Mexican GP: Red Bull ready to upstage Mercedes and Ferrari?
Verstappen and Ricciardo look favourite for front row as Mercedes and Ferrari left trailing in practice
By James Galloway in Mexico City
Last Updated: 04/12/18 2:57pm
Red Bull's surprisingly-dominant start to the Mexican GP appears to have put Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo on course to upstage title challengers Mercedes and Ferrari in Saturday's battle for pole position.
While focus remains on the title fight with Lewis Hamilton likely to wrap up his fifth title in Sunday's race, the prospect of Red Bull winning the race for the second year in a row gained traction after Friday practice when the RB14s set the pace by more than one second.
"The Red Bull is back to what it was like in 2012 and 2013," said Sky F1's Paul Di Resta. "It's light years in front around here.
Hamilton, only seventh on Friday, conceded: "Red Bull seem out of our reach at the moment."
Red Bull won three of this season's opening nine races, but none in the nine events since Verstappen's triumph in Austria.
The Dutchman won last year's Mexican GP by 20 seconds, although likely challengers Hamilton and Vettel dropped to the back after lap-one contact.
Red Bull have claimed only two pole positions in the last five seasons, both at slow-speed Monaco, and not locked out the front row since 2013.
"If it stays like this, then it's between us two," Daniel Ricciardo said when asked about Saturday's fight for pole. "But I don't want to be naive, I'm sure Ferrari and Merc will come on strong tomorrow.
"I hope they don't but it could be a close six-way fight for pole. That would be exciting."
Verstappen's car did, however, break down at the end of P2 - although Red Bull have played down the setback.
Why are Red Bull so fast in Mexico?
The unique nature of the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez - the circuit is 7,300ft above sea level - means F1 power units are forced to work harder in the thinner air and requires different configurations to normal.
Despite several long straights, teams also run a higher-downforce levels on their cars due to the high altitude.
Their large Friday advantage was aided by struggles for both Mercedes and Ferrari. Both teams struggled for grip, while Mercedes revealed they also had to turn they engines down as a result of overheating.
Red Bull have targeted success in Mexico for several months.
Both drivers took engine penalties at last month's Russian GP in order to have fresher versions of Renault's more reliable B-spec power unit for this weekend.
"This is the track with the least sensitivity on engine power, so we expected the Red Bulls to be very strong," said Vettel, who was fourth fastest behind the two Red Bulls and Renault's Carlos Sainz.
Can Verstappen take another Vettel record?
With Red Bull flying in practice, Saturday's qualifying hour could represent Verstappen's best chance of a maiden F1 pole position - at the 79th time of asking.
Verstappen has started from second on the grid on four occasions, including in Mexico last year, but Red Bull have rarely been in pole contention since he joined the team in 2016. Ricciardo claimed just the team's second pole of the current engine era this year in Monaco, but Verstappen did not take part in qualifying after crashing in practice.
F1's youngest polesitters
|Sebastian Vettel||21 years, 2 months, 11 days||2008 Italian GP|
|Fernando Alonso||21 years, 7 months, 22 days||2003 Malaysian GP|
|Rubens Barrichello||22 years, 3 months, 5 days||1994 Belgian GP|
|Lewis Hamilton||22 years, 5 months, 3 days||2007 Canadian GP|
Topping qualifying for the first time would also see Verstappen replace Sebastian Vettel as F1's youngest-ever pole-sitter. Vettel was also 21 when he qualified on pole for Toro Rosso at the 2018 Italian GP, but Verstappen would be 45 days younger.
Verstappen already holds the record for the sport's youngest driver, race winner, podium finisher, points scorer, fastest-lap holder and race leader.
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