With six drivers having a real shot at the pole position for today’s Formula One Gran Premio de Mexico, yesterday’s qualifying session could not have been any more intense and exciting. However, Valtteri Bottas’ crash at the final turn on his last flying lap brought a premature end to the happenings and spoilt the party for some of rivals by depriving them of the chance of improving their best lap
Critical press conference – After securing his second Formula One pole position in yesterday’s qualifying session for the Mexican Grand Prix, Max Verstappen came under scrutiny for a yellow flag infringement. The Dutchman was the last driver to complete a flying lap in the final qualifying segment and became one of the drivers needing to pass Valteri Bottas’ stricken Mercedes W10 at Turn 17. The Dutchman failed to slow down when arriving to the incident and improved his previous lap time. The Mexican Grand Prix stewards’ first suggested that no investigation was needed, but the 22-year-old admitted during the FIA press conference that he was aware of the incident. "I was aware that Valtteri crashed." When asked during the FIA press conference whether he slowed down as he recognized the incident, the Dutchman said that "it didn't really look like it, did it? No.”
After reviewing video, audio and telemetry evidences which clearly showed that the driver attempted to set a meaningful lap time and failed to reduce his speed in the relevant marshalling sector, the stewards handed Verstappen a three-place grid penalty and two penalty points on his licence. Red Bull advisor dr Helmut Marko defended his driver by claiming that “there was no yellow light on his dashboard or on the pitwall so an engineer could not warn him."
No penalty for Hamilton – Lewis Hamilton was also among the drivers passing Bottas’ crashed Mercedes. The Briton was directly behind his teammate on track on his flying lap and was the first driver to come across the incident. Hamilton admitted that he did not slow down on his final attempt, but defended himself by claiming that the yellow flag was not visible at that time. "Valtteri was just ahead, I came round corner and saw bits on ground -- there was no flag at the time and I was quite hesitant as clearly something had happened ahead. I hesitated getting back on the power and by the time I realised there was a crash I was basically past it."
Under crossfire – Max Verstappen has been heavily criticized for his behaviour during the dying minutes of yesterday’s qualifying session and for his comments in the press conference. Despite admitting that he realized the incident, the Dutchman did not understand why he should have slowed down, claiming that he had everything under control. Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton urged the governing body not to be lenient in similar situation as safety should enjoy priority. "The FIA should be very strict in enforcing the yellow flag rule. I remember a GP2 driver in Monaco injuring one of the marshals, who are actually volunteers who risks their lives for the safety of the drivers on the track.”
1997 world champion Jaques Villeneuve criticised Verstappen for not being safe despite the fact that he already had the pole position in his bag with his first Q3 flying lap. "I think he’s a bad role model. And not just for safety reasons. He was on pole and didn’t think too much. That was not very clever."
A stomach bug – Several people working in the Mexican Grand Prix paddock have been not feeling well in Mexico City for a few days. It is believed that a stomach virus caused diarrhoea and vomiting and most of the affected people work for Toro Rosso, McLaren and Renault. Toro Rosso driver Pierre Gasly is also a victim of the virus, admitting that the qualifying session was a big challenge for him. “I didn’t sleep much. There’s a virus going round, quite a lot of people are sick. I just got it. It wasn’t a great feeling this morning, but I just tried to rest all day long and to do the job when it mattered,” he said to formula1.com.
The Frenchman admitted that the adrenaline was his biggest medicine during the all-important session on Saturday because it switched him ‘to a different zone”, however maintaining the concentration was still quite tough.
Tough race – Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto expect a strategically difficult race given the inconsistent behaviour of Pirelli’s tyres around the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez. The Italian thinks that only the actual race conditions will decide over the ideal strategy. “It will be a tough race and, as we saw on Friday, tyre degradation will be a significant factor. We will see different strategies come into play. The qualifying time sheet shows that we are all very evenly matched, so it will be a tense and difficult race with everything to play for and strategy will definitely play an important role,” he said.
Maximum risk – Valtteri Bottas admitted that his heavy shunt at the end of the qualifying session was the result of being too aggressive with his Mercedes W10. “I knew that I had to risk it in the last run of Q3 to gain positions, so I tried to squeeze everything out of the car.” The 2019 Japanese Grand Prix winner was about to improve his lap time significantly given his promising first two sectors, but he “went a bit wide on the exit on the dusty part of the track and that’s where I lost it and hit the wall. I’m all okay, but I’ve unfortunately given the boys in the garage some extra work to do tonight.”
Not the best days – After the recent struggles, Alfa Romeo continued to suffer for pace in the qualifying session for the Mexican Grand Prix. Team principal Frederic Vasseur was left disappointed by the weak one-lap performance, but he still believes that his drivers Kimi Räikkönen and Antonio GIovinazzi can turn things around if the car can handle the fast-degrading tyres well. “After our promising start of the weekend, it’s disappointing to qualify in P14 and P15. These are not the starting positions we were expecting, but we must not forget that this race has seen plenty of drivers making their way through the field thanks to the strategy. Our focus is fully on anticipating tomorrow’s conditions, especially when it comes to the tyres, and finding a plan that allows us to climb some places.”
Home hero – Despite only qualifying 11th fastest, Sergio Perez does not want to give up the fight in his home race because he thinks that the free tyre choice could play into his hands. “I think that P11 is a great place to start my home race. Considering the pace that we’ve had this weekend, it’s a result that gives us a good chance for tomorrow. We will have a free choice of tyres at the start so we can look at all the strategy options and choose the one that works best. Hopefully, that will give us the opportunity to score some important points. The Guadalajara-born driver said that he wants to give a good result “for the fans because they have given me a tremendous amount of support this week.”