When you give Charles Leclerc a chance to grab pole position he will take it. The Monegasque Ferrari driver took his opportunity with both hands and secured pole position ahead of Lando Norris and Lewis Hamilton.
It was still unusually warm at Austin when qualifying kicked off. 35°C ambient and 42°C on the asphalt is the highest seen since Formula One started visiting this circuit. The conditions were surely to impact tyre life while the soft tyres used by everyone didn't have much problems to get up to working temperature.
After a single practice session with very few laps for some drivers, teams were still unsure about the relative performance levels. Surely Red Bull seemed like a certainty but it soon appeared that the track was evolving quickly and with 6 minutes left on the clock it was Pierre Gasly who topped the times, marginally ahead of Hulkenberg and 3 tenths quicker than Verstappen.
Both Ferrari soon toppled those times to put the scarlet cars at the top of the sheet while using their second set of soft tyres. Verstappen similarly went out again on a fresh set.
Further back, Hamilton was in the danger zone, along with Alonso, the Alfas, Williams and AlphaTauri drivers, including Daniel Ricciardo who made his return to the cockpit after breaking his hand at the Dutch Grand Prix.
In the final minutes of the session literally everybody was out on track on soft tyres that were at most 2 laps old. As the chequered flag fell, Hamilton crossed the line to shoot to the top of the times. Norris was a close second at 0.019s, Verstappen third at 0.255s. Sainz was at 7 tenths and Tsunoda emerged 5th fastest at 8 tenths. Behind him, the gap to 18th was just 4 tenths.
The close fight saw Russell and Ricciardo make it through while Hulkenberg ended up 16th, out along with both Aston Martins and the two Williams.
In the second part of qualifying Verstappen son took charge of the session. Oscar Piastri confirmed McLaren's recent form by slotting into second at less than a tenth while Lando Norris had his first lap deleted for not staying within the limits of the track. Ocon and Gasly happily sat in third and fourth after the first flying laps, followed by the Mercedes duo.
Both Ferrari drivers then went out early to do their second flying laps. Sainz had a purple first sector while Leclerc was fastest in the second and third sectors to go fastest overall.
Verstappen was next and improved on the S1 time and set a personal best in the second sector to go second fastest, a mere 0.004s slower than Leclerc. Hamilton later slotted in between Verstappen and Sainz while the McLarens and Alpines were closely matched as they occupied P5 to P8. Russell and Perez were the slowest two to get through.
This left 10 cars for the final part of qualifying that would decide on pole position. Max Verstappen was eager to get going and queued up at the end of the pitlane to enjoy a clear track. The Ferraris followed closely behind while Lewis Hamilton opted to go out last.
Verstappen definitely recorded a strong lap but blasted on the radio "well done, well done. WTF was that in the last corner" where he felt he came too close to Sergio Perez. The lap soon proved to be insufficient for pole as Leclerc beat that time by more than two tenths. Carlos Sainz had to settle for fourth, a tenth down on the Red Bull.
As Russell got his time deleted for surpassing track limits, Hamilton underlined his strong form and Mercedes' car developments by slotting into second place, just 0.056s behind the leading Ferrari.
For the second flying lap Leclerc was ahead and found yet another improvement on his earlier time. While Norris improved to P2, Verstappen pushed hard after a not-so-great S1. As he crossed the line he jumped to provisional pole but soon had his laptime deleted for track limits at Turn 19.
That sealed Leclerc for pole position with Norris aside of him. Hamilton improved on his second lap but remained third and will be joined by Sainz on the second row on the starting grid. George Russell made it to 5th as Verstappen had to settle for 6th position.
|2||4||Lando Norris||Mclaren Mercedes||1:35.110||1:35.441||1:34.853||20|
|6||1||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Racing Honda Rbpt||1:35.346||1:35.008||1:35.081||18|
|7||10||Pierre Gasly||Alpine Renault||1:36.158||1:35.496||1:35.089||19|
|8||31||Esteban Ocon||Alpine Renault||1:36.131||1:35.413||1:35.154||21|
|9||11||Sergio Perez||Red Bull Racing Honda Rbpt||1:35.989||1:35.679||1:35.173||17|
|10||81||Oscar Piastri||Mclaren Mercedes||1:36.064||1:35.576||1:35.467||20|
|11||22||Yuki Tsunoda||Alphatauri Honda Rbpt||1:35.913||1:35.697||12|
|12||24||Zhou Guanyu||Alfa Romeo Ferrari||1:36.052||1:35.698||15|
|13||77||Valtteri Bottas||Alfa Romeo Ferrari||1:36.082||1:35.858||15|
|14||20||Kevin Magnussen||Haas Ferrari||1:36.009||1:35.880||12|
|15||3||Daniel Ricciardo||Alphatauri Honda Rbpt||1:36.213||1:35.974||12|
|16||27||Nico Hulkenberg||Haas Ferrari||1:36.235||6|
|17||14||Fernando Alonso||Aston Martin Aramco Mercedes||1:36.268||8|
|18||23||Alexander Albon||Williams Mercedes||1:36.315||6|
|19||18||Lance Stroll||Aston Martin Aramco Mercedes||1:36.589||9|
|20||2||Logan Sargeant||Williams Mercedes||1:36.827||8|