Lewis Hamilton has dominated qualifying to take his 72nd pole position at the United States Grand Prix.
Hamilton looked at home at the Austin circuit all weekend, clean sweeping all practice sessions and setting the fastest times in all there segments of qualifying.
Such was the Mercedes driver’s advantage he was able to make an error on his final qualifying lap and still claim pole by 0.239 seconds from second-placed Sebastian Vettel.
“The team have done a great job,” he said. “The track was very difficult today with the wind picking up … but it’s a fantastic circuit, I love it.”
Hamilton can claim the championship this weekend if he wins the grand prix with Vettel sixth or lower. Maintaining his 59-point lead over the German will see him almost certainly close the deal by next weekend in Mexico.
“I think it’s highly unlikely that’ll be the case [tomorrow],” Hamilton admitted. “Sebastian did a great job today.
“Unless he makes a silly mistake, which is unlikely — he’s a four-time world champion — I think we’re going to see it continue.
“It’s going to be a great race tomorrow. It’s going to be a tough one, but I’m as prepared as I can be.”
Vettel came from a long way back to land the second row on the grid. The German had his Ferrari chassis changed on Friday night after struggling throughout that day’s practice session and had to reduce a 0.7-second deficit after his first Q3 lap to close in on Hamilton’s pole.
“I was very happy in the end, but I was lacking a bit the rhythm,” he said. “Finally I got it right on the last run when it mattered.”
Vettel said he was more optimistic about Sunday given Ferrari’s deficit to Mercedes over a single lap is usually greatly reduced in the race.
Valtteri Bottas was third and, like teammate Hamilton, unable to improve on his second flying lap, leaving him 0.469 behind Hamilton.
Concerning for the Finn was how closely he was challenged, with Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo and Ferrari’s Kimi Räikkönen in fourth and fifth setting identical times just 0.009 seconds further back.
“Definitely disappointed,” he said. “It was looking good for us and quite close with Lewis as well at some points, but there’s always tomorrow.”
Max Verstappen qualified sixth, but the Dutchman will serve a 15-place grid penalty for power unit changes that will likely have him start from P17 after other penalties are taken into account.
Esteban Ocon was impressive for Force India in P7 and more than 0.2 seconds ahead of Carlos Sainz in the Spaniard’s first weekend as a Renault driver.
Fernando Alonso was only a tenth of a second behind Sainz in P9, and Sergio Perez was half a second behind teammate Ocon by the end of the session in P10.
Nine drivers competed for the four Q3 berths realistically available to the midfield cars, and the fastest man to miss out was Williams’s Felipe Massa, who was edged by a blistering lap by McLaren’s Fernando Alonso.
Daniil Kvyat qualified P12 in his Toro Rosso return, 0.1 seconds ahead of Stoffel Vandoorne. However, Vandoorne carries a five-place engine change penalty, dropping his McLaren to P18 on the grid.
Romain Grosjean was uncompetitive for Haas, setting the 14th-best time ahead of only Nico Hülkenberg, who didn’t set a time.
Even if by technicality, it was the first time Hülkenberg has been outqualified by a teammate this season, with Carlos Sainz immediately competitive and through to Q3 for Renault as Jolyon Palmer’s replacement.
Hülkenberg also carries a 20-place grid penalty for a power unit change, dropping him to the back row of the grid.
Strong winds made conditions extremely difficult for drivers, and the circuit was offering times around one second slower than those set during Saturday practice.
Marcus Ericsson was impressive in his underpowered Sauber-Ferrari despite the prevailing climate, missing out on Q2 by just 0.007 seconds behind Haas’s Romain Grosjean.
Lance Stroll was the next-best driver eliminated but the Canadian complained of energy deployment problems on his final lap, which contributed to his 1.3-seconds deficit to Q2-bound teammate Felipe Massa.
Brendon Hartley, drafted into Toro Rosso to replace the Renault-bound Carlos Sainz and cover the temporary departure of Pierre Gasly to Japan’s Super Formula, was off the pace in his first qualifying session as a Formula One driver.
The New Zealander qualified P18 and 0.8 seconds behind teammate Daniil Kvyat, who had little trouble leaving the knockout zone.
Worse is that Hartley’s Toro Rosso car required a power unit change this weekend, earning the driver a 25-place grid penalty that will have him start from the last row of the grid.
Pascal Wehrlein qualified second last and 0.3 seconds behind Sauber teammate Marcus Ericsson, and Kevin Magnussen qualified last. A penalty for blocking Force India’s Sergio Perez will likely compound his weekend.
However, the back of the grid will look different to the qualifying order. Nico Hülkenberg and Brendon Hartley will likely share the back row of the grid after serving 20-place and 25-place grid penalties respectively for engine changes, and Stoffel Vandoorne will likely start P18 with a five-place place grid drop for a new internal combustion unit.