this much downforce on the cars is just amazing and I love driving that way. But yeah, as Max said, we’ll need to sacrifice a little bit of that to have better racing. We just need to find the right balance it between cutting the speeds and trying to follow.
Q: (Michael Schmidt – Auto Motor und Sport) Max, today you lost only two-tenths on the Ferrari on the first sector, yesterday it was more than double. Any explanation for that?
MV: I think we improved the car again a little bit and yeah, maybe yesterday was not the perfect sector one – but of course you always know you can improve, or you try, at least. And yeah, today it was just working a little bit better.
Q: (Carlos Alberto Velázquez – Reforma) Question for Max. It’s your second pole it will be your third win here in Mexico. Wouldn’t Mexico be your best race track in your life, in Formula One. It will be your favourite for you?
MV: No. I don’t think you can change your favourite track. Since I was a kid it was always Spa and it’s still the same. But I always love coming here. It’s different, y’know. Of course we have some tracks where we can do really fast through corners and have a lot of grip. This is the opposite. It’s still quite technical and you have to be really focussed on trying to hit the apexes well and trying to make the tyres work, which is a bit different to some other tracks, which I like. And yes, it’s been good to me in the past. It’s definitely not a bad track for me.
Q: (Fernando Alonso – motorlat.com) Charles, I don’t know if we’ll lose the chance for a really tight fight in quali and do you think this will be translated to the race, to have a very close fight between the Red Bull and Ferrari?
CL: Red Bull and, again, Max especially, was very quick yesterday in the FP2 long runs. So it’s going to be difficult but I think anything is possible if we take an advantage at the start. I think there are quite big problems for cooling for everyone, so it’s very difficult to follow around this track. So yeah, we’ll have to take the opportunity in Turn One is we have it.
Q: Sebastian, do you think you’ll be closer to Red Bull in race trim?
SV: Well, I think we were very close today. Maybe closer than the stopwatch was telling. So, I think it was a match and I hope it’s… I’m quite confident it’s going to be a match as well. Obviously it depends on how the race unfolds but also I would not rule out Mercedes.
Q (Scott Mitchell – Autosport) To all three please. Just to go back to Valtteri’s crash and the yellow flag at the end of Q3. Is it clear among drivers and with the rulemakers what you can get away with, with a yellow flag – and also is it realistic to expect you to back off all that much in qualifying when all that’s on the line?
CL: Yeah, of course, I think it’s clear for everyone that when there’s a yellow flag you need to slow down. On my side, the crash was behind, so I cannot judge that situation but yeah, I think it’s clear for every driver. It’s the basics.
Anything more you’d like to say on this topic Max?
MV: No, I think we all know what a yellow flag means.
Q: (Lawrence Edmondson – ESPN) Why didn’t you back off then, if you saw the yellow?
MV: Well, it doesn’t matter, does it?
Q: Well it might, if the FIA look into it.
MV: Well, then delete my lap. The second. The other lap was fine as well.
Q: Not from a safety perspective? Any concerns?
MV: Do we have to go there? To safety? I think we know what we are doing – otherwise we would not be driving an F1 car. It’s qualifying and, yeah, you go for it. But like I said before, if they want to delete the lap, then delete the lap.
Preliminary Qualifying Grid:
|1||33||Max Verstappen||RED BULL RACING HONDA||1:15.949||1:16.136||1:14.758||16|
|5||23||Alexander Albon||RED BULL RACING HONDA||1:16.175||1:16.574||1:15.336||18|
|7||55||Carlos Sainz||MCLAREN RENAULT||1:17.044||1:16.267||1:16.014||19|
|8||4||Lando Norris||MCLAREN RENAULT||1:17.092||1:16.447||1:16.322||20|
|9||26||Daniil Kvyat||SCUDERIA TORO ROSSO HONDA||1:17.041||1:16.657||1:16.469||22|
|10||10||Pierre Gasly||SCUDERIA TORO ROSSO HONDA||1:17.065||1:16.679||1:16.586||22|
|11||11||Sergio Perez||RACING POINT BWT MERCEDES||1:17.465||1:16.687||14|
|14||7||Kimi Räikkönen||ALFA ROMEO RACING FERRARI||1:17.225||1:16.967||14|
|15||99||Antonio Giovinazzi||ALFA ROMEO RACING FERRARI||1:17.794||1:17.269||14|
|16||18||Lance Stroll||RACING POINT BWT MERCEDES||1:18.065||8|
|17||20||Kevin Magnussen||HAAS FERRARI||1:18.436||9|
|18||8||Romain Grosjean||HAAS FERRARI||1:18.599||9|
|19||63||George Russell||WILLIAMS MERCEDES||1:18.823||10|
|20||88||Robert Kubica||WILLIAMS MERCEDES||1:20.179||9|