F1 – US GP – Qualifying
Hello, MiniFans! We’re finally back in Austin, something easily seen not only because we’re racing in COTA and we can see the tower, but also due to all the helmets paying tribute to things traditionally associated with the US. Fans at the track could also enjoy Ricciardo’s drive of Dale Earnhardt’s classic and iconic Nascar car, a promise kept by Zak Brown, who had promised him a run on it if he scored a podium with the papaya car.
Q1 started off as normal, with both Haas leading a very confused Stroll, who didn’t understand why he was being let out as soon as the clock started ticking down. His team expected cars to flood the track since the beginning of the session, but they got slapped by reality, as it was only halfway through that most of the grid finally had a time under their belts. Ricciardo and Norris, in a show of McLaren power, settled in first and third, only separated by Verstappen, who would soon overtake them both alongside his teammate.
Keeping true to form, Mazepin became a moving obstacle when Vettel was going for a fast lap, the incident being annotated by the stewards but not acted upon beyond that. Heading into the last minute, Leclerc took advantage of the top cars to settle comfortably in first, while Mercedes was doing a very discreet run, keeping all the ammunition under lock and key, and Alpine managed to get both cars through at the very last second. Russell made it to Q2 once again, but with a bit more margin. The eliminated drivers in Q1 were Stroll (P16), Latifi (P17), Raikkonen (P18), Schumacher (P19) and Mazepin (P20).
The start of Q2 was a bit more hectic, as most of the grid was out on track very soon. Mediums made up a lot of the tyre choices, some of them due to lack of two sets of softs, like Leclerc, and others in the pursuit of Sunday’s strategy, like Verstappen. Lap times started getting deleted left and right as track limits were violated, while Alonso gave his teammate a fantastic tow, but it was clear that Ocon would need to set a faster time if he wanted to go on. With the first run over, the elimination zone was filled with cars that hadn’t managed to set a legal time. Positions weren’t set in stone, but those from the deleted times group that were expected to go through did exactly what they had to. The eliminated drivers in Q2 were Ocon (P11), Vettel (P12), Giovinazzi (P13), Alonso (P14) and Russell (P15).
Q3 seemingly started out quietly, with all drivers out but not interfering with each other, but that notion was soon scrapped, as purple sectors made an appearance by a multitude of drivers and Pérez went faster than his teammate by less than two hundredths of a second. Both Red Bull had opened a decently sized gap to Mercedes, who decided to be the first on track for the second stint to try and revert the situation. Their try seemed as if it might work out, as Hamilton did go fastest, but Verstappen was just biding his time to lower his main rival’s time by two whole tenths of a second and snatch pole position once again.
It has been a while since Hamilton and Verstappen have started a race from close grid positions. The tension could be cut with a knife every time they cross paths on track, all eyes trained on them, as it will also be tomorrow. All eyes will be on them come tomorrow, no matter what else happens when the lights turn off, as the guys battling it out for the championship stand beside one another.