Valtteri Bottas came out on top of a close qualifying battle to take Mercedes’ first pole position since July as teammate Lewis Hamilton could only qualify fifth at the United States Grand Prix.
There was a five-way battle for pole position as just under 0.3s covered Bottas, Charles Leclerc, Max Verstappen, Sebastian Vettel and Hamilton after the first runs and drivers found it tough to improve as track temperatures were slowly dropping at Circuit of the Americas. Bottas’ first lap of 1:32.029 was good enough for pole, edging out Vettel by just 0.012s as he took his fifth pole of the season and Mercedes’ first since Germany.
Verstappen ended up third but only 0.067s adrift of pole position in an incredibly close three-team battle, with Leclerc having to settle for fourth after failing to improve on his last lap and ending up 0.108s off the pace.
Hamilton’s first lap was scruffy and then he aborted his second despite appearing to have a chance of improving, leaving him fifth alongside Alex Albon.
The McLaren pair of Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris were strong throughout and again line up on row four, ahead of Daniel Ricciardo and Pierre Gasly. As in Mexico, the top five all start on the medium compound tire, with the next five drivers all on softs.
There was a change to the order after the end of Q2 as Daniil Kvyat – who was caught in a strange incident with Hamilton and Verstappen – lost his final lap time for exceeding track limits at Turn 19. Although he was already eliminated in P11, the error cost Kvyat two positions and dropped him behind Nico Hulkenberg and Kevin Magnussen.
Only 0.3s covered all five cars eliminated in Q2, with Lance Stroll having to settle for 14th, one place ahead of Romain Grosjean.
The incident involving Kvyat, Hamilton and Verstappen saw the championship leader try to pass the Toro Rosso into Turn 19 at the end of the out laps, just as Verstappen was doing the same to Hamilton. Verstappen cut the inside of the corner on the grass to avoid contact and then passed Hamilton before the final corner, with the FIA noting the incident but not deeming it worthy of investigation.
Norris was the surprise pace-setter in Q1 after using a second set of soft tires to guarantee he progressed, while three of the positions were basically set. The two Williams drivers are all but guaranteed to be eliminated in the first part of qualifying and they were joined by Sergio Perez who will start from the pit lane and spent Saturday focusing on race set-up.
George Russell in 18th was half a second faster than Perez in 19th as a result, with Robert Kubica less than 0.1s slower than the Racing Point. They were joined by both Alfa Romeo drivers for the first time this season as Antonio Giovinazzi out-qualified Kimi Raikkonen, but was 0.065s away from a spot in Q2.