Sebastian Vettel left it late to charge to the 50th pole position of his Formula 1 career in qualifying for the Mexican Grand Prix on Saturday, edging out Red Bull rival Max Verstappen.
Verstappen had looked poised to become the youngest pole-sitter in F1 history and break Vettel’s own record from the 2008 Italian Grand Prix, having laid down the pace in Q2 before taking provisional pole with his first Q3 run.
However, a slow final effort opened the door to Vettel, who nailed his final qualifying lap to nick pole away for Ferrari, with his time of 1:16.488 being just 0.086 seconds faster than Verstappen’s best time.
Verstappen was left “super annoyed” in second, knowing the pole record had been in his grasp, while the Mercedes duo of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas were left to lock out the second row in P3 and P4 respectively.
While Hamilton could only finish four-tenths slower than his sole remaining title rival, the Briton only needs a top-five finish to wrap up his fourth drivers’ championship on Sunday in Mexico.
Kimi Raikkonen took fifth for Ferrari ahead of Force India’s Esteban Ocon, who sprung a surprise by breaking into the top six ahead of Daniel Ricciardo, who was seventh for Red Bull.
Nico Hulkenberg and Carlos Sainz Jr. both reached Q3 for Renault, taking eighth and ninth, while Sergio Perez struggled to P10 in his home qualifying session.
Williams failed to get either of its drivers through to Q3 as Felipe Massa and Lance Stroll took P11 and P12 respectively. Massa finished two-tenths of a second back from Perez in P10, while Stroll was over 1.3 seconds adrift after a slow effort in Q2 on his sole fast run.
Brendon Hartley made his way through to Q2 for the first time in F1, easing through the first stage of qualifying, but was unable to get a shot at making it into the top 10 after suffering an engine issue before he could post a lap time.
As a result, the New Zealander finished 13th, ahead of McLaren drivers Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne as they sat the session out due to pending grid penalties.
Toro Rosso teammate Pierre Gasly’s tough Mexican Grand Prix weekend continued as the engine issue that forced him to park up in FP3 meant he could not feature in qualifying, leaving the Frenchman P20 and with grid penalties to take.
Sauber picked up where it left off in Austin by nearly making it through to Q2 once again, with Marcus Ericsson and Pascal Wehrlein qualifying 16th and 17th respectively. The pair finished clear of Haas drivers Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean as the team’s Mexico problems from 2016 reared their head once again, leaving them 18th and 19th respectively ahead of Gasly in P20.
The Mexican Grand Prix is live on NBC and the NBC Sports app from 2:30pm ET on Sunday.