Story By: F1 MEXICO – MEXICO CITY, MEXICO – Charles Leclerc found stunning pace in the final few minutes of a hectic qualifying session to take pole position as Ferrari locked out the front row at the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez ahead of Sunday’s 2023 FORMULA 1 MEXICO CITY GRAND PRIX PRESENTED by Heineken. A total of 141,673 people gathered at the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez.
The Prancing Horses set aside a weekend of struggles to claim their first Mexican pole since 2019 as Leclerc set a best lap of 1:17.166, with an average speed of 200.793 km/h, to be over half a second faster than last year’s Mexico pole-winning time.
‘To be honest, I didn’t expect to be on pole,’ said the 26-year-old Monegasque driver. ‘But for some reason when we put everything together, it went well. I’m not sure it’s enough to win tomorrow’s race but we will try everything in our hands to get it.’
Max Verstappen had said after Friday’s practice that it was going to be ‘incredibly close’ over one lap in qualifying – and the World Champion was correct. Sainz ended up just 0.067s behind his teammate. ‘The first lap I put together all weekend was in Q3!’ beamed the Spaniard. ‘But it puts us in a good position for tomorrow – having two cars at the front is a good advantage.’
Verstappen was only three-hundredths behind the Ferraris as he provisionally took third – the Oracle Red Bull Racing star is one of several drivers awaiting decisions from the race stewards. Super-fast on track, he was slow in pit lane, appearing for the second time this season to hold up a queue of cars anxious to return to the action. But he remained upbeat about his chances: ‘Of course, I would have liked to start first,’ he said, ‘but we’re still close and it’s a very long race. And we’ll have a good slipstream to Turn 1.’
Daniel Ricciardo roared back to form with fourth place for Scuderia AlphaTauri, relegating local hero Sergio Pérez in the Red Bull to fifth, where he will start alongside the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton. Oscar Piastri (McLaren) finished ahead of George Russell in the second Mercedes with the surprise outliers, the Alfa Romeos of Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu, rounding out the top 10.
The first shock of a dramatic qualifying hour came when Lando Norris’s McLaren was eliminated in Q1. Norris, seen as a contender for pole, fell victim to traffic and to a yellow flag caused by Fernando Alonso’s Aston Martin spinning at the very end of the segment. ‘I just made some mistakes when I was given the opportunity,’ admitted Norris. ‘I had one lap, and I didn’t do it.’
Also out in Q1 were Logan Sargeant in the Williams, Lance Stroll’s Aston Martin, Kevin Magnussen in the Haas, and the Alpine of Esteban Ocon.
Just when it seemed that Alex Albon had shaken off a dramatic loss of pace to reach Q3, the Thai-British driver had his best Q2 time deleted for exceeding track limits. The others to fallout in Q2 were Pierre Gasly in the Alpine, Aston Martin’s Alonso, Haas driver Nico Hülkenberg, and Yuki Tsunoda, who will start the race from the back because of having several elements on his AlphaTauri changed this weekend.
Verstappen had already completed a clean sweep of the practice sessions when he set a best time of 1:17.887 in FP3, half a second quicker than the previous year’s corresponding session. The 60-minute session was highlighted by incidents that hampered the fastest laps of both Ferrari drivers. Leclerc came across Kevin Magnussen’s Haas at high speed just as the Dane was in radio contact with his pit wall and did not see him coming, while Sainz pitched the #55 Ferrari into a 360-degree spin to avoid the slow-moving Aston Martin of Lance Stroll.
In the Super Copa’s Gran Turismo Mexico (GTM) category, Gerardo Nieto dominated the field and secured pole position in the morning and claimed victory in the afternoon. By the end of the 17-lap race, Nieto was 11.2 seconds ahead of Pablo Pérez de Lara. Third across the line was Axel Matus, 11.9 seconds behind the winner.
The day’s activities ended with the first of two Formula 4 NACAM races scheduled for this weekend.
On Sunday, 29 October, the 2023 FORMULA 1 MEXICO CITY GRAND PRIX Presented by Heineken will be contested, with Ferrari seeking its second win of the season in a year in which Oracle Red Bull Racing has been dominant, taking 17 victories in 18 races.