Valtteri Bottas has taken his fifth pole position of the season at the United States Grand Prix but will need a miracle to prolong his waning title hopes in tomorrow’s race.
Bottas is the only driver still in mathematical contention to overhaul teammate Lewis Hamilton’s 74-point lead with three races remaining, and though the Briton qualified only fifth, the Finn will have to win the race and hope the sister Mercedes finishes lower than eighth to take his unlikely championship campaign to the penultimate round in Brazil.
The Finn shaded Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel by just 0.012 seconds after the pair’s first laps, but track temperatures fell as the clock ticked towards 5pm in Austin, preventing improvements on their final attempts and securing Bottas pole.
“Really happy about that,” he said. “It was a nice lap at the beginning of Q3. On a track like this it’s a good feeling.
“I knew how to put it together, but to put it together was a nice feeling, to actually do it in Q3”
Vettel was pleased to start the race on the front row, the German noting the second on the grid will hold the inside line into the sharp first turn.
“It was very exciting because we were all so close,” he said. “I had two decent laps. There was a hundredth I was missing — a hundredth is always somewhere. But overall happy.”
Max Verstappen qualified third for Red Bull Racing, the Dutchman just 0.067 seconds off pole, and was optimistic for a stronger performance in the race.
“I think for us on this track to be that competitive was a very good result,” he said. “I think normally we are quite good in the race, and even compared to last year we’re much more competitive in qualifying.
“I think that gives us a lot more hope for tomorrow, so let’s see what’s going to happen.”
Charles Leclerc will start fourth on a disrupted day for the Ferrari driver. The Monegasque couldn’t set a time during Saturday practice thanks to an oil leak, forcing the team into a rapid engine change to an older specification ahead of qualifying.
Hamilton was an understated fifth on what is likely to be his championship-crowning weekend. The Briton ordinarily excels at the Circuit of the Americas, winning all but two of the races held here, but no driver has won this race from further back the front row.
Alex Albon will start sixth for Red Bull Racing, but the Thai will be the only driver of the top six to start the race on the soft-compound tyre while the rest of the frontrunners use the medium for their first stint, setting him up for an alternative strategy in pursuit of his first podium.
McLaren teammates Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris will line up in their customary positions at the head of the midfield, starting seventh and eighth respectively.
Daniel Ricciardo will start ninth for Renault ahead of Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly in 10th.
Nico Hulkenberg missed out on joining teammate Ricciardo in Q3 by just a tenth of a second, but the German will be the highest-placed driver to have free tyre choice at the start of the race, a potentially advantageous position for Sunday.
Kevin Magnussen qualified 12th as the highest-placed Haas driver at the team’s home grand prix, salvaging the session after running wide over the sausage kerbs with his first Q2 lap.
Daniil Kvyat will start 13th after race control erased his fastest time for driving wide off the track at turn 19, having been quick enough for 11th.
Lance Stroll qualified 14 for Racing Point ahead of Romain Grosjean in the second Haas car.
Antonio Giovinazzi pipped Alfa Romeo teammate Kimi Raikkonen in the final moments of Q1 to take 16th place from the Finn, the pair more than a second quicker that George Russell’s Williams in 18th.
Sergio Perez was 19th fastest for Racing Point, the Mexican was penalised with a pit lane start during Friday practice for missing a call to the weighbridge. He and the team have therefore spent the weekend setting up his car for the race and only set enough laps to ensure the car qualified to start the race.
Robert Kubica finished last of the session in the second Williams car and will line up 19th on the grid.