Mexico City GP: Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes face qualifying battle as Max Verstappen streaks clear
Can Lewis Hamilton get back in the mix for pole position against Max Verstappen in Mexico? Watch final practice at 5pm and qualifying at 8pm - both live only on Sky Sports F1
By Matt Morlidge
Last Updated: 06/11/21 4:43pm
Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes face a steep uphill battle to reel in Max Verstappen for Mexico City GP qualifying, with Red Bull's title leader threatening to streak away from his main rival on a crunch weekend.
Already a dozen points clear of Hamilton with just five rounds remaining this season, Verstappen stamped his authority on the first day of practice in Mexico with a - as Mercedes feared - big advantage over the field, almost half a second clear on a track that has always suited Red Bull's car.
- Sky F1's full Mexico City GP schedule
- Practice Two report: Verstappen confirms favourite status, Hamilton third
With team-mate Sergio Perez also in the mix, Hamilton has a big challenge on his hands just to get on the front row behind his championship rival, let alone stop Verstappen claiming a 10th pole position of the season.
Third and final practice is live on Sky Sports F1 at 5pm on Saturday, before qualifying at 8pm (7pm build-up).
"I've not really had any issues," Hamilton insisted on Friday. "We're giving it absolutely everything we've got and I think they're just quicker than us at the moment.
"Got no real concerns, just chipping away at our setup and trying to improve it."
A combination of a favourable track layout and considerable altitude - which strips downforce off the car and has typically aided Red Bull in past weekends at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez - has seemingly tipped a battle that has been close all season further away from Mercedes.
"The car has generally been feeling OK," said Hamilton. "But we're lacking downforce which is definitely probably why we have that half a second difference between us."
However, Red Bull team boss Christian Horner stressed: "I think Mercedes have still got a bit in the pocket so I don't think we've seen their full potential. We've seen all year there's been less than a tenth between the cars, and we expect that to be the case tomorrow."
Mercedes' Andrew Shovlin also painted a slightly more positive outlook on the world champions' Friday, stating their engine was "coping well with the altitude" and hinting that the margin may not be quite as big as it looked.
"It's clear there is a bit of time to find to Max on the single lap but we've got a few balance issues to fix so hopefully we can close that gap a little," said the trackside engineering director. "The long run picture is a bit tricky because we were on different tyres to our competition but the balance is reasonable and the hard tyre seemed to be working nicely.
"We didn't come here expecting it to be easy and there is clearly a bit that we need to work on but compared to some of our Mexico Fridays, we've got off to a decent start."
The task for Mercedes now is do what Red Bull did at the last race in the USA, finesse their setup and turn the tables on their rivals.
But ominously, Verstappen also says there's more pace in the locker.
"We're never happy, we'll always try to improve," said the Dutchman. "We have a good feeling, but tomorrow we need to be there as well. We'll look into a lot of things but it's a positive start to the weekend."
Sky Sports F1's Mexico City GP schedule
4.45pm: Practice Three Live (Session starts at 5pm)
7pm: Qualifying Build-up Live
8pm: MEXICO CITY GP QUALIFYING LIVE*
9.45pm: Ted's Qualifying Notebook