Mexican Grand Prix – After trailing Red Bull in practice, Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton were shocked and delighted with their qualifying performances..
After being over four and six tenths off the Red Bull drivers’ times in FP2 and FP3, the Mercedes cars were back in the mix in the first two parts of qualifying before coming into their own for the top ten shootout.
In the first runs of Q3 it was Bottas who took provisional pole, beating Hamilton at the top of the times by almost a tenth and a half. Neither of the two could find more time on their final runs but home favourite, Sergio Perez, and Max Verstappen couldn’t improve either with Perez running off track and Verstappen seeing the dust thrown up and slowing in case of an accident.
Speaking in the post-qualifying press conference, Bottas said that the change in fortune did come as a surprise but that the team’s work between FP3 and qualifying and optimal tyre temperatures did help boost them.
“I definitely surprised myself,” said Bottas. “And I think our performance as a team we seemed to be a little bit off, especially on a single lap, against Red Bull, so I would say yeah, the performance in Q3 was a bit of a surprise but it was a good lap.
“I think we managed to optimise the set-up since practice three this morning and also everything with the tyre temperatures, out laps, managed to get everything near perfection and that was the result, so obviously really rewarding.
“It’s quite a tricky track to put a good lap together,” the pole-sitter continued. “There are many technical sections and corner combinations, and running over the kerbs it’s so easy to lose five hundredths or even a tenth.
“So I think getting a nice clean lap together and I think getting the tyre temperatures in the optimal window was a big thing today and also the balance for us, definitely in qualifying, I had the best I’ve had this weekend.”
Whereas Bottas felt happy with the setup changes between FP3 and qualifying, his teammate wasn’t as fond of them.
“It was small tweaks,” Hamilton said. “To be honest I really struggled. I didn’t really like the set-up of the car today. It was good in P3 but I struggled with it in qualifying.”
The seven-time world champion said that Mercedes had been on the back foot in comparison to Red Bull prior to qualifying and doesn’t know how qualifying turned out as well as it did.
“From P1 onwards, we’ve generally been behind [the Red Bulls] by around half a second, so through the whole weekend just working away at trying to improve the car, extract as much as we can from it, but knowing that they have generally got higher downforce than us.
“They have a bit of a bigger wing that they use in places like Monaco,” added Hamilton. “So we’ve struggled in certain parts of the track so it’s a real surprise and a shock to us to see that we are on the front row. I don’t really have an answer for it but I’ll take it for sure and really grateful to be up there with Valtteri, for the team, to get a one-two. “
Looking ahead to this evening’s race, Bottas thinks that Mercedes shouldn’t be at a disadvantage on long-run pace in comparison to Red Bull but the tow the cars behind will be getting will make the start difficult.
“I think at least what we saw from the long runs in practice we seem pretty similar to Red Bull,” Bottas said. “I think it’s going to be difficult at the start of the race no doubt because obviously it’s good that we have both cars on the front row but they are right behind us. They have a big tow into Turn 1 so it could be an interesting beginning of the race and we need to figure out how to stay in front.”
Hamilton however wasn’t so optimistic about the race pace but believes that track position is key, so the two Mercedes drivers will need to take advantage of their front row lockout and work together for the best result.
“We have been behind. All our results over these past free practice sessions have shown we are behind not only in qualifying from around three tenths on a single lap but also in race trim, so who knows. I think track position is pretty important here so we will work as a team to try and battle and keep it.”
Valtteri Bottas shows off the Fangio Award after taking pole in Saturday's qualifying session 👍
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