Fri. Jun 21st, 2024
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Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc took pole position in a tight qualifying session in the United States Grand Prix with Max Verstappen down in sixth.

Leclerc beat McLaren’s Lando Norris by 0.130 seconds with Lewis Hamilton just 0.009s further back in third.

Verstappen went fastest with his final run, despite a mistake at the first corner, but had his lap deleted for exceeding track limits at Turn 19.

Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz and Mercedes’ George Russell were fourth and fifth.

Leclerc prevailed at the end of a dramatic and tense session with a highly impressive performance for Ferrari’s third grand prix pole of the year, after his own in Azerbaijan and Carlos Sainz on his way to victory in Singapore.

Leclerc also took pole for the sprint races in Belgium and Baku.

Leclerc was fastest in the second session and again on both runs in the final top 10 shootout to cap a strong day and underline his return to form since Ferrari introduced a new floor in Japan two races ago.

He improved by just over 0.1s on his final run to put the pressure on his pursuers.

Leclerc said: “I felt good straight away from the first laps in practice and then the key was to put the laps together in qualifying. It is a surprise for us, we definitely did not expect to be fighting for pole position.

“The first lap was much cleaner. The second one was more: ‘Let’s go for it and see what happens.’ When you do that, you can end up making more mistakes. But I gained more from risks than I [lost] from making small mistakes.”

He explained his step forward since Japan was due to the Suzuka upgrade allowing him to bring the car back towards his preferred set-up.

“The car is very inconsistent,” Leclerc said. “When you have oversteer, you lose a lot of grip and the upgrade was aimed at exactly that and it allowed me to set up the car in a way I prefer.

“I feel a bit more comfortable in the car. There are still a few races left and we need to keep pushing and make improvements.”

Norris felt he had perhaps missed out on pole position.

“I’m happy,” he said. “It’s been a good day. Probably not expected. A good bonus for the whole team.

“There was enough in it to get pole. I know Charles said he made a few mistakes but so did I.”

Hamilton’s performance came after a major upgrade on the Mercedes, which has a new floor on it this weekend.

The seven-time champion is always strong at the Circuit of the Americas outside Austin in Texas and was in the fight throughout.

“This is right up there with Silverstone,” he said. “It really is a legendary layout, every driver loves it.

“Good session for us. Grateful for the improvements the team have made with the car and for us to be this close to McLaren and Ferrari and the Red Bulls is showing just how hard everyone is working.

“This is one of the first upgrades I’ve actually felt over the last two years so that’s a positive. We just need two or three more of this step to put us in super-competitive mood, which I believe the guys can do.”

Russell said he had been “off the pace all day and I don’t really know why” and was pleased to be fifth in the circumstances.

Prancing cowboys: Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz get into the spirit of being in Texas

What happened to Verstappen?

Verstappen was in the battle for pole throughout but it all fell apart for him in the final session.

His first lap was on course to go fastest until the final sector, when he felt he was impeded by team-mate Sergio Perez at the final corner.

Verstappen complained bitterly about it over the radio to his team, swearing, but in truth it looked like Perez was too far ahead to have cost him the 0.252s by which Leclerc was faster on the first runs.

Hamilton was second fastest after the first laps, just 0.056s off Leclerc.

Verstappen’s second lap was measured and he was not fastest of all in either the first or second sectors, and then he ran ever so slightly wide at Turn 19.

His lap put him to the top, beating Leclerc by just 0.005s but his transgression at the penultimate corner cost him dearly and he slipped back to sixth.

Verstappen said: “I knew in 19 it was going to be a close call. I had a little mistake in Turn One, so I had to really push for it in the rest of the lap. I didn’t even understeer; I just tried to maximise the corner. I misjudged it by a little bit but it is very fine margins when you are pushing to the limit.

“It is a bit unfortunate but it makes Sunday a bit more fun.

“It is not ideal but I have started further back (and still won). If you have good pace, you will move forwards.

He will still be favourite to win from there, so strong is the Red Bull in the race.

Behind him, Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon took seventh and eighth in the Alpine, ahead of the second Red Bull of Sergio Perez and McLaren’s Oscar Piastri.

Outside the top 10, the big shock was the performance of the Aston Martins.

The team have a significant upgrade on the car but Fernando Alonso was out at the end of the first session for the first time all year and will line up only 17th. Team-mate Lance Stroll was behind him as usual in 19th.

Alonso said the team had been compromised by problems in the practice session before qualifying, when an overheating problem in Stroll’s left front wheel forced the team to pit both cars. Stroll did not get out again, while Alonso’s session was truncated.

Alonso said: “We should go back and restart the day completely, starting from the morning. We had a terrible session.

“Lance didn’t complete any laps and I did only six or seven quality laps with the new package.

“Too many unknowns in terms of how to operate the package and the new car. We went into qualifying a little bit blind and obviously we see the result.”

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