Lewis Hamilton takes US F1 GP pole but Sebastian Vettel grabs second
It was business as usual in Texas for Lewis Hamilton as he claimed pole position for Sunday’s United States Grand Prix with the minimum of fuss.
Hamilton is seeking a fourth successive win at the Circuit of the Americas and his progress towards that goal and a fourth world title has been serene up to this point. The British driver secured his 11th pole of the season on Saturday on the 3.4mile track that has been so good to him since it opened in 2012 – with a Hamilton victory. In doing so, he broke Michael Schumacher’s all-time record for front-row starts.
If there was a downside, it was that his Mercedes team-mate, Valt-
teri Bottas, lost second place late in the qualifying session to Hamilton’s title rival, Sebastian Vettel. That sets up an intriguing contest, with the top two in the standings on the front row. Still, Hamilton has a commanding lead on points and looked comfortable here: fastest throughout practice and qualifying, repeatedly breaking the track record and posting a 1min 33.108sec lap to take pole.
Hamilton has a 59-point lead over Vettel with four races remaining, so a win for him in Austin combined with the German finishing outside the top five will give him the championship. Vettel is the only other driver to win a grand prix here – he was victorious in 2013, when Hamilton finished fourth.
The 32-year-old Briton does not expect to claim the title on Sunday, describing such an eventuality as “highly unlikely”. “Sebastian did a great job to get his car back up there,” Hamilton said. “Sebastian is right there and unless he makes a silly mistake, which is unlikely – he is a four-times world champion – we will see it going on.”
Vettel struggled with his car on Friday, describing the front end as like “jelly”. He was far off Hamilton’s pace in the first two qualifying rounds and was in peril of qualifying in fourth position, but pulled off a 1.33.347 time on his final lap to lift his Ferrari into second, denying Mercedes a one-two at the front.
“I think we are very happy with the result,” Vettel said. “I think we were closer than we probably expected for today.”
Hamilton, as usual, was full of praise for the track and America in general, and spent a large chunk of the post-qualifying press conference regaling local reporters with his interest in Nasa. Success here, he added, is about artistry as well as science. “This is such a fantastic circuit, just the layout and the way the wind comes and intertwines with the corners really makes it challenging,” Hamilton said. “You’re constantly dancing with the wind.”
In his first start for Renault since joining from Toro Rosso earlier this month, Carlos Sainz Jr secured eighth place on the grid, just ahead of Fernando Alonso in his McLaren.
Daniel Ricciardo of Red Bull will start in fourth. His team-mate, Max Verstappen, who finished second in Suzuka two weeks ago, qualified sixth-fastest but was given a 15-place grid penalty for an engine change.
After rain on Friday and forecasts of downpours over the weekend, Saturday was sunny and good weather is also expected on Sunday. A metaphorical storm over the US national anthem appears unlikely after Hamilton indicated on Thursday that he would probably not kneel while it is played in support of the protests against racism and police brutality started by Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback. Donald Trump, the US president, has condemned the action, claiming it is unpatriotic.
Toto Wolff, the Mercedes executive director, said he advised Hamilton against attracting “polarisation” and “controversy” by taking a knee, even though the driver endured racism in his youth as the only black kid on a go-kart track. “Lewis has good opinions and he and I discussed the issue on a flight back from Suzuka,” Wolff said. “I feel very much aligned with him on human rights so from a personal perspective I could understand where he was coming from.
“But on the other side, we discussed that even if you feel strong about showing your support against racism and human rights, that it is not our country, it is not our anthem, and you are offending many Americans that have a strong view on the flag. The conclusion was that it is probably better not to do it.”
Lewis Hamilton celebrates taking his 11th pole position of the F1 season, for the United States Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.