Verstappen demoted as Leclerc takes pole
Controversy and F1 are never too far apart, and so it proved once again as a scintillating qualifying brewed in the fires of the steward room as Max Verstappen lost his pole position for the Mexican GP.
Initially taking pole with a 1.14.758, Verstappen was demoted 3 places for ignoring yellow flags after the Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas crashed at the last corner at the end of Q3. On first glance the FIA had deemed that Verstappen had slowed sufficiently and would keep his pole position, however, in the post qualifying interview Verstappen was asked if he slowed and rebutted any suggestion of that, prompting further investigation. It was again characteristic of both the excitement, speed and talent that Verstappen brings, but also his immaturity.
It also raised serious questions regarding the decision making of the stewards in the immediate aftermath of the Bottas crash. Bottas crashed into the sensors which show drivers yellow and reg flags, which meant that physical flags were used by the stewards at the final turn, flags that Verstappen ignored. However, considering the low grip around the final turn and the intensity of a Q3 shootout, the safety of both Bottas and the stewards was of paramount importance and therefore a red flag should have been considered immediately. Kimi Raikkonen's crash at the final turn in Monza during qualifying demonstrated correct use of the flag, and Bottas was far closer to the track. It was dangerous and arguably a poor error considering the tragedies motorsport has experienced lately.
With Verstappen being penalised it did mean that it would be a Ferrari 1-2, with Leclerc taking pole position once again and beating team mate Sebastian Vettel. Lewis Hamilton, bidding for his 6th world title here in Mexico, came in a credible 3rd and with the Bottas crash potentially causing significant damage, his hope of clinching the title this weekend are on the cards.
It was a solid qualifying session for Albon who has slowly been moving closer and closer to the pace of his team mate and came in a credible 4th. Despite Bottas finishing 5th, there is potential for a gearbox change due to the severity of the crash. Breathing heavily after the heavy hit and the final turn, Bottas was thankfully okay and will look to regain composure ahead of his attempts to stop Lewis Hamilton from winning his 6th world title.
McLaren were once again impressive with Sainz and Norris coming in 7th and 8th, followed by the Toro Rosso boys of Kvyat and Gasly in 9th and 10th. With the season end closing in, Toro Rosso have been chipping away at their deficit to Renault, with a battle for the 5th place in the constructors well and truly on.
Further down the field it was once again a poor day for the Haas boy in 17th and 18th. Their season has been a torrid one, with the team struggling to understand the relationship between the chassis and the tyres, leading to unpredictable but often poor performances. George Russell was again the gleaming light for the Williams team, bringing his car only 0.2 seconds behind Grosjean, ensuring that Williams potentially have the chance to beat the Haas over race distance.