Lewis Hamilton will start from pole position as he seeks a fifth drivers’ championship after a thrilling qualifying session at the United States Grand Prix.
With Ferrari looking quick in the dry, it was an extremely close fight between the top two teams, who traded fastest times at the end of Q3. With Hamilton already on provisional pole, Kimi Raikkonen went quicker by over a quarter of a second before Hamilton pipped the Finn by 0.07s. Sebastian Vettel was last across the line and right on Hamilton’s pace but fell 0.061s short to finish second.
Vettel will start from fifth due to a penalty for speeding under red flags on Friday, with Raikkonen promoted to the front row. Valtteri Bottas will be third on the grid, ending up just under 0.4s off in qualifying, with Daniel Ricciardo lining up fourth ahead of Vettel.
Hamilton will be world champion if he outscores Vettel by eight points or more on Sunday, meaning the German must climb through the field to finish second if the defending champion wins from pole.
Esteban Ocon secured best of the rest in sixth after Max Verstappen damaged his car in Q1, while Nico Hulkenberg, Romain Grosjean, Charles Leclerc and Sergio Perez rounded out the top ten.
Verstappen ran slightly wide at Turn 15 and the left rear corner appeared to fail as he hit a curb positioned to ensure drivers respect track limits. Red Bull told him to stop the car but he said he had to make it back to the pits and managed to limp slowly into the pit lane, but did not emerge for Q2 after finishing sixth fastest in the first qualifying session.
That meant there were only two unknown drivers to be eliminated at the start of Q2, with Verstappen out and the Toro Rosso pair of Pierre Gasly — seventh fastest in Q1 — and Brendon Hartley starting from the back due to power unit penalties. Due to those penalties, neither Toro Rosso driver set a lap time in the second part of qualifying despite spending time on track, as they would have lost any free tire choice had they progressed to the top ten shootout.
In the end it was Carlos Sainz and Kevin Magnussen who failed to make it through, with Sainz missing out on a spot in Q3 by just 0.002s to teammate Hulkenberg.
Following Verstappen’s incident in Q1, a late lap from Hartley eliminated Fernando Alonso in 16th place, although the Spaniard was quick to point out on team radio that both Toro Rossos will start behind him in the race due to their penalties. Alonso did manage to beat both Williams cars, with Sergey Sirotkin 17th ahead of Lance Stroll, while Marcus Ericsson and Stoffel Vandoorne were the slowest two drivers in the opening session.