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Vettel Heads Off Hamilton In F1 Qualifying

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, October 29 2017

Four-time F1 champion Sebastian Vettel is on pole in Mexico. (File photo)

Sebastian Vettel of Scuderia Ferrari momentarily delayed the inevitable Saturday, qualifying on-pole for Formula One’s Mexican Grand Prix two spots ahead of point-leader Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes AMG.

Vettel also protected a nugget of personal history by denying Max Verstappen’s bid to become F1’s youngest-ever pole-sitter. Verstappen, of Red Bull Racing, was sitting P1 until Vettel toured the 2.674-mile/4.304-kilometer/17-turn Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City in a track-record 1 minute, 16.488-seconds. That was 0.086-seconds quicker than Verstappen at 1:16.574-seconds, with Hamilton third at 1:16:934-seconds and teammate Valtteri Bottas fourth in 1:16.958.

Hamilton will take a 66-point lead into Sunday’s 71-lapper _ Round 18 of 20 on the FIA Formula One World Championship schedule _ needing only a fifth-place finish to secure his fourth World Driving Championship. Vettel, meanwhile, is aware he will need a perfect start, strategy and pit stops to extend the title chase. Vettel confirmed that the pole-clinching lap _ his first in Mexico, fourth of the season and 50th of his career _ was not entirely perfect.

“Ha, I nearly lost it in Turn 6!” said Vettel, a four-time world champion. “But I somehow managed not to lose it entirely and it was the opposite _ I gained time. And then maybe it was perfect, because I possibly couldn’t do it again. I am really happy.

“Yes, it was very close to Max. I knew that I needed to get it right in Sector 1, and I did. It was not easy to get the front tires up to temperature, but I did, and then I was somehow relieved going into Sector 2 _ and from there it rolled. Yes, the little scare in Turn 6, but then the last sector I knew I just had to keep it clean and tidy, as this is the fastest way around.

“It’s a bit slippery here, so it’s rather easy to make a mistake. When I came out of the last corner I was pretty happy, as I knew that this was good run. I knew it would be close but I also was sure that it would be enough. There is, of course, that moment when other guys are still doing their lap and you are not totally sure if it will be enough _ but it was.”

Hamilton, winner of five of the last six races, said he did all he could to crack into the front row. “It just wasn’t the cleanest of sessions and they were quicker,” the Brit said. “The car on-balance I think was fine, but we needed more. I think that last lap could have been a couple of tenths quicker, but still I wouldn’t have been able to match these guys.

“At the moment there is no risk to take. If I get a good start and gain a position I will go for it, but at the moment that’s an unknown.”

Occupying the third row will be Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen, the 2007 world champion, and Force India’s Esteban Ocon, followed by Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo and the Renaults of Nico Hulkenberg and Carlos Sainz. In the second Force India, local hero Sergio Perez completed the top-10.

NBC’s live pre-event coverage will begin at 2:30 p.m. (EDT) followed by the race at 3 p.m., and Vettel reiterated the need to run mistake-free. “This track is very prone to making little mistakes here and there,” the German said. “It’s very slippery and you easily lose grip if you want too much. But then to push to the limit without overstepping it _ that was what made my lap.”

Vettel said he continues to be pleased with the pace of his Ferrari, a continuation of an effort during last Sunday’s sixth United States Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas. However, Hamilton finished a massive 10.143-seconds in front of Vettel, who led the opening five laps of the 56-lapper but could not prevent Hamilton from scoring his fifth win at COTA.

“If we stay out of trouble this time it should be alright,” Vettel said. “I think this (point-chase) is not in our hands. The lead that Mercedes has is too big, so I would say that the advantage is on their side, but we will definitely try everything to postpone a decision as long as possible. We have the chance to win _ and if we don’t do any mistakes it should work. What that means for the championship, we will see.”

American-owned Haas F1 Team drivers Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean qualified 18th and 19th, respectively _ the slowest of 19 cars participating during Saturday’s knockout time trials in Mexico City. However, due to grid penalties incurred by others, Magnussen will start 16th and Grosjean will start 17th in what will be a 20-car field.

The team’s struggles of Friday bled into Saturday, with neither driver advancing out of Q1. Chasing grip around the circuit, neither was able to crack the top-15 cutoff to get into Q2. Magnussen set the 18th-fastest time with a lap of 1:19.443-seconds.

“We had feared this weekend would be tough,” the Dane said. “This track is like our Achilles’ heel. It was kind of expected, but it’s still disappointing. We just have to push on. The issues are a combination of things. I’d say with the air being so thin here, everyone has to cool their cars a lot more, open up their cooling on the brakes, engine, water, everything. When we do that, we don’t have a very good top cooling when it’s open. We lose out there, and it seems very bad this time. Hopefully we can stay in the fight (Sunday), and at least push and see what we can get. I hope our race pace is a bit better than our qualifying pace.”

Grosjean’s best lap was 1:19.473, with both Haas drivers using the Pirelli P Zero Purple ultrasoft tire.

“We have had a tough weekend,” said Grosjean, who turned only three laps in Friday’s second practice in his No. 8 VF-17. As he powered through the final corner at Perlatada on only his second timed lap, the rear end of the car stepped-out and sent him into a spin. Grosjean kept it off the wall and was able to return to the track intent on bringing the car back to the garage. But on his way to the pits to change his flat-spotted tires, the left-rear Pirelli lost several pieces, damaging the floor and rear wing. The ensuing lengthy repair prevented the Frenchman from returning to the track.

Grosjean’s Saturday qualifying session was short-lived. “I had a very poor out-lap at the end with a lot of traffic, so there were a few tenths in hand, but nothing that would put us where we should be,” Grosjean said. “There’s no excuse. We’ve got a 2017 Ferrari engine, which is more powerful than the Sauber one. We’ll need to work, and we’ll need to find a way to make the car faster at the circuits where we need extra downforce.

“It’s going to be 71 laps with a handful of a car to drive (Sunday). Anything is possible. I don’t want to be super-positive saying everything’s going to be great, but you never know in the race. It’s a tough circuit and cooling is a problem for everyone. Brakes are going to struggle. In Singapore, we were not supposed to score points and we did. There’s always hope, but definitely it’s going to be a tough one.” 

On Friday, Antonio Giovinazzi joined Grosjean and Magnussen for practice. The third driver for Scuderia Ferrari, Giovinazzi took the wheel of the No. 8 Haas VF-17 in FP1 for the fifth time this season. The 23-year-old from Martina Franca, Italy, drove in place of Grosjean, who relinquished his seat for Giovinazzi to gain additional F1 experience.

Giovinazzi ran a total of 26 laps, the best being 1:21.269-seconds on his 19th tour that put him 15th overall. Giovinazzi ran 18 laps on the Pirelli P Zero Yellow soft tire before switching to the Red supersoft tire for the remainder of the session.

Giovinazzi’s car was fitted with Haas F1’s previous generation aero package to perform a comparison test with the new aero package the team debuted at last weekend’s United States Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. The updated aero package includes more intricate bargeboards designed to channel dirty air from the wake of the front tires away from the lower side pod area.

“It was a good session with a lot of laps, which was the target,” Giovinazzi said. “We had a good run on soft tires before jumping onto the supersofts. I got a lot of laps in, learned a lot. It was good to feel the car and learn a new track. The track is always dirty in FP1, and I ran in the first 10 minutes of the session when it was really dirty, almost like a street track. Then it got better and better. I’m really happy with my session and I’m looking forward to going again in Brazil.”

Magnussen’s No. 20 Haas VF-17 was equipped with the new aero package, but he was only able to run 16 laps in FP1 as a small water leak impacted his session. His quick time of 1:20.644 came on his final lap and placed him 13th among the 20 drivers. Magnussen ran exclusively on supersofts in FP1.

Seventeen rounds into the schedule, Haas F1 Team is eighth in the constructors standings with 43 points, five behind seventh-place Renault and 10 behind sixth-place Toro Rosso. Grosjean is 13th in the championship standings with 28 points and Magnussen is 14th with 15 points.

Haas F1 Team debuted in the FIA Formula One World Championship in 2016, becoming the series’ first American F1 team since 1986. Founded by industrialist Gene Haas, Haas F1 Team is based in the United States on the same Kannapolis, N.C., campus as his championship-winning NASCAR team, Stewart-Haas Racing. Haas is the founder of Haas Automation, largest CNC machine tool builder in North America, and chairman of Haas F1 Team.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, October 29 2017
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