Hamilton takes pole in tightly fought qualifying
Lewis Hamilton secured pole position for the United States Grand Prix, though not in the easy manner that one might expect. Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen were second and third fastest, both less than a tenth behind the Mercedes driver.
Improved weather conditions had already enabled dry running in FP3, and so it was the case in qualifying.
Vettel and Raikkonen soon took the top of the timesheet in Q1, but that was without Mercedes setting a laptime. When Bottas and Hamilton eventually did record a flying lap, they ended up fastest, with Hamilton nearly 4 tenths up on his team mate. Vettel and Raikkonen remained close, a tenth down on Bottas.
6 minutes from the end, Verstappen broke his right rear suspension by going too wide on the exit of turn 15, ending up on the sausage kerbs. Lewis Hamilton did something similar moments earlier, and was soon informed he needed to be careful in that corner to avoid car damage. The Dutchman would not return to the track, ending up 15th in qualifying.
Towards the end of the session, positions switched frequently as times were fairly close. The gap between first and 20th being only 1.6 seconds. Pierre Gasly jumped up into 7th after having his first qualifying time annulled due to going off track whereas Hartley just secured a position in Q2, eliminating Alonso in the process.
This resulted in another dismal qualifying outcome for McLaren, getting both cars eliminated in Q1, along with both Williams and Marcus Ericsson in the Sauber.
Q2 proved more interesting in terms of tyre selection, with Ferrari opting for a split strategy, putting Raikkonen on ultra soft and Vettel on supersoft. Bottas, Hamilton and Ricciardo similarly opted for super soft while everybody else used the faster, but less durable tyre.
The first flying laps saw Raikkonen go fastest, 2 tenths ahead of Vettel, and 8 tenths faster than Hamilton. Both Ferrraris pitted after these first laps, but Hamilton went on for another quick lap after a cool down lap, reducing his decificit to Raikkonen to 0.6s.
Ricciardo was 1.3s down on Raikkonen halfway through the session, and probably anxious about getting eliminated due to the small margins behind, but he sat out the rest of the session in his favour, as almost nobody managed to further improve their earlier time. This meant Hulkenberg just got through, while Sainz ended up 11th, just 2 thousandths slower than his team mate.
Q3 saw an all out fight between Ferrari and Mercedes, with Ricciardo immediately settling for 5th due to being unable to math the pace of the cars ahead. Still, he too proved out of reach for Grosjean, Hulkenberg, Ocon and Perez, who on their first runs were another second down.
On the first outing, at was Hamilton who set the benchmark with 1:32.567. Vettel slotted into second place as he passed the finish line, closely behind Hamilton, but also only just quicker than Bottas in third. Raikkonen was 4th quickest on his first run, albeit 0.457s down on the pace setter.
Just ahead of the second runs, some drops of rain were reported, but hardly to an important extent, still allowing drivers to set purple sector times. And so they did, with Hamilton, Vettel and Raikkonen all improving to relegate Bottas to 4th. Hamilton improved enough to secure pole, 0.061s ahead of Vettel and 0.070s ahead of Raikkonen.
The result meant Raikkonen would start from second place, followed by Bottas and Ricciardo. A 3-place penalty for a red-flag infringement on Friday meant Vettel would drop to 5th, starting alongside Ocon on the third row of the starting grid.
|5||3||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull Racing Tag Heuer||1:34.755||1:34.185||1:33.494||14|
|6||31||Esteban Ocon||Force India Mercedes||1:34.876||1:34.522||1:34.145||18|
|8||8||Romain Grosjean||Haas Ferrari||1:34.892||1:34.419||1:34.250||17|
|9||16||Charles Leclerc||Sauber Ferrari||1:35.069||1:34.255||1:34.420||17|
|10||11||Sergio Perez||Force India Mercedes||1:35.193||1:34.525||1:34.594||17|
|12||20||Kevin Magnussen||Haas Ferrari||1:34.972||1:34.732||-||12|
|13||10||Pierre Gasly||Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda||1:34.850||-||-||13|
|14||28||Brendon Hartley||Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda||1:35.206||-||-||13|
|15||33||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Racing Tag Heuer||1:34.766||-||-||4|
|16||14||Fernando Alonso||McLaren Renault||1:35.294||-||-||6|
|17||35||Sergey Sirotkin||Williams Mercedes||1:35.362||-||-||6|
|18||18||Lance Stroll||Williams Mercedes||1:35.480||-||-||8|
|19||9||Marcus Ericsson||Sauber Ferrari||1:35.536||-||-||8|
|20||2||Stoffel Vandoorne||McLaren Renault||1:35.735||-||-||6|