Red Bull’s motorsport advisor Helmut Marko has called Saturday’s shock result a “good bluff” from Mercedes, who locked out the front row during qualifying for the Mexican Grand Prix. Red Bull on paper were favourites coming into the weekend and had seemed like the pace-setters after the final practice session on Saturday morning.
But qualifying told a different story, as Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton initially fired the first warning shot to Red Bul”s Max Verstappen on the medium tyre in Q2 to go quickest.
Valtteri Bottas also looked quick in his Mercedes and promptly secured pole position in the final part of qualifying, with his team-mate Hamilton just over a tenth behind.
Verstappen starts third on the grid after getting tangled up in an incident involving his team-mate Sergio Perez and AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda.
But Marko believes there were some tactics being played by their main title rivals.
“That was a very good bluff from Mercedes,” stated Marko, speaking to Red Bull’s ServusTV after the qualifying session.
Verstappen finished two-tenths behind Hamilton in second, despite slowing down for the Perez and Tsunoda incident, and Marko added without that the Dutchman could’ve taken pole.
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“I think we would have come very close or maybe in between,” Marko added. “But the superiority that came [at] first is gone. It will be a very difficult race.
“Let’s see the start and how everything will go ahead.”
Championship leader Verstappen was left frustrated after the session, claiming that his lap was hugely hampered by his team-mate and Tusonda.
“Through the first half of the lap just is horrible, like just no grip, just sliding around a lot,” said Verstappen, speaking to Sky Sports F1 after the session.
“So when I saw the gap [to Mercedes] I was like well actually, that’s fair enough.
“I mean, we just had a terrible lap, so we tried to make a few changes to how the car was running.
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“And I think that second lap was looking quite okay, still not a great balance, but it was still good enough to fight for pole.
“And then I don’t know what happened between Yuki and Checo [Perez] like they ended up of course both going wide.
“And of course, when you arrive at that speed, you see a lot of dust so you don’t know because it’s simple to look with a sharp eye thinking maybe there is a car spun or crashed or whatever.
“So I lift off at [Turn] 10 and then I realised they’re driving slow so they probably run into each other.
“But then of course your momentum is gone, I lost two-and-a-half tenths from my lap time.
“He tried to recover that in the last sector but that never work. So a big shame from our side it’s a terrible qualifying, we deserve to be where we are at the moment.
“I mean, of course, nevertheless, I would have always liked to be on pole and then see what happens into turn One but we just have to now accept what happened in qualifying, it is of course not what we want but it’s not the end of the world.
“So we just focus on tomorrow and try to have a good start and then just see what happens into Turn One of course and see where it goes.”
The Dutchman leads the way by 12 points in Mexico City over Hamilton with lights out on Sunday evening at 7pm BST.