Mercedes had been off the pace all weekend, but Red Bull Racing’s clear advantage through practice evaporated when it counted in qualifying yesterday (Nov 6). A combination of rising track temperatures, a rear-wing problem and sloppy execution combined to leave title leader Max Verstappen third and teammate Sergio Perez fourth.
Bottas, typically excellent in low-grip conditions, mastered the slippery Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez to take provisional pole with his first lap of the shootout, going 0.145 seconds quicker than Hamilton and 0.35 seconds ahead of Verstappen.
Verstappen was battling twin problems in the fight. He hadn’t been close enough behind Perez to benefit from the slipstream, and his rear wing was suffering an undisclosed apparently structural issue that first emerged in morning practice, and through qualifying it was carrying heavy-duty tape on its flap.
The team kept its drivers closer together on the second run, and Verstappen’s first-sector time improved enough to put him in contention for the front row, but in the middle sector Perez went off track through turns 10 and 11.
The Mexican had been put off by Yuki Tsunoda driving off track ahead, the Japanese driver getting out of the way, and their rejoining the track forced Verstappen to hesitate as he navigated the corner, effectively ending his qualifying.
Bottas and Hamilton likewise failed to improve their times, but they’d done enough to cement their first front-row lockout of the season.
“It was an awesome lap,” he said. I think honestly that first run in Q3 was one of my best laps, and it’s a good feeling.”
Hamilton expressed surprise that the team managed to close down a half-second deficit from Saturday practice to start on the front row.
“I really have no idea [what happened],” he said. “I’m just as shocked as everyone, but we’ll still take it.”
Verstappen and Red Bull Racing boss Christian Horner pinned the blame for losing pole on Tsunoda, but the Dutchman also admitted his car lacked the balance of earlier in the weekend.
“It seemed like through qualifying the balance went away a little bit,” he said. “Qualifying didn’t go our way.”
Perez will start fourth, he and Verstappen hoping to slipstream the Mercedes cars into the first corner on the first lap.
Pierre Gasly qualified fifth and well ahead of Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz and McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo, who were split by just 0.002 seconds. Charles Leclerc followed in the second Ferrari car.
Yuki Tsunoda and Lando Norris were ninth and 10th but will be sent to the back of the grid for making unscheduled engine changes.
Sebastian Vettel was 11th ahead of Kimi Raikkonen and George Russell, but the last-named Williams driver will take a five-place penalty for a gearbox change.
Antonio Giovinazzi was 14th ahead of Esteban Ocon, though Ocon too will serve a penalty and start 19th for an engine change.
Fernando Alonso was knocked out 16th, though the disappointed Spaniard and his recalcitrant Alpine car will start 12th on Sunday after other penalties are applied.
Nicholas Latifi was 17th for Williams, with Haas teammates Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin close behind.
Lance Stroll crashed out of qualifying attempting his first competitive lap, losing control of his Aston Martin car through the final corner. The Canadian was due to start at the back of the grid with a power unit penalty anyway.