Valtteri Bottas takes pole as Mercedes drivers go 1-2 in Mexico qualifying

F1 Grand Prix of Mexico - Qualifying
Francisco Guasco - Pool/Getty Images
0 Comments

MEXICO CITY — Mercedes got the F1 pole and front-row lockout for the start of the Mexico City Grand Prix — but the challenge will be holding off the hard-charging Red Bulls and Max Verstappen over 71 laps Sunday.

Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton seized on what Verstappen called a “terrible” qualifying for Red Bull on Saturday to earn Mercedes its first 1-2 start of the season. Bottas starts from pole position and, most critically, Hamilton gets an early race advantage over Verstappen in their fight for the season championship.

Verstappen, who was a heavy prerace favorite, leads Hamilton by 12 points with five races to go in Formula One’s best driver duel in years.

“It’s a real surprise and a shock to us to see we’re on the front row,” Hamilton said. “I don’t really have an answer for it, but I’ll take it for sure. Really grateful to be up there with Valtteri.”

Shock indeed. The high altitude of Mexico City was supposed to make the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez Red Bull territory, and Verstappen and teammate Sergio Perez looked strong in practice and the first two stages of qualifying. So much so that even Hamilton seemed unsure how Mercedes would hold the lead Sunday.

But if they can, the British driver could take a big chunk out of Verstappen’s lead in the championship.

“All our results (over practice) have shown that we’re behind,” in race trim, Hamilton said. “So who knows? We’ll work as a team to try and battle them and keep it.”

Verstappen is chasing his first career championship, and Hamilton his eighth, which would be an Formula 1 record.

Verstappen teammate Sergio Perez will start fourth, a disappointing result in front of a home crowd of more than 100,000 that loudly cheered his every lap. The only Mexican driver in F1, Perez is adored in Mexico City and expected to have a realistic chance at pole position, and possibly even a race victory.

Red Bull had faced questions this week whether Perez would be told to let Verstappen pass him in the race, even if it meant possibly giving up a victory, in order to help Verstappen in the championship.

The first priority of team strategy now will be how to work together to pass Mercedes.

Asked if the chatter about Red Bull’s dominance motivated Mercedes, Bottas and Hamilton said it wasn’t a factor in qualifying.

“We didn’t even know that was happening,” Hamilton said.

Verstappen blamed the qualifying struggles on poor tire grip in the last session and an incident ahead of him when Alpha Tauri driver Yuki Tsunoda ran off the track and interfered with Perez, which forced Perez to bail out of a corner run off the track with Verstappen coming up quickly.

“I don’t know what happened in front of me. I just saw a lot of dust, I thought a car crashed,” Verstappen said. “I backed out of it a bit. No yellow flag came, so I continued pushing but I was basically finished. I want to look at what happened there.”

He had to be cautious and slow down, having been stripped of pole position in 2019 when he ignored yellow-flag warnings after Bottas crashed. It cost him dearly as Hamilton went on to win.

Verstappen won in 2017 and 2018, and both victories came from pole position.

Verstappen also took the United States Grand Prix two weeks ago to stretch his championship lead on a track that was supposed to favor Mercedes. Hamilton can now return the favor to keep Verstappen in sight in the title chase.

“Not a great place to be,” at the start, Verstappen said. “Let’s see. It’s a long race.”

Lessons learned in three rounds of Extreme E pay huge dividends in the Copper X Prix for Tanner Foust

Foust Copper X Prix
McLaren Racing
0 Comments

To paraphrase the Grateful Dead, what a long, unique trip it’s been for Tanner Foust in his first season with the Extreme E series as he took his early season lessons to Chile to compete in the Copper X Prix. And he’s learned his lessons well.

In February, McLaren announced they would expand their motorsports program with an Extreme E entry. They signed two talented rally drivers in Foust and Emma Gilmour – and paired them for the opening round in Neom, Saudi Arabia with just a few days of testing under their belts. Baked by the Arabian desert sun, it was trial by fire.

The duo performed well in their debut, advancing into the final round and finishing fifth. As Extreme E headed to another desert halfway across the globe for Round 4, it was a good time to catch up with Foust and ask about McLaren’s progress. The Copper X Prix was held this past weekend in one of the most extreme regions in the world: the Atacama Desert.

MORE: McLaren considering Kyle Busch for Indy 500

“The shock going into the first race was the speed,” Foust told NBC Sports. “It was much higher than we had tested. We spent a lot of time around 100 miles per hour [in race trim] and our testing speeds were more in the 60 to 70-mile range. Then, once we sort of got around that, the car got updated so you can drive it even faster.”

In rally racing, some incidents are out of a driver’s control. Even peeking around another car can be dangerous because of potholes that have recently been gouged in the ground or large bushes that seem to sprout up between laps. A couple of rollovers brought Foust back to earth – but the pace was there and that was important.

“We had some challenges this season,” Foust said prior to the Copper X Prix. “We had a good start; made the final, which is a difficult thing to do in this series. I had two rolls in the first three events, but I have improved each time. Now we come into Round 4 in Chile in a pretty strong position. We have competitive times as a team. We are communicating really well and have our heads around this Odyssey vehicle.”

Foust’s words proved to be prophetic.

He won the Crazy Race – Extreme E’s version of a Last Chance Qualifier – and did so after passing the field. It was the same manner in which he qualified for Saudi Arabia’s finale, but this time things would be better. There were those hard-earned lessons on which to lean – and Foust had reps under his belt. He was not going to be caught off guard by any random obstacles.

Tanner Foust passed Sebastien Loeb heading to the Switch Zone in the Copper X Prix. (Photo by Sam Bagnall / LAT Images)

In the Copper X Prix finale, he pressured one of the best rally drivers in the history of the sport.

Pitching sideways through a tight left-hander late in his stint, Foust put his McLaren Extreme E Odyssey at the head of the pack in front of Sebastien Loeb as they headed to the Switch Zone. There, he would turn the car over to his co-driver Gilmour.

The Extreme E series pairs male and female drivers with both taking a turn behind the wheel.

After the driver change, Gilmour lost the lead momentarily to Loeb’s teammate Cristina Gutierrez, but as they charged toward the finish line, she surged ahead and crossed under the checkers first.

“What an improvement for the team over this year,” Foust said after the race. “We have struggled through some of the events, being in our first year in competition. We showed true pace this weekend; overtaking Sebastien Loeb was a highlight.

“Emma put in a great run in the Final. I was fortunate to go from last to first in the Crazy Race and then first in the Final but with some flag penalties, we had 20 seconds added to our time, which put us into fifth. It was a great feeling crossing the line first, I love this wide style track and the NEOM McLaren Odyssey was fantastic here.

“Hopefully we can continue that momentum into Uruguay.”

Loeb and Gutierrez were elevated to the top of the podium, but no one can take away the feeling of crossing under the checkers first.


Racing Responsibly

Since cars were first invented, racing has played a socially responsible role by improving safety. As Earth reaches a tipping point with climate change, racing needs to adapt to these new needs and requirements, which is where Extreme E’s unique strategy becomes increasingly important.

The Extreme E experience is more than simple racing. Each race is accompanied by a legacy program designed to offset damage done by climate change and to erase the footprint caused by the events.

Foust, a biology major from the University of Colorado, was given the chance to rekindle his interest and give back to the environment ahead of the Copper X Prix.

The Atacama is the oldest desert in the world at 150 million years. It is the driest place on earth and has the highest degree of ultraviolet light. And yet somehow life perseveres through underground rivers with oases dating back to Incan times. Foust participated in preparing a local habitat for the reintroduction of a critically endangered water frog to Chile’s longest river, the Loa, which snakes its way through the desert.

“I’m loving the experience,” Foust said. “I’m putting on a lot of Chapstick, a lot of sunscreen. What a fascinating part of the world. I never would have come here otherwise.

“I honestly am very honored to be a part of this sport. I am a huge believer in the fact that motorsports has done us good in the last 100 years. I think we benefit every single time we put our seatbelts on and drive down the road to the lessons learned in racing since the turn of the century. And I really hope motorsports continues that tradition.

“I think that motorsports like [Extreme E] does it in a responsible way, a gender-neutral way and a carbon-neutral way.”