Nico Rosberg took the first pole position of Mexicos’s new era of grand prix racing, beating team-mate Lewis Hamilton by just under two tenths of a second at a packed Autodrómo Hermanos Rodríguez circuit. Sebastian Vettel was third for Ferrari.
Q1 began with Red Bulls Racing’s Daniil Kvyat and the Toro Rossos of Carlos Sainz and Max Verstappen taking to the track but the biggest applause was reserved for local hero Sergio Perez, whose first laps were greeted by a rapturous reception from huge crowd at the Autodrómo Hermanos Rodríguez.
It was Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton who controlled things at the top of the timesheet in the early runs, however, with the Briton establishing a benchmark of 1:20.808 on the medium tyre, three tenths clear of Kvyat who was on the soft tyre and the prime-shod Rosberg who was three hundredths of a second further back.
With just over four minutes remaining, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel used the soft tyres to claim P1, three tenths ahead of Hamilton, who was already back in Mercedes garage and would sit out the end of the segment having used only prime rubber.
Rosberg, though, chose to take on the option tyres and with a minutes left on the clock he took top spot with a time of 1:20.436
At the bottom of the table Sauber’s Felipe Nasr, McLaren’s Fernando Alonso, the Manors of Alexander Rossi and Will Stevens and McLaren’s Jenson Button, who had not taken to the track in the segment, were in danger of exit. The only change to that order saw Alonso leapfrog Nasr to claim P16. Button’s failure to run was caused by problems with his Honda engine that the team were unable to fix. The Briton was already facing a start from the back of the grid, having already used two engines in practice and taken the penalties associated with the replacements.
Hamilton made the switch to options for Q2 and the Mercedes driver set the early pace with a lap of 1:19.829 that put him two tenths clear of Rosberg, with Kvyat third almost half a second down on the champion elect.
Raikkonen, who was facing a five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change following a problem in FP3, chose to start the session on mediums. His first flying lap of the segment a 1:22.494 puts him 12th, though that quickly became P15 as better option tyre times flowed in from rivals. Raikkonen’s luck then turned even worse as he spun at Turn One and exited the session citing brake issues.
With Raikkonen at the bottom of the drop zone the others in danger as the clock wound down were Verstappen in P11, followed by Williams’ Felipe Massa, Lotus’ Pastor Maldonado Maldonado and Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson.
Verstappen was the fist to progress, crossing the line with a time of 1:20.894 that was good enough for P8. Massa then claimed his Q3 slot with a time of 1:20.662 that put him sixth. The advances mean that Carlos Sainz was the driver to lose out, the Spaniard finishing just seven thousandths of a second behind 10th-placed Nico Hulkenberg of Force India and just over five hundredths of a second behind team-mate Verstappen. Sainz was followed by Lotus’ Romain Grosjean and Maldonado, Sauber’s Ericsson and Räikkönen.
At the top of the timesheet, Hamilton’s time of 1:19.829 stood as the segment’s best though Vettel had stolen into P2, his lap of 1:20.045 shading Rosberg by three hundredths of a second. Bottas was fourth ahead of Kvyat and Massa, while Perez booked his Q3 slot with a time good enough for seventh. Ricciardo was eighth ahead of Verstappen and Hulikenberg.
Hamilton was first out of the blocks in Q3, the champion leading team-mate Rosberg out of the pits. Both Force India drivers chose to remain in the team’s garage, however.
Hamilton’s first tour of a two-flying lap run saw him claim provisional pole with a time of 1:19.690, four tenths ahead of Rosberg’s first effort. Hamilton went marginally quicker with his second flyer, improving to 1:19.668 but Rosberg found more, claiming P1 with a lap of 1:19.480.
After the first runs Vettel was third, just under four tenths behind Rosberg, with Kvyat fourth ahead of Bottas, Massa, Verstappen, Ricciardo and the garage-bound Perez and Hulkenberg.
And Rosberg’s best time from his opening run proved enough. Both Mercedes driver made mistakes late in the final flyers and could find no improvement and thus the German took his fifth pole position of the season and his fourth in a row.
Vettel was third, just under two tenths behind Rosberg, while Kvyat took third, just one thousandth of a second ahead of team-mate Ricciardo. Bottas and Massa are set to line up sixth and seventh for Williams, while Verstappen qualified eighth. Perez, meanwhile, won the battle of the Force India drivers, the Mexican edging Hulkenberg by seven hundredths of a second.