Max Verstappen’s celebrations at clinching pole position for Sunday’s Mexican Formula 1 Grand Prix proved short-lived. The Red Bull Racing driver was handed a three-place grid penalty for failing to slow down through a yellow flag zone when Mercedes-AMG’s Valtteri Bottas suffered a heavy crash at Turn 17 in the dying minutes of Q3.
His two flying laps in the final session of qualifying were both good enough for pole position, but he swiftly came under criticism for the dangerous manner with which he made his fastest time. For a driver still trying to shake off a reputation for recklessness, this was a humiliating punishment.
He clinched top spot ahead of the two Ferraris of Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel, with championship leader Lewis Hamilton fourth-fastest in his Mercedes. Hamilton’s prospects of a sixth Drivers’ Championship title took a boost in the most unfortunate of circumstances, however, with the crash for teammate Bottas who could well suffer grid penalties for the repairs needed to his battered car.
The Englishman currently leads the Drivers’ Championship standings by 64 points to Bottas, and should he extend that advantage to at least 78 after Sunday’s race then the title will be his.
As Bottas approached the final corner, he drifted wide and clipped the wall, sliding down the barriers before hitting the TecPro wall nose-first. The impact registered at 17G, causing massive front-end damage to the car and leaving the Finn temporarily winded but otherwise unharmed.
Verstappen entered the same corner shortly afterwards where the marshals were waving a single yellow flag, an instruction for drivers to slow down. Verstappen’s dashboard, however, gave no such indication. He didn’t back off through the right-hander, going even faster than his provisional pole-winning time.
“I was aware Valtteri crashed,” he admitted afterwards. When asked if he had backed off, he made no attempt at deception. “It didn’t really look like it, did it? No.”
Normal practice would dictate that his fastest time be deleted, which would effectively yield no net penalty in the circumstances.
Initially, the FIA indicated it would not investigate the incident, citing micro-sector timing records that suggested Verstappen had in face gone slower through the part of the track where the accident had happened. It then changed its mind and summoned him to the Stewards’ offices two hours later where its grid penalty decision was handed down.
The decision means Ferrari has another front-row lockout on a circuit where its straight-line speed advantage will be heightened at high altitude around the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez. Hamilton is promoted to third-fastest, with Verstappen demoted to fourth ahead of his teammate Alexander Albon who was a career-best fifth.
Bottas was sixth-fastest, but with his accident he could well start lower down the grid if a gearbox change is required or even the pit lane if the team elects to put him in the spare chassis.
The two McLarens of Carlos Sainz Jr. and Lando Norris locked out the fourth row of the grid with another impressive ‘best of the rest’ showing, while the Scuderia Toro Rosso Hondas of Daniil Kvyat and Pierre Gasly were ninth- and tenth-fastest respectively.
Crowd favourite Sergio Pérez gets a free choice of tyre strategy by qualifying eleventh-fastest in his Racing Point, lining up ahead of the Renaults of Nico Hülkenberg and Daniel Ricciardo. The two Alfa Romeos of Kimi Räikkönen and Antonio Giovinazzi were slowest in Q2.
Pérez’s teammate Lance Stroll once again struggled for one-lap pace and starts P16, with the Haas’ of Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean and the Williams Mercedes’ of George Russell and Robert Kubica taking up their customary positions on the back two rows of the starting grid.
|FORMULA 1 GRAN PREMIO DE MÉXICO 2019 – QUALIFYING – QUALIFYING|
|Q3 Qualifiers||Team / Entry||Time||Gap|
|1.||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Racing RB15||1:14.758|
|2.||Charles Leclerc||Scuderia Ferrari SF90||1:15.024||+ 0.266|
|3.||Sebastian Vettel||Scuderia Ferrari SF90||1:15.170||+ 0.412|
|4.||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes-AMG Motorsport W10||1:15.262||+ 0.504|
|5.||Alexander Albon||Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda STR14||1:15.336||+ 0.578|
|6.||Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes-AMG Motorsport W10||1:15.338||+ 0.580|
|7.||Carlos Sainz Jr.||McLaren F1 Team MCL34||1:16.014||+ 1.256|
|8.||Lando Norris||McLaren F1 Team MCL34||1:16.322||+ 1.564|
|9.||Daniil Kvyat||Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda STR14||1:16.469||+ 1.711|
|10.||Pierre Gasly||Red Bull Racing RB15||1:16.586||+ 1.828|
|Q2 Qualifiers||Team / Entry||Time||Gap*|
|11.||Sergio Pérez||Racing Point F1 Team RP19||1:16.687||+ 0.966|
|12.||Nico Hülkenberg||Renault F1 Team RS19||1:16.885||+ 1.164|
|13.||Daniel Ricciardo||Renault F1 Team RS19||1:16.933||+ 1.212|
|14.||Kimi Räikkönen||Alfa Romeo Racing C38||1:16.967||+ 1.246|
|15.||Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo Racing C38||1:17.269||+ 1.548|
|Q1 Qualifiers||Team / Entry||Time||Gap**|
|16.||Lance Stroll||Racing Point F1 Team RP19||1:18.065||+ 2.116|
|17.||Kevin Magnussen||Haas F1 Team VF-19||1:18.436||+ 2.487|
|18.||Romain Grosjean||Haas F1 Team VF-19||1:18.599||+ 2.650|
|19.||George Russell||ROKiT Williams Racing FW42||1:18.823||+ 2.874|
|20.||Robert Kubica||ROKiT Williams Racing FW42||1:20.179||+ 4.230|
* Denotes gap to fastest Q2 lap time of 1:15.721 posted by Lewis Hamilton
** Denotes gap to fastest Q1 lap time of 1:15.949 posted by Max Verstappen
- Max Verstappen will serve a 3-place grid penalty for failing to slow sufficiently under yellow flags.
Image via Red Bull Racing
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