Max Verstappen says he was unable to usurp the Ferrari drivers with his final qualifying attempt at the Mexico City Grand Prix as he had “no tyres left” in the last sector.

The three-time World Champion had led all three practice sessions and fronted the times in Q1, only being displaced at the end of Q2 when others conducted second runs.

However, Red Bull and Verstappen were stumped in the opening exchanges of Q3 by Ferrari, who had appeared to have been lagging behind throughout the weekend.

Verstappen eventually came up 0.097s short of Charles Leclerc’s pole time, leaving him third for Sunday’s 71-lap encounter.

Asked how surprised he was by Ferrari’s pace, Verstappen said: “I mean, it’s always difficult to tell, you know? I’m not part of their team, so I don’t know what’s going on.

“But yeah, I personally just expected it to be a little bit better in evolution through qualifying from our side. And I think that’s what we were lacking a little bit.

“I think Q1 was okay, Q2 wasn’t too bad but then it just seemed to like, fall away from us, like the improvements were not big enough, coming into Q3.”

Verstappen acknowledged the difficulty in nailing the “perfect lap” at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, citing that overheating his rear tyres dented his hopes of pole.

“But this track is also extremely difficult in qualifying, to basically almost, let’s say, hit the perfect lap. Because it’s so low grip, if you tried to push a little bit more, you might overheat the tyres, or you have a little slide.

“And that’s, I think, what happened to me today, where I tried to find a little bit more time, but then the balance wasn’t exactly there,” he explained. “And then you’re sliding, you overheat your tyres, and then in the last sector, you have no tyres left. And that’s basically a bit I think what happened.

“Yeah, it’s just this track is very, very difficult to put a perfect lap together.”

Max Verstappen (NLD) Red Bull Racing RB19 watches Carlos Sainz Jr (ESP) Ferrari SF-23 in qualifying parc ferme. 28.10.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 20, Mexican Grand Prix, Mexico City, Mexico, Qualifying Day.

With neither of the front two ahead improving on their final tours, Verstappen was on course to beat the Ferrari duo when he went fastest through the second sector.

But the Dutchman couldn’t carry that momentum through the final stage, winding up less than a tenth adrift after failing to set a personal best in the last phase of the lap.

“I still felt quite bad in the middle sector! I was sliding around quite a bit,” he added. “So again, yeah, I mean, I tried to get a bit of time back. My first sector wasn’t probably ideal. I mean, I improved a bit but not enough.

“But yeah, it’s just feeling, and then around here, when you slide a bit too much, like I said, it doesn’t come together. And yeah, when it’s so tight, you know one or two-tenths can be easily found or lost and I think that’s what happened in qualifying.”

However, Verstappen remains optimistic about overhauling the Ferraris to triumph for a fifth time in Mexico, which would also secure him a record-breaking 16th win of 2023.

Pressed on his confidence for the grand prix, Verstappen replied: “Good. I also have two Hard tyres. So, nobody else has them, really around me. So that’s also maybe an advantage for tomorrow. But yeah, again, I mean, a lot can happen into Turn 1 already.”

Indeed, his first opportunity to at least split the Ferraris will come on the long run down to Turn 1, which he utilised to slingshot from third to first against the Mercedes’ in 2021.

But the Red Bull ace has poured cold water on the chances of him replicating that start.

“I always learned that you can never repeat the same start from when I was little,” he addressed. “Of course, you can look at it but every year is very different.

“It depends on how good your actual start is, then the line to the first corner…  there’s a lot that comes into play. Track conditions as well, for example.

“So it is more just an instinct and once you do your start, you make your mind up of what you’re going to do.”

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