Lewis Hamilton needed to find time in his final lap to fight off late improvements from both Ferrari drivers, but in the form of his career, the British driver took one step closer to becoming a five-time world champion through claiming an 82nd pole position. The possibility of the championship being concluded in the United States for the eighth time just went up.
The story of quali:
Q1 ended up being a nightmare for Max Verstappen. His Red Bull suffered damage to the rear suspension in Q1 after rolling over a sausage kerb, but he luckily managed to limp back to the pits, the belief being that the damaged wishbones might be fixable. Unfortunately this wouldn’t come to be, the only respite for the Dutchman memories of last year in Austin, in which he finished 3rd on-track from a starting slot of 16th. He starts 13th and will look to charge through the pack.
With two minutes to go in Q1, it was Alonso, Sirotkin, Ericsson, Vandoorne and Stroll with pace to find if they wished to escape the drop zone and make it into Q2. Alonso and Ericsson initially made the cut, but were then dropped back into elimination due to late improvements by Charles Leclerc and Brendon Hartley.
The lap of Q1 had to go to Pierre Gasly, who showed STR Honda’s hand with a lap good enough for 7th and impressively, less than a tenth shy of Max Verstappen in the Red Bull. Both Toro Rosso’s made it out of Q1, but will be demoted to the back of the grid due to PU penalties.
With Verstappen and the Toro Rosso’s not participating, only two cars would be eliminated via a competitive lap in Q2. With two minutes to go, it was Carlos Sainz and Kevin Magnussen under pressure to improve. The Dane couldn’t make gains, the margins fine with Grosjean safe in 7th despite only being three-tenths quicker. Carlos Sainz improved, but was unable to dislodge his teammate in 10th to the tune of two-thousandths of a second.
The lap of Q2 belonged to Charles Leclerc, who was best of the rest in 6th and through to Q3 once again, with a huge advantage over Ericsson in the sister Sauber who had been eliminated in Q1.
The initial runs of Q3 saw Hamilton on provision pole with a 0.088s gap to Vettel in 2nd, with Bottas and Raikkonen in close quarters. The final runs were even closer, with Hamilton edging pole from Vettel, who ended up 0.061s behind, and that was only nine-thousandths of a second quicker than Kimi in 3rd. Bottas was a further three-tenths back, with Ricciardo 5th, Ocon impressing once again for 6th, Hulkenberg improving Renault’s recent qualifying showings with 7th, Grosjean 8th, Charles Leclerc 9th and Sergio Perez rounding out the top ten.
Of course, Vettel’s three-place grid penalty drops him to 5th and promotes Kimi to the front row. In terms of how this shapes the race, a clean getaway will be Hamilton’s biggest concern, and he can’t really control whether or not Vettel finishes where he needs to (2nd) to keep his title contention mathematically possible. Elsewhere, it looks like Max Verstappen will be on the charge, and Esteban Ocon is well placed to once again make us wonder why he is still unconfirmed on the 2019 grid. After Gasly’s lap, it will also be interesting to see what sort of progress the Honda powered car can make from the back.