Lewis Hamilton has beaten his championship rival Sebastian Vettel to start on pole position for the United States Grand Prix. The Mercedes driver was sixth hundredths of a second faster than the Ferrari who will start fifth because of a penalty for a red flag infringement in practice.
Vettel’s penalty will dent his hopes of keeping his title hopes alive, but the German knows that he needs to be second if Hamilton takes a fifth win in Austin. Hamilton meanwhile looked in the finest form of his career, as he pulled out a seven-hundredths gap over Vettel.
Kimi Raikkonen was third fastest, like his teammate he found time in the final sector to out pace his fellow Finn Valtteri Bottas who was fourth fastest.
After a poor opening lap in Q3, Raikkonen was faster on the early runs before Hamilton found just enough extra speed to dislodge the Finn before Vettel, the final driver to cross the line, missed out on pole by a few hundredths of a second.
Hamilton’s time a 32.237, is a new unofficial lap record, was almost a second faster than he managed in Q3 last year. He will also hold an advantage over Raikkonen after the Finn set his fastest time in Q2 on the faster but less durable ultrasoft.
Hamilton said “That was very important, it was close. These guys… [pause] I didn’t know how close it would be. I knew it was edgy between us and would require some solid laps – the first one was decent but not enough and the second one was better.”
“There’s been some races when I haven’t been able to do better so I’m happy I could today. The track started out green and slippery, and it’s been getting faster and faster in every session here this weekend.”
Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo was fifth ahead of Esteban Ocon. Ricciardo’s teammate Max Verstappen failed to make it out in Q2, after running wide. The Dutchman ran wide at turn sixteen hitting the sausage kerb designed to stop drivers running out wide breaking the rear suspension. He will start thirteenth unless further damage is found overnight.
Verstappen told BBC News, “I touched the outside curb and it failed the suspension and took the drive shaft out, which is weird because we always taken that curb sharp, and everyone else in qualifying is taking the same ones but it was our car which failed. We’ll see what we can do otherwise we will take a penalty.”
Esteban Ocon will start sixth fastest after edging out the Renault of Nico Hulkenberg and Romain Grosjean, the Sauber of Charles Leclerc making it through to Q3 once again with the second Force India of Esteban Ocon tenth.
Renault’s Carlos Sainz Jr was eleventh after failing to capitalise on team-mate Hulkenberg, who had a lock up into Turn 1, not improving on his second run. Sainz was just two thousandths off Hulkenberg. The German complaining of “oversteer in the last corner, I don’t know why” costing him.
Haas driver Kevin Magnussen was 12th after also failing to improve on his second run thanks to losing time in the first sector.
Both Toro Rosso’s will start from the back of the grid, but made it through to Q2 with Pierre Gasly ahead of Brendon Hartley. They both out-qualified the Red Bull of Verstappen, who sat out Q2.
It was another disappointing session for both McLaren and Williams, the two great British teams continuing to struggle. Fernando Alonso the fastest, going four tenths faster than teammate Stoffel Vandoorne.