Both the Dutchman’s laps in the top-10 shootout were good enough to take pole, but he was under pressure throughout the session by Mercedes, with Lewis Hamilton topping Q1 and Q2 and George Russell pushing him hard in Q3.
Both Russell and Hamilton were on track to match Verstappen’s first lap with their second attempts, but Russell made a mistake and ran wide at turn 12 before entering the stadium section, while Hamilton suffered drivability issues.
Verstappen was therefore allowed to stretch his advantage, taking pole by an ultimately comfortable 0.304 seconds.
“It was a good qualifying,” Verstappen said. “It was a close one, but I think after FP3 we made a few adjustments and the car got into a better rhythm.
“To be on pole here of course is amazing. It’s a very long run to turn 1, so we need a good start, but we have a quick car, and that’s what’s most important.”
Russell apologised profusely to his team for making a mistake that he believed cost him pole, though his engineer suggested Verstappen’s final lap was out of reach of the improved Mercedes car regardless.
“The team deserved more today,” he said. “They’ve produced a really good car this weekend.
“We saw last week with Lewis what the car was capable of. I felt like it was our pole to have, but a terrible lap from myself.”
Lewis Hamilton was quietly pleased despite not being in pole contention. He’ll line up directly behind Verstappen for the more than 800-metre drag to the first braking zone, giving him a good opportunity to slipstream himself past the Dutchman and into the lead at the start.
No pole-sitter has finished on the podium at this circuit since 2016.
“This is the best qualifying we’ve had all year,” Hamilton said. “It shows perseverance and never giving up is the way forward.
“The last lap wasn’t good enough. There’s still more performance in it. I’m pretty happy with [third] position. It’s a long way down to turn 1.”
Home favourite Sergio Perez endured a difficult afternoon to fourth, his qualifying hampered by electrical problems that limited the data he was receiving via his steering wheel, including his brake balance settings. He was nonetheless only 0.353 seconds off the pace.
Carlos Sainz led Ferrari to fifth on a difficult day for the Scuderia. He was 0.576 seconds off the pace despite showing glimpses of speed he couldn’t string together into a consistent lap in a car with understeer issues.
A super Valtteri Bottas was sixth for Alfa Romeo, splitting Sainz from Ferrari teammate Charles Leclerc, who suffered DRS and power problems that left him 0.78 seconds adrift of pole.
Lando Norris put his McLaren ahead of Alpine teammates Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon. Daniel Ricciardo was knocked out 11th by just 0.053s in the sister McLaren.
Zhou Guanyu followed for Alfa Romeo in 12th ahead of AlphaTauri teammates Yuki Tsunoda and Pierre Gasly.
Kevin Magnussen put Haas into Q2 in Mexico for the first time in the team’s history, but an engine penalty will drop him from 15th to 19th on the grid today.
Mick Schumacher couldn’t make Q2 and was eliminated 16th ahead of Aston Martin teammates Sebastian Vettel and Lance Stroll, who will drop to last with a penalty for crashing into Alonso in Austin last weekend, while Williams duo Alex Albon and Nicholas Latifi qualified 19th and 20th.