Championship leader Max Verstappen beat his Formula 1 title rival Lewis Hamilton to pole position for the 2021 United States Grand Prix, with Sergio Perez taking a solid third place after leading the way early in Q3.
Despite a small amount of light drizzle arriving as the final runs in the top ten shootout were unfolding, Verstappen and Hamilton were able to gain time on Perez and lock out the front row.
All the shootout runners, bar Carlos Sainz and Yuki Tsunoda, traversed Q2 on the medium compound and will start Sunday’s Grand Prix on the more durable rubber at the Austin track, where the final segment of qualifying did not feature any track limits controversy, after Verstappen and Hamilton had lost times that would have led FP3.
Perez was the pacesetter in final practice and he somewhat beat Verstappen to lead the way for Red Bull after the first runs in Q3 on a one minute, 33.180 seconds, Checo keeping his soft tyres alive best of the leading runners to set the fastest time of Q3 in the final sector.
But he was shuffled back on the second runs as Verstappen was able to gain enough with the fastest Q3 time in sector one – where light rain was falling in the final sector – and then hold on through the lap to set a one minute, 32.910 seconds.
Hamilton’s personal best – where he set the fastest time in the middle sector – was a one minute, 33.119 seconds, which put him 0.209 seconds as Mercedes missed pole at the Circuit of the Americas for the first time since 2014.
Perez ended up 0.224 seconds adrift of his teammate, but he did beat Valtteri Bottas to third, the Finn not improving on his final Q3 lap.
Charles Leclerc led Sainz as Ferrari locked out the third row of the grid in fifth and sixth, with their McLaren rivals Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris taking seventh and eighth.
Pierre Gasly and Yuki Tsunoda made it three teams side by side on Sunday’s grid, as they took ninth and tenth.
In Q2, a back straight tow from teammate Fernando Alonso, who ended up out in P14 with a best time in the middle segment 11 seconds off the pace set by Verstappen as the double world champion did not set a competitive time as he will drop to the rear of the field for the race start for taking a new engine this weekend, was not enough to get Esteban Ocon’s Alpine into Q3.
Ocon was knocked out in P11, 0.24 seconds shy of a slot in the shootout.
Sebastian Vettel will lead the three drivers dropping to the back as a result of engine-change grid penalties – the other being George Russell – as he did post a competitive Q2 time, which was only good enough for P12.
Then came Antonio Giovinazzi, with Russell losing the time that would have taken 13th for a track limits violation at Turn 9, and so he ended Q2 without a time set in 15th.
In Q1, Lance Stroll was knocked out Alonso’s late improvement, with the Aston Martin driver one of the first runners to take the chequered flag in the opening segment and missing out by 0.063 seconds.
Nicholas Latifi was also shuffled down the order and eliminated in P16 for Williams, despite setting a personal best on his final lap.
Kimi Raikkonen was one of a number of drivers to have their opening efforts deleted for running too wide through the penultimate corner and his later effort of one minute, 36.311 seconds was only good enough for P18 in front of the Haas drivers.
Mick Schumacher beat Nikita Mazepin at the rear of the field, with the latter incurring Vettel’s wrath mid-way through Q1 when the Aston came upon the Haas going slowly through the Esses in the middle sector.
The stewards noted the incident but decided it did not warrant an investigation.
So an exciting qualifying session with the speed of the Red Bulls very impressive. Congratulations to Max Verstappen in achieving his ninth pole in Formula 1 and what a brilliant team effort with Serio Perez taking third. Title rival Lewis Hamilton missed out on pole but will start on the front row. The race is going to be thrilling.
Qualifying positions, United States Grand Prix:
1 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Honda 1:32.910
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:33.119
3 Sergio Perez Red Bull-Honda 1:33.134
4 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1:33.606
5 Carlos Sainz Jr. Ferrari 1:33.792
6 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren-Mercedes 1:33.808
7 Lando Norris McLaren-Mercedes 1:33.887
8 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri-Honda 1:34.118
9 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1:33.475
10 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri-Honda 1:34.918
11 Esteban Ocon Alpine-Renault 1:35.377
12 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 1:35.794
13 Lance Stroll Aston Martin-Mercedes 1:35.983
14 Nicholas Latifi Williams-Mercedes 1:35.995
15 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 1:36.311
16 Mick Schumacher Haas-Ferrari 1:36.499
17 Nikita Mazepin Haas-Ferrari 1:36.796
18 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin-Mercedes 1:35.500
19 George Russell Williams-Mercedes –
20 Fernando Alonso Alpine-Renault 1:44.549