Lewis Hamilton said he was as shocked as anybody by Mercedes’ locking out of the front row ahead of Red Bull at the Mexico City GP – a result which has created a different set of challenges for them at the start of Sunday’s race.
Red Bull had lapped significantly faster than anyone through practice but, amid warmer conditions in qualifying, Mercedes were suddenly able to turn the tables and usurp their rivals at the top of the timesheet.
Although beaten to pole position by team-mate Valtteri Bottas, Hamilton nonetheless crucially qualified one place ahead of Red Bull title rival Max Verstappen, who he trails by 12 points.
“Valtteri did an amazing job today and we both, and probably everyone in the team, is shocked we are on the front row because they have been quicker than us all weekend,” admitted Hamilton to Sky Sports F1.
“Half a second, six tenths, and no matter whatever we did to try and improve the car we couldn’t really close that gap much. So it’s a real shock. I’m grateful though.”
Toto Wolff, Mercedes’ team principal, admitted: “This sport continues to amaze me.
“You can see that it can change so quickly from one session to the other. In Austin we were dominant on the Friday and then we lost the performance, Then here we were far behind then suddenly in Q2 we unlocked the potential of the car and it came together.”
Hamilton said his W12 was actually “not nice to drive” in qualifying after some final set-up changes ahead of the session, while Bottas found some sublime form in the pole shootout of Q3 and set two laps which were quicker than anyone else could manage.
“Everything came together even better than I was expecting,” the Finn, who has now topped qualifying in three of the last five races, told Sky F1.
“I definitely surprised myself but as a team it was a big surprise as well that we were one-two because we seemed a bit off [the pace] in FP3.
“So a really rewarding feeling that all the changes we made were still in the right direction, stay calm and still try and execute the best out of the car. And it worked.”
Mercedes now prepare for ‘completely different’ race
Having expected to be starting Sunday’s grand prix behind their great rivals, Mercedes are now the ones who have to protect a lead on the long, slipstreaming-friendly run down to Mexico City’s first corner.
“Things are just completely different,” acknowledged Hamilton.
“Last night it would have been all simulations of what we’d do from third and fourth. Of course, we are pushing to get as close as possible, but there was no way we were going to get pole.
“So to have done so is great work from the team and we’ve just got to capitalise on that tomorrow.”
More to follow…