Hamilton eases to Mexican GP pole, Rosberg leaves it late for second


Lewis Hamilton will start Sunday’s Mexican Grand Prix from pole position after dominating qualifying at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, while Mercedes teammate and title rival Nico Rosberg left it late to secure a place on the front row.

Hamilton entered the Mexican Grand Prix weekend trailing Rosberg by 26 points at the top of the drivers’ championship, knowing anything less than victory would realistically end his title hopes.

After making it through Q2 on the soft tire, Hamilton bolted on a set of super-softs for Q3 and immediately laid down an emphatic benchmark, while Rosberg ailed to just fourth with his first effort behind the Red Bull drivers. The battle for pole looked all but over.

A number drivers failed to find any extra time on their final runs, with Hamilton going 0.006 seconds slower than his own best effort.

However, Rosberg was able to pull out a blistering final sector that lifted him up to second place on the grid, continuing a run of top two qualifying results that stretches back to the 2015 Japanese Grand Prix.

Max Verstappen qualified third for Red Bull ahead of teammate Daniel Ricciardo, while Nico Hulkenberg was an excellent fifth for Force India.

Ferrari failed to convert its impressive Friday pace into a good qualifying result as Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel qualified sixth and seventh respectively. Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa followed in P8 and P9 for Williams, while Carlos Sainz Jr. rounded out the top 10 for Toro Rosso.

McLaren’s qualifying went as most expected it to, with the high-speed nature of the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez exploiting the weaknesses of the team’s Honda power unit. Fernando Alonso narrowly missed out on a place in Q3, finishing 11th, while teammate Jenson Button was P13.

Sergio Perez’s hopes of delighting the local fans in his native Mexico were dashed as he could only qualify 12th. However, with a free choice of compound for the start and a reputation for tire management, the Mexican could yet impress on home soil.

Kevin Magnussen led Renault’s charge, finishing up in 14th, while Marcus Ericsson also made it through to Q2 for Sauber in P15. The biggest surprise of qualifying came courtesy of Pascal Wehrlein, who took Manor into Q2 for the fourth time in 2016 before finishing the session in 16th place.

Haas’ qualifying struggles from Austin carried over into Mexico as both Esteban Gutierrez and Romain Grosjean were knocked out in Q1. Gutierrez spun on his final lap, forcing Grosjean to go off-track to avoid a collision. Wehrlein’s late improvement pushed Gutierrez down to 17th, while Grosjean set the slowest time and finished P21.

Daniil Kvyat failed to get out late in Q1 to try and improve his lap time, leaving him 18th ahead of Felipe Nasr and Esteban Ocon, both of whom failed to match the pace of their Q2-bound teammates. Renault’s Jolyon Palmer took no part in qualifying after cracking the underbelly of his Renault chassis while running over the curb during FP3, leaving him 22nd on the grid for Sunday.

The Mexican Grand Prix is live on NBC from 2:30pm ET on Sunday.

Ford Mustang GT3 test has Austin Cindric dreaming of Daytona: ‘I want to drive that car’

Cindric Ford GT3 test
Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Austin Cindric wasn’t the “mystery” test driver behind the wheel of the new Ford Mustang GT3 at Sebring International Raceway, but the Team Penske driver desperately wanted to be.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, an amateur sports car driver himself, made the big reveal via a Tuesday tweet that provided the first video evidence of the GT3 Mustang on track.

“I’ve watched the video in question about a million times,” Cindric said Wednesday during a Ford Performance Zoom news conference to promote NASCAR’s first road course weekend of the season at Circuit of the Americas. “Definitely exciting times for sure. I want to drive that car. It suits my experience level and also the relationships that I have.”

Ford will enter the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship next season with its GT3 Mustang, entering a two-car factory effort (that will be managed by Multimatic) in GTD Pro and making customer cars available in the GT Daytona category.

That increases the likelihood of seeing more NASCAR drivers crossing over to IMSA. Cindric has been the only full-time Cup driver in the Rolex 24 at Daytona the past two years, but Ford Performance global director Mark Rushbrook has said the GT3 Mustang will provide more opportunities.

Ford has used its GT4 Mustang as a NASCAR driver development tool in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge with Harrison Burton and Zane Smith combining to win the season opener at Daytona International Speedway in January.

“We’re excited about the Next Gen car and the new architecture there and the similarities between that car and GT3 and even GT4 cars,” Rushbrook said at the announcement of the Ford GT3 program in January 2022 at Daytona. “We think it’s a great opportunity and to do be able to do that in a 24-hour race and get NASCAR drivers even more time is something we need to consider taking advantage of that opportunity.”

Given his sports car background, Cindric probably still would be in the Rolex 24 regardless. He has eight IMSA starts since the 2017 season opener at Daytona, racing a Lexus RCF GT3 and Mercedes-AMG GT3 in the GT category. The 2022 Daytona 500 winner made his second LMP2 start this year with Rick Ware Racing.

But Cindric’s preference naturally would be in a Ford, particularly with sports car racing enjoying convergence and crossovers in both GT and prototype racing.

“It’s an exciting time in GT racing, just as it is now for prototype racing with a lot of new regulations and manufacturers building new GT3 cars,” he said. “And also the opportunity with WEC (the World Endurance Championship) and Le Mans and how that all lines up for that category of car. It’s definitely an exciting time. I want to be as much of a part of that as possible.”

Though those odds seemingly will increase with multiple Ford entries in the Rolex 24 field next year, Cindric said NASCAR drivers still have to put in the networking to land rides as he has in recent years.

“Now how (the GT3 Mustang) relates to specifically NASCAR drivers and how often they want to be in the Rolex, could it be an influence? Absolutely, as far as the tie-in with the manufacturer,” Cindric said. “But the challenge and the drive and the logistics of getting an opportunity for a race like the Rolex 24 will be just as challenging as it always is to find your one-off ride for the race. At least from my experience, that’s what I still anticipate.”

It turned out the “mystery” test driver wasn’t from NASCAR (Farley revealed the driver to be 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Joey Hand after a fan asked whether it was Joey Logano).

But Cindric believes there could be more Cup drivers — and perhaps himself — behind the wheel of Mustang GT3s in the future.

“There’s definitely more of a pathway than I think there would be before as far as Ford drivers are concerned,” he said. “Hopefully, I’ll get the opportunity to drive that thing. It’s obviously a great looking car. That’s the first box you’ve got to check. And it’s cool (to have) a guy like Jim Farley, no doubt he’s a racer just as much as he is steering the ship for Ford. It’s cool to see he’s just as excited as the rest of us about it.”