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Verstappen on pole in Mexico with Russell second

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Verstappen on pole in Mexico with Russell second

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The Mexico City Grand Prix is live on 5 Live and the BBC Sport website

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen took pole for the Mexico City Grand Prix, fending off a challenge from Mercedes drivers George Russell and Lewis Hamilton.

Mercedes had one of their most competitive qualifying performances this year but Verstappen was too quick, taking pole by 0.304 seconds.

Briton Russell held on to second place despite a mistake on his final lap.

Countryman Hamilton recovered from having his first lap deleted to take third, 0.05secs slower than Russell.

Ferrari, the pole position kings of 2022 so far, were nowhere – Carlos Sainz was in fifth place, behind the second Red Bull of Sergio Perez, and 0.576secs from pole.

Team-mate Charles Leclerc, who has more poles than anyone so far this year, was edged out by the upgraded Alfa Romeo of Valtteri Bottas and could manage only seventh place.

McLaren’s Lando Norris was eighth, ahead of the Alpines of Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon.

Mercedes spring a surprise

It was no surprise to see Verstappen on pole, as he and Red Bull have taken off in the second half of the season and look pretty much unbeatable, with both drivers’ and constructors’ championships already tied up.

But Mercedes looked like they may have a chance to take for themselves what would have been only their second pole of the year after Russell’s in Hungary, and the first in the dry.

Russell was 0.132secs off Verstappen on the first runs in final qualifying and felt he had a shot at beating the Red Bull – even if the Mercedes team did not agree – but he made a mistake on his final lap.

“The team deserved more today,” Russell said. “They have produced a really great car this weekend. I feel like it was our pole to have and it was just a terrible lap from my side. Nevertheless, excited to be back on the front row.

“We brought an update to Austin [at last weekend’s US Grand Prix] and it didn’t really give us a chance to show its value. But here the drag is less of a factor in the high altitude and that’s why we have moved forwards.

Hamilton said: “This is the best qualifying we’ve had all year. It just shows perseverance and never giving up is the way forwards.”

The seven-time champion now has his sights set on a first win of the year – and benefiting from the slipstream on the long run to the first corner and fighting for the lead.

“I’m pretty happy with that position to start, actually,” Hamilton said. “It’s a long run down to Turn One.”

What happened to Ferrari?

Ferrari failed to get either of their cars into the top three for the first time this season.

The car has looked wayward all weekend. Leclerc crashed in the Esses on Friday and Sainz had a number of moments there through Saturday.

The red cars simply lacked pace, and were never in the fight for pole, raising further questions about where their speed has gone.

Sainz said: “It was a fight. A clear fight. I don’t know if we haven’t nailed the set-up or we just got it wrong with tyres or the altitude is affecting us a bit too much, but it’s clear the car is not as competitive over one lap as in other grands prix.

“Now we have to focus on putting a good face together knowing we might not be fastest but when car is tricky putting a good lap together in qualifying is always tricky.

“If I had put the sectors of the two Q3 laps together, I am on an 18.0, 17.9 (good enough for the front row). It’s just how difficult it was to drive it, how many mistakes I made, because it was a very big fight.”

Leclerc said he had an engine problem that was causing drivability issues, with the engine not responding to his throttle inputs. “If we can fix that,” he said, “I am sure we can have a good result.”

Bottas, in fact, came within 0.05secs of being the fastest Ferrari-engined car on the grid in the Alfa Romeo, which has a new floor this weekend to add to a new front wing introduced in Japan two races ago and further bodywork changes taken to the US Grand Prix last weekend.

The Finn was close to the sharp end all qualifying and produced his best grid position since he was sixth at the opening race in Bahrain.

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