F1 – US GP – Qualifying
Howdy, MiniFans! We’re back in Austin and, as per usual, we’ve seen plenty of nods to the land we’re racing in, as well as a very happy Daniel Ricciardo fully immersed in Texan culture, but now it’s time to go back to what we’re here for: fast cars battling it out for the best spot possible on the grid for a race that knows no winners from outside of the first row.
Only a couple minutes into Q1, when barely four backmarkers had set a time, race direction informed of a slippery zone on track, but the times the drivers from Red Bull and Ferrari were setting didn’t seem to confirm the information. Mercedes started to poke their head into the first positions, as if tying to confirm that their good results in free practice weren’t a bluff, but Sainz had become pretty much untouchable, including to his very own teammate.
Many drivers saw themselves in a difficult position towards the end, as the track improvement had been enough to improve a couple of tenths, and positions shuffled enough to drop an unexpected car or two, while the top dogs waited calmly in their boxes. The eliminated drivers in Q1 were Magnussen (P16), Ricciardo (P17), Ocon (P18), Schumacher (P19) and Latifi (P20).
After Gasly complained about problems with his breaks that it seemed like he wasn’t being able to get rid of, Q2 truly kicked off with everyone on track. Used soft tyres came out due to either saving fresh sets for Q3 or not having enough for two stints in Q2 with them. Mercedes and Red Bull briefly tasted what being first was like, but Ferrari was soon pushing them out of first place. The biggest surprise came courtesy of Alfa Romeo, who had managed to provisionally get both its drivers in the top 10 after the first stint.
Despite all odds, they kept it up in the second one, managing to slot both of them in Q3, needing to climb up from the elimination zone, where they had dropped after a few drivers improved their own times. However, they were smacked down to reality when Zhou’s fastest lap was erased due to exceeding the track limits in turn 12, which meant that Norris was bumped up and scurried into Q3. The eliminated drivers in Q2 were Albon (P11), Vettel (P12); Gasly (P13), Zhou (P14) and Tsunoda (P15).
The first reference was set by Verstappen, but Leclerc soon stole his privileged position by almost half a second, closely followed by his teammate and a bit further back by Hamilton. In a surprise move, Verstappen was the first one on track for the second stint out of those fighting it out for pole, maybe trying to avoid any kind of interruptions due to possible flags or accidents, but it was soon obvious that he was just doing an extra warm up lap, circling the track slowly not to overheat his tyres.
As expected, the top drivers were extremely close in their sectors, giving it all in their last attempt to earn a crucial pole position to get a good result in the race. Sainz overtook his teammate by a tiny margin thanks to a magnificent third sector, and Verstappen flunked his lap at the very end, after being neck and neck in the first two sectors. However, Ferrari wouldn’t keep the front row dyed red, as Leclerc will have to serve a 10-position grid penalty, abandoning his teammate to fight off Verstappen on his own.
The weekend had been pointing towards a Ferrari or a Red Bull pole position, with maybe a Mercedes or two sprinkled in the mix, aided by the grid penalties to Pérez and Leclerc. However, the predictions had pointed in Leclerc and Verstappen’s direction, rather than Sainz’s, who scores another pole position this season, this time in a track where history says that the winner will come out from between him and Verstappen.