(L to R): Charles Leclerc, Carlos Sainz Jnr, Ferrari, Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, 2023

Leclerc leads surprise Ferrari front row lockout

2023 Mexican Grand Prix qualifying report

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Charles Leclerc put Ferrari on pole position for the Mexican Grand Prix ahead of team mate Carlos Sainz Jnr as Max Verstappen was beaten to third.

Despite not setting the pace in any of the practice sessions, Leclerc stormed to pole with his first attempt in Q3, just ahead of his team mate. Verstappen took third on the grid but is one of several drivers who is under investigation by the stewards, in his case for impeding rivals at the pit exit at the end of Q1.

Daniel Ricciardo took a surprise fourth place for AlphaTauri ahead of Sergio Perez in fifth.


It was a clear, warm start to the first phase of qualifying with ambient temperatures sitting at 25 degrees and track temperatures well into the 40s. When the green light signalled the start of the session, Kevin Magnussen bolted out of the pit lane eager to set a very early lap, soon joined by Pierre Gasly and the two Aston Martins of Lance Stroll and Fernando Alonso.

Magnussen set the first time of qualifying with a 1’19.730, but that was beaten by Alonso by a tenth of a second. With the first laps on the board, the big hitters headed out. The Red Bulls emerged on soft tyres, while the Mercedes and McLarens opted for mediums.

Max Verstappen duly took the top spot on his soft tyres with a 1’18.099, with team mate Sergio Perez four tenths slower in second. Lewis Hamilton went third with the medium tyres, while Lando Norris was called into the pits before completing his first flying lap.

AlphaTauri driver Yuki Tsunoda was doomed to start from the back of the grid for the grand prix wherever he qualified, so his session was dedicated to offering a slipstream to team mate Daniel Ricciardo. It appeared to be an effective tactic as Ricciardo jumped up to second in the standings with his first timed lap after gaining a tow from Tsunoda along the pit straight.

With five minutes remaining, there were a wealth of unexpected drivers in vulnerable positions. Stroll was in 16th for Aston Martin, with Alexander Albon sitting in 17th in the Williams ahead of the two McLarens of Oscar Piastri and Norris with Logan Sargeant slowest after having his first push lap deleted.

As the field headed out for the final laps, a large queue formed at the end of the pit lane. Verstappen, George Russell and Alonso all chose to wait at the pit exit to build a gap to cars ahead, leading to a mass traffic jam of cars waiting in the pit lane. All three were announced to be under investigation by the stewards after the qualifying session.

As drivers eventually took to the track to commence their final runs, Alonso spun at the exit of turn three, bringing out the yellow flags. That ruined the laps of many of those looking to improve, including Norris who was still in the drop zone and was therefore eliminated from qualifying at the first hurdle down in 19th.

After a hectic end to the session, Norris was joined by Esteban Ocon, Kevin Magnussen, Stroll and Sargeant, who failed to set a valid lap time after having all of his flying laps deleted for track limits.

Following the chequered flag, the stewards announced a series of investigations, including Hamilton and Sargeant for failing to slow under yellow flags and a separate investigation into Tsunoda and Sargeant for overtaking under yellows. Russell, Norris and Zhou Guanyu were also put under investigation after qualifying for failing to keep to the maximum lap time during the opening session.

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Q1 result

11Max VerstappenRed Bull-Honda RBPTRB191’18.0996
281Oscar PiastriMcLaren-MercedesMCL601’18.2410.1426
33Daniel RicciardoAlphaTauri-Honda RBPTAT041’18.3410.2423
416Charles LeclercFerrariSF-231’18.4010.3025
577Valtteri BottasAlfa Romeo-FerrariC431’18.4290.3305
611Sergio PerezRed Bull-Honda RBPTRB191’18.5530.4546
744Lewis HamiltonMercedesW141’18.6770.5786
855Carlos Sainz JnrFerrariSF-231’18.7550.6565
923Alexander AlbonWilliams-MercedesFW451’18.8280.7296
1014Fernando AlonsoAston Martin-MercedesAMR231’18.8480.7498
1122Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri-Honda RBPTAT041’18.8900.7917
1263George RussellMercedesW141’18.8930.7947
1310Pierre GaslyAlpine-RenaultA5231’18.9450.8469
1427Nico HulkenbergHaas-FerrariVF-231’18.9690.8706
1524Zhou GuanyuAlfa Romeo-FerrariC431’19.0160.9176
1631Esteban OconAlpine-RenaultA5231’19.0800.9816
1720Kevin MagnussenHaas-FerrariVF-231’19.1631.0649
1818Lance StrollAston Martin-MercedesAMR231’19.2271.1289
194Lando NorrisMcLaren-MercedesMCL601’21.5543.4556
202Logan SargeantWilliams-MercedesFW45No time6

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Red Bull were quick to send Verstappen and Perez out as the second segment of qualifying began. Once again, the world champion was the quicker of the pair, to the tune of almost exactly half a second as he posted the quickest time of the weekend with a 1’17.625.

Piastri was the closest to the Red Bull driver with his first run, a quarter of a second slower than Verstappen’s best. Ricciardo took third for AlphaTauri, ahead of Perez in the second Red Bull.

After showing impressive pace in the three practice sessions, Albon struggled to emulate his earlier performance. After setting the 11th-fastest time from the opening run, Albon insisted that he must have suffered damage to his car from running over a kerb in Q1, due to the stark contrast in handling on his car and persistent rear locking.

The field returned to the pit lane to prepare for their final runs, leaving the track empty. The drop zone consisted of Albon in 11th, Nico Hulkenberg, Pierre Gasly, Alonso and Tsunoda the only driver yet to set a time in 15th.

Once more, there was a large queue of cars at the exit of the pit lane as the field filtered out onto the track. Hulkenberg improved but into tenth, leaving him vulnerable. He was then knocked out by Gasly, who himself was eliminated by Zhou improving. Albon had to find time to reach Q3 and did so, jumping into ninth at the chequered flag and securing passage into the final phase.

That meant that Zhou was the first driver out in 11th, ahead of Gasly in 12th, Hulkenberg in 13th and Alonso unable to do better than 14th. Tsunoda, who was guaranteed to start last whatever he did in qualifying, was out in 15th after choosing not to set a time.

However, there was late drama after the session as the stewards announced they were deleting Albon’s final lap for cutting the inside kerb at turn two. That meant he was demoted to 14th and out of the session, promoting Zhou into Q3 in tenth and bumping Gasly, Hulkenberg and Alonso all up one position, but not into the final segment of qualifying.

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Q2 result

144Lewis HamiltonMercedesW141’17.57112
21Max VerstappenRed Bull-Honda RBPTRB191’17.6250.0549
363George RussellMercedesW141’17.6730.10213
43Daniel RicciardoAlphaTauri-Honda RBPTAT041’17.7060.1359
581Oscar PiastriMcLaren-MercedesMCL601’17.8740.30312
616Charles LeclercFerrariSF-231’17.9010.33011
777Valtteri BottasAlfa Romeo-FerrariC431’18.0160.44511
811Sergio PerezRed Bull-Honda RBPTRB191’18.1240.55310
955Carlos Sainz JnrFerrariSF-231’18.3820.81111
1024Zhou GuanyuAlfa Romeo-FerrariC431’18.4400.86912
1110Pierre GaslyAlpine-RenaultA5231’18.5210.95015
1227Nico HulkenbergHaas-FerrariVF-231’18.5240.95312
1314Fernando AlonsoAston Martin-MercedesAMR231’18.7381.16714
1423Alexander AlbonWilliams-MercedesFW451’19.1471.57612
1522Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri-Honda RBPTAT04No time11

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Perez and Verstappen were the first drivers out of the pit lane once more for the final shootout for pole position. Perez was cheered on by the local fans throughout the lap and eventually posted a 1’17.788 to set the initial provisional pole time.

Verstappen immediately beat his team mate by half a second to take the top spot while the Mercedes of Russell and Hamilton split the two Red Bulls. But despite not having threatened the number one position throughout the weekend, Sainz suddenly leapt up to provisional pole position, half a tenth ahead of Verstappen. Next, Leclerc crossed the line and was even faster than his team mate, posting a 1’17.166 to suddenly put Ferrari into a provisional front row lockout.

The field all returned to the garage to prepare for the final run of qualifying. Verstappen asked his team to check the floor of his Red Bull in the garage, after he admitted to a heavy hit with a kerb in turn eight.

Ferrari and McLaren sent their drivers out with plenty of time remaining for their final attempts at pole position, while Red Bull and Mercedes opted to leave their runs nearer the chequered flag. Sainz was the first over the line to commence his final attempt, with team mate Leclerc behind him.

Neither Ferrari driver improved on their final lap, leaving Leclerc on provisional pole position but potentially vulnerable. However, despite setting the quickest middle sector of the session, Verstappen failed to beat either of the Ferraris and remained only third.

Perez improved but not by enough to match his team mate, with the two Mercedes the only drivers with a realistic opportunity to challenge the Ferrari’s for pole. Russell managed only seventh with his final effort, with Hamilton improving but only as high as sixth.

That secured Leclerc his second successive pole position in two weeks, with Sainz joining his team mate on the front row of the grid in second. Verstappen had to settle for third, with Ricciardo a surprise second-row starter in fourth. Perez took fifth ahead of Hamilton in sixth, Piastri seventh ahead of Russell in eighth. The two Alfa Romeos of Bottas and Zhou completed the top two with a strong performance.

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Q3 result

116Charles LeclercFerrariSF-231’17.16617
255Carlos Sainz JnrFerrariSF-231’17.2330.06717
31Max VerstappenRed Bull-Honda RBPTRB191’17.2630.09715
43Daniel RicciardoAlphaTauri-Honda RBPTAT041’17.3820.21615
511Sergio PerezRed Bull-Honda RBPTRB191’17.4230.25716
644Lewis HamiltonMercedesW141’17.4540.28818
781Oscar PiastriMcLaren-MercedesMCL601’17.6230.45718
863George RussellMercedesW141’17.6740.50819
977Valtteri BottasAlfa Romeo-FerrariC431’18.0320.86617
1024Zhou GuanyuAlfa Romeo-FerrariC431’18.0500.88415

2023 Mexican Grand Prix

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Author information

Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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29 comments on “Leclerc leads surprise Ferrari front row lockout”

  1. I bet Mercedes are rueing putting their drivers out on used types for the first run of Q3.

    1. Yep could have been on pole if they foresaw the change in conditions and used their new tires for their first runs. That would have been a bold gamble though.

    2. They probably only had a single unused set left for Q3.

  2. Given Ferrari’s track record, I wouldn’t be surprised if they are cheating again. I mean, they were nowhere, and all of a sudden both drivers pull out some mega laps, go a whole second quicker and line up 1 and 2. It’s odd.

    1. If so they went a bit heavy on the sandbags just squeaking through q2.

    2. probably new softs and track conditions changed right after the beginning of Q3, and they nailed it perfectly. Looks like the track lost 2-3/10’s after mid Q3 and nobody could improve. Maybe its getting cooler and more shade + wind change on the straight. Low down force means consistency is less a factor, at least for this type of racing.

  3. Was there a big change in conditions for the end of Q3? Weird how so many failed to improve much or at all.

    1. Robert Henning
      29th October 2023, 0:38

      It was 8 deg cooler in the end in q3 than q1.

      Only verstappen improved in the top 3. Every other improvement was just new tires.

  4. They said they regret not giving Max a penalty for this same thing in Singapore.

    I want to see if they’ll do something about it now or regret it again.

    1. Obviously they won’t. It’s RedBull.

      1. It seems you are correct.

        I cant believe these guys.

        1. I guess they will regret not giving penalties again, until the next non penalty ofc. Honestly I didn’t expect a penalty either, however they didn’t penalise anyone, so I don’t think it’s specifically to favour red bull.

          1. @Esploratore – Actually, I think it is. If they don’t penalize Verstappen, they can’t penalize all other racers for the same infringement. Other teams would not be happy if their drivers drop on the grid while Verstappen keep his place.

          2. But why would they protect RB that much? It doesn’t make much sense to me. They aren’t any bigger players than Merc and Ferrari. Plus the penalty wouldn’t even affect Verstappen that much…

    2. They said they were incorrect for not giving him a penalty for impeding on track. Not for the pile up in the pitlane. Sky (and many other) got that completely wrong again…

      1. Its just funny how people dont remember things at all in just their excitement at Max getting a penalty when he didnt even stop when looking at his onboard.

      2. This is true. He impeded Yuki in Singapore and did not receive a penalty for that. Stewards later said that was a mistake.

  5. whats up with those white and green flags ? The FIA really need to get their act together if they want to police people, like show up on Thursday, and run the safety car, have the marshals out waving flags, and look for safety issues. For goodness sake. what a mess. At least its not 10+ years ago with MotoGP and their haphazard medics dropping guys with potential head/neck injuries, but its definitely amateur hour.

    Not surprising for Ferrari, one of the fastest cars on a straight, and their balance is biased rearwards (I believe), so they would get more out of a low down force appeal. Have to believe Mercedes and RBR are the threats on tire deg, but if Ferrari play a good game and can space out at the front, and hold for at least half the race, they have a good shot tomorrow.

  6. Ricciardo out qualifying Perez in an Alpha Tauri and it wasn’t even close. Not sure what else there is to say.

    1. It’s very impressive, however it’s a sudden improvement by ricciardo, it’s not like he was destroying tsunoda and getting the car in q3 the other races.

      Obviously with such an underperforming perez, whenever the B team has a good car there’s a chance of a good driver there beating the red bull’s number 2, this happened a lot around 2019-2020, when red bull were trying to find another decent driver for their 2nd seat in the main team, and albon\gasly kept having the guy on the toro rosso outperforming the red bull number 2.

      1. Robert Henning
        29th October 2023, 7:32

        Perez was 1.5 tenths off Verstappen. He didn’t underperform. He did fine. Ricciardo had a great lap and a very capable car.

      2. I didn’t say he had been destroying Yuki (who I think is extremely underrated, especially since LL’s points scoring at Singapore was down solely to unbelievable luck, which saw 3 cars ahead of him have unlikely DNFs and 1 that was about to easily pass him get punted and saw Yuki impeded in quali and then taken out by lap 1 – both cars taken out by Checo), but I think there’s zero negative to take away from the other three races he did.

        GP 1: first race back and he out qualified + out raced Yuki

        GP 2: Yuki out qualified him and they had roughly equal races

        GP 3: Basically another first race after only two rounds followed by two months off. They go 1-1 in qualis. In the GP, he is within 2 secs of Yuki when Yuki pits and then damage to his front wing destroys his race

        So, while we can’t say Daniel’s back for sure because of one great quali, we can say there wasn’t a huge difference between Yuki and Daniel earlier. And that Perez has been so bad, both Yuki or Daniel couldn’t possibly do worse IMO.

  7. Ric in the Alpha. Where did that come from?
    Has that car been inspected lately…

  8. They are taking a very long time to resolve these investigations

  9. @theoddkiwi
    Six Formula 1 drivers, including Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton, as well as the Williams team have been summoned over incidents in Mexico City Grand Prix qualifying.

    Verstappen, George Russell, and Fernando Alonso have all been called for alleged breaches of Article 37.5 of the Sporting Regulations – by impeding others in the pit-lane exit during Q1.

    Logan Sargeant and Hamilton have been called for passing under yellow flags, and failing to slow down for them after the Alonso Q1 spin with Yuki Tsunoda the final driver summoned.

    However, this is in relation Williams leaving equipment in the pit-lane, which Tsunoda hit as he was leaving the garage.

    Russell will be reporting to the stewards at 16:45 local time in Mexico, followed by Verstappen, Alonso, Hamilton, Sargeant and Williams/Tsunoda at 15 minute intervals until 18:00 local time

  10. Unexpected result. Hope there will be some overtaking. Ricciardo could be road block for many drivers. Mercedes need good start if they want to fight for podium same for Perez as well

  11. Another pole position for Leclerc, but he’ll probably fail to convert that into victory again.

  12. This is unexpected, but Ferrari will beat Leclerc in the race.
    Alonso made a strange error. Too many errors from him lately. This one looks like he is trying something, anything to beat a least one McLaren. But with this car, not chance against Norris.

    1. He’s making mistakes cause the car is suddenly completely different AND bad and he’s trying to test the limits of what is basically an entirely different car.

      The intentional spin idea is utterly ludicrous. McLaren is already past and Fernando is not going to spin in Q1 to keep one of the McLarens behind him knowing damn well they still won’t score points while McLaren will.

      More importantly, while he is an animal in the political domain, Fernando is an incredibly sporting driver when it comes to on the track. He has never taken out a rival on track ever (name another multi-time champ you can say that about). The only incident people can ever think to cite is Hungary 2007 in the pit lane yet they forget that was totally justified after Hamilton failed to honor an agreement to let Alonso past on track (as Alonso had done for him the lap before), which put Alonso at a disadvantage when setting his lap time.

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