Ferrari Formula 1 driver Sebastian Vettel admits he should have “nailed” his qualifying lap for the Mexican Grand Prix at the first attempt after ending up third on the grid.

The Scuderia appeared favourites to land a sixth consecutive pole position heading into qualifying in Mexico City after topping FP2 and final practice on Saturday morning, but Red Bull’s Max Verstappen turned in a pair of stunning laps to cause a surprise.

Vettel said he paid the price for not stringing together a perfect first run, before seeing his final effort hampered by yellow flags in the final sector after Valtteri Bottas crashed hard exiting the final corner.

“It’s not ideal with the yellow flag otherwise I think it could have been a better session for myself,” Vettel said.

“I had it in my hands in the first run, I was probably too cautious after a good first sector, then I lost the rhythm, and I was too aggressive in the end and had a big snap in the first corner.

“I was quite confident I could make up some time. There was a yellow flag, but it happens.

“I should have nailed it in the first run. Other than that, it’s been a good weekend so far, it gives me a boost for tomorrow.”

Asked for his opinion on Verstappen improving his time under a double waved yellow, Vettel replied: “I’m not the police so don’t ask me.

“It was clear it was a double yellow, people were on the track, it was clear you have to lift.”

And Vettel is bracing himself for a close race on Sunday, with the German anticipating a fightback from Mercedes.

“The key tomorrow will be to have a good race car to look after the tyres, to choose the right strategy,” he added.

“We all start on the same tyre, but I think it will be a close race. Mercedes - I don’t know what happened to them today, but tomorrow they will be quick.”

Vettel was outpaced by Ferrari teammate Charles Leclerc, who was 0.266s slower than Verstappen.

"Before the weekend we expected them to be strong," the Monegasque commented. 

"Then in FP3 we thought ‘ok we have a shot at pole’ and then in qualifying when we put everything together they were too quick. It was a bit of a surprise in qualifying but I think we knew from the beginning anyway.

"I believe we were just losing too much around the corners compared to Red Bull, they are very, very strong on kerb riding especially, which is important at this track because the grip is low and we seem to be struggling a bit more compared to them."



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