Bottas set the fastest time on the first runs, leaving Hamilton 0.145s behind and the Red Bulls of Verstappen and Perez struggling with the rears.
Valtteri Bottas soaked up the pressure and ripped up the formbook to take pole for the Mexico City Grand Prix, as his Mercedes team upset the odds and outpaced favourites Red Bull. On both runs in qualifying, the Finn was positioned to give championship contender and teammate Lewis Hamilton a tow, but it was the Alfa Romeo-bound driver who was the fastest Silver Arrows car on Saturday. Bottas set the fastest time on the first runs, leaving Hamilton 0.145s behind and the Red Bull duo of Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez struggling with the rears and unable to mount the challenge their practise pace suggested.
On the second runs, home favourite Perez ran wide when he became distracted by AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda running off in front of him, knocking him out of pole contention, much to the chagrin of tens of thousands of adoring fans. Verstappen, his teammate, was not far behind and had to back off slightly as a result of the Mexican’s off, but the truth is that he was unlikely to have had the pace to challenge for pole anyway. It meant Mercedes secured an unlikely front row lock out, the first time in Mexico since 2016, and Bottas took his third pole of the season and second in three races.
Verstappen finished third – only the sixth time this season that he has not qualified on the front row in 2021 – alongside Perez, with Pierre Gasly continuing his fine run of qualifying form with a superb fifth, and Carlos Sainz recovering from an engine issue early on to take sixth. Daniel Ricciardo led McLaren in seventh place, ahead of Charles Leclerc, with Yuki Tsunoda and Lando Norris rounding out the top ten, but the latter two will start from the back of the grid due to engine penalties.
Williams did an impressive job of completing a power unit change for George Russell – as well as changing the gearbox – and getting him out in time for qualifying, though most drivers waited before taking to the track. Lance Stroll had only set a time of seven seconds when he ran wide at the final corner, getting onto the dirt and losing control of his rear, sending him sliding into the barrier with a reasonable significant impact. Fortunately, the Canadian – who was already scheduled to start at the back due to penalties for engine component changes – walked away unaided, but did not participate in the session further.
The session was red-flagged while the barriers were repaired, with Red Bull using the extra time to work on the rear wings of both Verstappen and Perez. When the green light turned on, there was a frenzy of activity as drivers raced to get a time on the board with only 11 minutes remaining.
The first runs for Mercedes were less than stellar, with the silver cars struggling to get their soft tyres to work on the first try. Red Bull had no such issues, with Verstappen outrunning Perez by 0.6 seconds. Mercedes recharged their batteries and restarted, with Bottas closing to 0.171s and Hamilton still 0.4s behind.