Lewis Hamil­ton takes US F1 GP pole but Se­bas­tian Vet­tel grabs sec­ond

The Guardian Australia - - Technology / Sport - Tom Dart at the Cir­cuit of the Amer­i­cas

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.”

Pho­to­graph: Tee/LAT/Rex/Shutterstock

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.

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