F1: Bottas takes pole in Mexico as Mercedes locks out front row

Valtteri Bottas took a surprise pole position ahead of seven times Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton as Mercedes locked out the front row for the Mexico City Grand Prix on Saturday.

The outcome marked an extraordinary turnaround for Mercedes at a high-altitude circuit expected to favour title rival Red Bull.

Red Bull’s championship leader Max Verstappen, 12 points ahead of Hamilton with five races remaining, will line up third with team mate Sergio Perez fourth for his home race at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez.

Bottas set his pole time of one minute 15.875 seconds with his first flying lap of the final session and it was comfortably good enough, with Hamilton 0.145 behind after their final efforts.

“I definitely surprised myself,” said the Finn after the 19th pole of his career and third of the season.

Hamilton, who can expect his team mate to play a supportive role on Sunday, agreed it was an unexpected twist to the afternoon.

“We didn’t think we had the pace this weekend. So to lock out the front row is pretty special,” said the Briton, a two times winner in Mexico.

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“They (Red Bull) were like six tenths ahead at one stage and then four tenths ahead, but whatever happened once we got to qualifying we had better pace. I’m just as shocked as everyone but we’ll take it.”

Verstappen struggled to get the tyres to work, with a lack of grip on his first flying lap and then the distraction of AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda and Perez going wide ahead of him during his second lap.

“We were just really slow and terrible grip in Q3,” said the Dutch driver, whose best lap was 0.350 slower than Bottas.

“We just had a terrible qualifying.”

The first phase suffered a lengthy stoppage for repairs to the barrier after Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll crashed out of the final corner with only seven drivers having set a time.

Stroll had been due to start at the back of the field anyway due to an engine change that exceeded his allocation for the season.

“I was a little bit too wide. It (the track) was a bit dirty out there and I lost it,” said the Canadian after a trip to the medical centre for precautionary checks following the 12G impact.

Alpine’s double world champion Fernando Alonso was the big casualty of that session, failing to make the cut in 16th place after George Russell sent his Williams through to the second phase.

The Spaniard will start 12th after grid penalties are applied to others.

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