Lewis Hamilton claimed his 11th pole in 17 outings during qualifying for the US Grand Prix at Austin.
The Englishman narrowly qualified 0.239 seconds ahead of Sebastian Vettel to set up a fascinating showdown between the two title hopefuls.
Valtteri Bottas put his Mercedes on the second row alongside Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo. Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen matched the Australian’s time but will start behind because he posted it second. Force India’s Esteban Ocon will start in sixth and Carlos Sainz impressed in his Renault debut to take seventh on the grid.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg and Toro Rosso’s Brendan Hartley will all be slapped with grid penalties, along with Lance Stroll from Williams and Kevin Magnussen from Hass who both move back three places for impeding during qualifying.
Hamilton Controls COTA
Hamilton has been in total control at the Circuit of the Americas – COTA – lodging the fastest practice times in all three sessions and topping all three parts of qualifying.
The 32-year old said that he “loved this track” but qualifying proved tricky for all drivers with hot and humid weather mixing with gusty strong winds to make controlling the car difficult in some sections of the track.
“It is going to be a great race,” commented Hamilton. “Looking after the tires in these conditions is going to be tough, but I am the best prepared I can be.”
Hamilton can take the championship at the US Grand Prix if he wins and Vettel finishes lower than fifth. He has been a step ahead over practice and qualifying but the Mercedes driver thinks it is “highly unlikely” that he will win the title on Sunday.
“Sebastian did a great job to get back up there. Unless he makes a silly mistake – which is very unlikely, he’s a four-time world champion – it is going to continue to the next race.”
“This is such a fantastic circuit – just the layout and the way the wind comes really makes it challenging. You are constantly dancing with the wind.”
Vettel Remains Hopeful
Sebastian Vettel has already had a trouble filled lead-up to the race with problems on Friday limiting his running in FP2 and forcing a change of chassis ahead of FP3. It restricted Vettel to just two timed laps in FP3 but the title chaser bounced back in qualifying to post a strong lap on his final run in Q3.
“I was very happy in the end. I was lacking a bit the rhythm, especially the transition from the first to second sector. Got it right in the end, but it was very tricky with the wind,” said Vettel.
Ferrari has been regularly slower during qualifying but seemingly faster during most races. Vettel has no option but to be aggressive in the hopes of resurrecting his fading championship prospects and the Hamilton-Vettel front row sets up an intriguing start at COTA.
Benefiting Ferrari is the expected warm weather which is of serious concern to Mercedes who struggle to manage tyre temperatures.
Another interesting factor will be Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo who has performed well at COTA and could easily influence pit strategies if he gets a strong start.
Further back, McLaren’s Fernando Alonso again demonstrated why he is one of the best drivers in the paddock by qualifying in ninth despite a staggering deficit to Hamilton in the speed traps. The Spaniard will move forward a place on the grid claiming that “it is a great chance to score points.”