Austin Qualifying: Advantage Hamilton
Lewis Hamilton signaled his intent by powering to pole position for the United States Grand Prix – his first in Austin – edging Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg by two tenths of a second and with it setting the stage for an intriguing duel between the title contenders.
Hamilton was quicker than Rosberg in the first Q3 run, then the reigning world champion went even quicker in his final stint to set the pole position winning lap of 1:34.999, while Rosberg compromised his lap by going wide into Turn 1 on both his runs. He ended second best, 0.216 of a second down on his teammate.
Hamilton commented afterwards, “I feel amazing. It is my first pole here. It has been many years of trying. A lot of great people have tried to get me there. Big thanks to the crowd. I could hear them cheer as I crossed the line. I hope tomorrow provide them with great race.”
There was very little to separate the pair on the twists and turns of Circuit of the Americas, where the Silver Arrows were again the dominant force, enjoying over half a second per lap advantage over their closest rivals.
Rosberg said, “There was nothing specific. I preferred sector two and three today and that is it. Lewis was quicker in sector one, that was it. Nevertheless we have seen this year qualifying is not all important and I still have a great chance from P2.”
Next best were the Red Bull pair of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen, third and fourth respectively. More was expected from the energy drinks team after they finished 1-2 in FP3 a few hours earlier. But when it mattered, Mercedes turned up the wick and the Red Bulls found themselves half a second shy of the pace required to challenge the pace setters.
Ricciardo summed up, “Not concerned about strategy. I expected it to be like this.Max wanted to try the softs and for me I wanted to super soft. I was more comfortable on that tyre yesterday. Hopefully it will give me a better launch off line. Not close to Mercedes, we expect them to be hard to beat, but a buffer over Ferrari. We have a good chance tomorrow. We will see what happens. super softs will give me friendly grip off the line.”
Over a second down on Hamilton’s best time were the Ferrari duo of Sebastian Vettel, fifth fastest, and Kimi Raikkonen sixth on the timing screens.
Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg got one over constructors’ championship rivals Williams by qualifying seventh, ahead of Valtteri Bottas in eighth and Felipe Massa in ninth, with Carlos Sainz tenth for Toro Rosso.
For the frontrunners Q1 was straightforward. Mercedes seized the initiative, with Hamilton quickly rising to P1 with a time of 1:36.296 and was joined at the top by Rosberg, Verstappen and Ricciardo.
After setting times hovering around two seconds clear of Romain Grosjean’s P16 time after the drivers’ first spell on track none of the leaders would require another run.
At the foot of the table though, Jenson Button was in trouble. Having failed to get the best out of his first run the McLaren was languishing in P19. With team-mate Fernando Alonso in P11 ahead of the final runs the expectation was that Button would quickly make the leap to safety.
However, on his final run his hit traffic and posted the 16th best time, and as rivals found more space on track the 2009 champion slipped back to where he began, P19 and elimination.
Joining him on the sidelines as Q2 began were Grosjean in P16 followed by Renault’s Kevin Magnussen, Manor’s Pascal Wehrlein, Sauber’s Felipe Nasr and the second Manor of Esteban Ocon.
Q2 saw the Mercedes make their customary early impact – this time with both Rosberg and Hamilton on soft tyres. They were joined in that strategic gambit by Verstappen. Rosberg took P1 followed by Hamilton but they were pushed back by Ricciardo who took P1 on supersofts with a time of 1:36.255.
The Mercedes drivers were followed by Verstappen whose first run time on softs was a lap of 1:36.857. That was better than 1.2 seconds clear of then 10th-placed Alonso, so the question was whether the Dutchman would get to stick with soft tyres for the start or whether he would need to bolt on the supersofts to guarantee passage to Q3.
The answer was quick in coming. As the final runs began there was no sign of any movement in the Red Bull garage and so Verstappen, as well as Rosberg and Hamilton, will start the race on the soft compound Pirelli tyre.
Verstappen ended the session in P7 with the Ferraris of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen and the Force India of Nico Hulkenberg ahead.
Sainz put in a good performance to make Q3 in P8 for Toro Rosso after missing out on most of FP3 due to punctures caused by problems with his car and Williams’ Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa completed the list of the those would battle in the final session.
Out though went Sergio Perez in 11th place, with the Mexican eliminated ahead of Alonso, Daniil Kvyat in the second Toro Rosso, Haas’ Esteban Gutierrez, Renault’s Jolyon Palmer and Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson.
United States Grand Prix, Circuit of the Americas – Saturday, Qualifying
|3||3||Daniel Ricciardo||RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER||1:36.759||1:36.255||1:35.509||12|
|4||33||Max Verstappen||RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER||1:36.613||1:36.857||1:35.747||12|
|7||27||Nico Hulkenberg||FORCE INDIA MERCEDES||1:36.950||1:36.626||1:36.628||12|
|8||77||Valtteri Bottas||WILLIAMS MERCEDES||1:37.456||1:37.202||1:37.116||12|
|9||19||Felipe Massa||WILLIAMS MERCEDES||1:37.402||1:37.214||1:37.269||12|
|10||55||Carlos Sainz||TORO ROSSO FERRARI||1:37.744||1:37.175||1:37.326||14|
|11||11||Sergio Perez||FORCE INDIA MERCEDES||1:37.345||1:37.353||10|
|12||14||Fernando Alonso||MCLAREN HONDA||1:37.913||1:37.417||11|
|13||26||Daniil Kvyat||TORO ROSSO FERRARI||1:37.844||1:37.480||12|
|14||21||Esteban Gutierrez||HAAS FERRARI||1:38.053||1:37.773||10|
|16||9||Marcus Ericsson||SAUBER FERRARI||1:38.040||1:39.356||11|
|17||8||Romain Grosjean||HAAS FERRARI||1:38.308||8|
|19||22||Jenson Button||MCLAREN HONDA||1:38.327||6|
|20||94||Pascal Wehrlein||MRT MERCEDES||1:38.548||9|
|21||12||Felipe Nasr||SAUBER FERRARI||1:38.583||8|
|22||31||Esteban Ocon||MRT MERCEDES||1:38.806||8|
Q1 107% time – 1:43.036