They don’t give points for practice, but progress inspires Mercedes
In 2022, Mercedes drivers have never completed any stage session in the first two positions. Until the third session of free practice in Mexico. Already during the Friday races, it was clear that Mercedes had gained speed and could compete with Ferrari and Red Bull. Yes, the rarefied air of the Mexican highlands played a certain role in this, which “strangled” the power of the engines, but in general, the fact that the updates benefited Mercedes cannot be ignored.
On Friday, half of the second session of free practice was given to Italian tire manufacturers to test prototype tires for 2023. On Saturday, in the third practice, the teams tried to catch up. Traditionally, in such cases, they started on tires Soft, and then switched to long stretches, held on harder compositions. The session passed without incident and without red flags, as if their entire limit had been chosen the day before (there were four on Friday). Minor mistakes by Mick Schumacher, Pierre Gasly, Lewis Hamilton in the form of trips off the track did not lead to accidents. And even Alonso, who spent most of the session in the pits while the mechanics were fixing his car, was then able to drive 16 laps.
The two best times were shown by the Mercedes pilots. This has happened for the first time since the 2021 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. Russell, who had the best time, beat Verstappen, who set the third time, by almost half a second. Leclair has the fourth time, Perez has the fifth, Sainz has the sixth.
Unattainable Max, frustrated Russell
On the track in Mexico in its still old version in 1988, 1989, Ayrton Senna won the pole for two years in a row. Since then, no one has won pole twice in a row. Berger-Patrese-Mansell until 1992. Then there was a long break when Formula 1 did not come to Mexico. From 2015 to 2022 also different pole holders: Rosberg, Hamilton, Vettel, Ricciardo, Leclerc, Bottas and now Verstappen.
A short lap in Mexico City meant that the pilots would be separated by minimal gaps, and a mistake would be much more expensive than in the same Belgium with its 7-kilometer circle. The first qualification segment demonstrated this. For example, Mick Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel showed the same time, but both were left out of the second segment, losing 0.126 seconds to Kevin Magnussen, who became 15th. However, both Germans won in grid position because the Dane lost five places due to a change in power plant components. Lance Stroll and both pilots of Williams also stopped the fight in qualifying.
The second segment struck with its density. The best time was shown by Hamilton, followed by Sainz (+0.008 seconds), Russell (+0.013), Verstappen (+0.014), and Perez (+0.063). These figures clearly show the intensity of the struggle. And that “giant” gap that Verstappen achieved in the final qualification.
The two-time world champion brought George Russell 0.304 seconds on the short course. Considering Russell and Hamilton were separated by 0.005 seconds. And Perez lost to the pole holder by 0.049 seconds. The Ferrari pilots suddenly failed. Sainz is only fifth, and Leclair lost to Bottas, finishing in seventh starting place.
The judges also had their say. Hamilton’s first attempt and Russell’s second attempt (and he was on pole) were annulled for breaking the track limits. How can one not remember the race in Austria, where the race director was the same person as in Mexico – Niels Wittich and where a total of more than 70 laps were cancelled.
After qualifying, Russell was very upset. “My lap was terrible, we could have been on pole. Here, because of rarefied air, we are faster, the car works better, tomorrow we will do everything we can to win,” said the Mercedes pilot after qualifying.
Mercedes is close to fighting for victory. But Verstappen is unlikely to give it up so easily. In contrast to the pole-holders in modern history, there were those on the Mexican track who won two times (Hamilton), or even three – Verstappen, who took the sixth pole of the season and the 19th in his career.