A much cooler, overcast Saturday morning welcomed the penultimate day of the 2018 Mexican Grand Prix, a cold (17°C) and wet track providing the competitors with one further challenge as the earliest runners did their installation laps on Intermediate tyres. At the end of a completely useless first half, Fernando Alonso was the first to tackle the track on dry tyres (HyperSoft). His was the first representative lap of the day, completed in 1 minute, 21.2 seconds. Latest race winner Kimi Räikkönen started the day on a 1:20.7, followed by a net 1:19.
Sixteen minutes to the end, Valtteri Bottas took over the lead on a 1:18.8, displaced by Vettel’s 17.8 and Verstappen’s 17.9, then forced to quit the session with a hydraulic failure which might impact the remainder of his weekend.
Leclerc’s subsequent effort in 17.0 showed the front-runners were still very conservative, while Hamilton ran in 17.7 on his first attempt, hindered by traffic.
Verstappen then raised the bar up to 16:3, followed by Hamilton’s 16.5 and Vettel’s 16.6; Ricciardo and Räikkönen rounded up the top-6, four tenths away from the German. The Dutchman closed his morning by rubbing off one more tenth to his record lap, completing a hat-trick of provisional poles thus far in the weekend. A sensational performance from Charles Leclerc stole Renault’s limelight in the midfield and brought the Ferrari newcomer right behind the frontrunners, Toro Rosso also featuring high up in the mix. Sitting out the whole session was Haas' Kevin Magnussen, forced by the need for an intercooler change.
Ultimately, as soon as the track dried up and engines got slightly turned up, it got pleasingly close between the top six as we head towards the qualifying session. A qualifying session that could be further mixed up should rain come down again in the next couple of hours!