MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - If the Formula One world championship is all over bar the shouting, then Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel provided plenty of noise as he chalked up a 50th career pole position in Mexico on Saturday.
The German whooped and hollered after clinching the top slot for Sunday’s race ahead of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.
Lewis Hamilton, who needs only to finish fifth for Mercedes to secure his fourth championship, will start third and right behind the only man still left in the chase - even if Vettel is 66 points behind the Briton with two races remaining.
“It sounds like a lot. I guess it is a lot. I don’t know really what to say. It’s a big number,” said the delighted German, already a four-times champion with Red Bull, of his 50 poles.
“I’m very, very happy with today. Before qualifying I didn’t look at it that way, so I was surprised myself to hear just now,” added the German, whose title challenge has almost evaporated after recent retirements.
“(I’m) really, really happy with the session that we had, with the lap I had at the end. So I think at the moment, right now, that probably means more than the raw number. But for sure overall it’s a great achievement.”
The German was only the fourth driver to reach the milestone half century, after Hamilton, Michael Schumacher and Ayrton Senna.
Hamilton has been the pole king this season, with 11 from 17 races before Mexico, and an all-time career record of 72. Saturday was Vettel’s fourth of the campaign.
The German’s best time of one minute 16.488 was nearly half a second faster than Hamilton, with all eyes instead on 20-year-old Verstappen who had looked like becoming the youngest driver ever to secure pole after leading the second phase.
“The altitude has a different affect on the asphalt in terms of ageing, so it’s very slippery for all of us,” said Vettel.
“Very easy to do a mistake, very difficult to find that limit, to understand where exactly it is, where you can push, where you can’t, where you have to be careful.
“And then he (Verstappen) goes four tenths quicker than everybody else. It’s a bit ‘How do I do that?’. I guess the track improved a bit.
“When I heard it was enough, then, yeah, it’s like an explosion in the car,” added the German. “I had one yesterday with the (fire) extinguisher (going off in the car) but today was a real one, so I am really happy.”
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ed Osmond