Leclerc outduels Norris and Hamilton to take pole in Austin after Verstappen has time deleted
Charles Leclerc came out on top after an enthralling qualifying hour in Austin, as the Ferrari driver put in a sublime late effort to take pole position ahead of rivals Lando Norris and Lewis Hamilton for the United States Grand Prix.
Leclerc was on provisional pole after the first runs in Q3 and improved on his final attempt by two-tenths, with his lap of 1m 34.723s giving him his third pole position of the season.
Norris wound up second, over a tenth off Leclerc, while Hamilton looked on course to take pole, but ended up third in his upgraded Mercedes. Carlos Sainz was fourth for Ferrari, with George Russell rounding out the top five.
Max Verstappen looked to have placed his Red Bull on pole but had his time deleted for exceeding track limits at the penultimate corner and will start the race from sixth, ahead of the Alpine of Pierre Gasly in seventh.
Esteban Ocon was eighth for Alpine, ahead of the second Red Bull of Sergio Perez, with the McLaren of Oscar Piastri down in 10th.
FORMULA 1 LENOVO UNITED STATES GRAND PRIX 2023
United States 2023
|1 Charles Leclerc LEC Ferrari||1:34.723|
|2 Lando Norris NOR McLaren||1:34.853|
|3 Lewis Hamilton HAM Mercedes||1:34.862|
|4 Carlos Sainz SAI Ferrari||1:34.945|
|5 George Russell RUS Mercedes||1:35.079|
AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda narrowly missed out on a place in Q3 but qualified in 11th for the second race in a row, and he will start ahead of the Alfa Romeos of Zhou Guanyu and Valtteri Bottas.
Kevin Magnussen was the lead Haas down in 14th, while the other AlphaTauri of Daniel Ricciardo had his fastest time deleted in Q2, meaning he is set to start Sunday’s event from 15th on the grid.
There were plenty of shocks in the first part of qualifying with the upgraded Haas of Nico Hulkenberg, having briefly led the timesheets in Q1, down in 16th. He will line up ahead of Fernando Alonso, who failed to make it into Q3 for the first time all year, and is 17th for Aston Martin.
Alex Albon was down in 18th for Williams, ahead of the other Aston Martin of Lance Stroll, who after missing most of FP1 with a brake issue was 19th, while home favourite Logan Sargeant brought up the rear of the field.
AS IT HAPPENED
Q1 – Hamilton sets the pace as Aston Martin suffer shock double exit
Austin plays host to the fifth Sprint weekend of the season and, under the 2023 format, the drivers had just one practice session to finalise their setups and get to grips with the track. This meant there were plenty of unknowns regarding each team’s pace heading into qualifying.
As the light turned green the drivers came out on track greeted by hot temperatures. But it was Gasly bringing the early heat, as the Alpine driver went fastest with a time of 1m 36.158s, to lead Hulkenberg, in the upgraded Haas, by 0.077s.
Verstappen was third ahead of Ocon, Leclerc, Stroll, Russell, Norris and Piastri as Perez rounded out the top-10. But the track was ramping up, as Leclerc later went fastest only for Sainz to eclipse his time by nearly three-tenths moments later.
After a slight lull in proceedings the drivers made their way back out on the circuit ahead of their final flying laps. As he set off on his lap, Verstappen – now in fifth – was told by his engineer that his time was on the bubble of seeing him knocked out.
Down in the bottom five looking to make their way into Q2 were Albon, Magnussen, Ricciardo, Zhou, and Sargeant – who was the only driver not to have set a time after having his time deleted for exceeding track limits.
As the chequered flag was waved, there were huge shocks as Hulkenberg, having been fighting at the sharp end at the start of the session, was down in 16th. The biggest surprise was Alonso in 17th with only Albon, his Aston Martin team mate, Stroll, and Sargeant slower than him.
Hamilton continued to impress with the new floor on his W14 as he led the way in Q1 with a lap of 1m 35.091s. He was closely followed by Norris, Verstappen, Sainz, Tsunoda, Perez, Magnussen, Zhou, Leclerc, and Piastri.
Bottas left it late to make it into Q2 as he wound up 11th, ahead of Ocon, Gasly, Russell, and Ricciardo, who narrowly made it out of Q1 as he continued his return from a broken hand.
Knocked out: Hulkenberg, Alonso, Albon, Stroll, Sargeant
Q2 – Leclerc leads as Ricciardo is knocked out
After a short break, the drivers were back out on track for the second part of qualifying. But there were still some repercussions from Q1 as the stewards announced that they will investigate Tsunoda, Ricciardo, and Stroll after the session for failing to follow the race director’s instructions on the maximum delta time.
But out on track it was Verstappen who set the benchmark time, as the Dutch driver’s lap of 1m 35.491s was good enough to lead Piastri by just 0.085s. Behind them were the Alpines of Ocon and Gasly, as well as Perez, Russell, Hamilton, Tsunoda, Leclerc, and Bottas.
In the bottom five were Ricciardo, Magnussen, Zhou, Sainz – who was heard over the radio complaining of being blocked by Tsunoda – and Norris, whose time was deleted for exceeding track limits after sliding off at the penultimate corner.
With four minutes left the drivers returned to the track on brand new softs. As they took the chequered flag it was Leclerc who topped the leaderboard, as his lap of 1m 35.004s saw him beat Verstappen by just a mere 0.004s.
Hamilton survived a squirrely moment at the final corner as he wound up third, ahead of Sainz, Ocon, Norris, Gasly, Piastri, as Russell left it late to go through to Q3 in ninth, with Perez sneaking into the final portion of qualifying in 10th.
Tsunoda narrowly missed out on a place in Q3 but outqualified his team mate Ricciardo in 15th, after his fastest time was deleted for exceeding track limits. Zhou won the battle at Alfa Romeo as he qualified 12th, ahead of Bottas, with Magnussen in 14th.
Knocked out: Tsunoda, Zhou, Bottas, Magnussen, Ricciardo
Q3 – Leclerc seals pole after Verstappen has his time deleted
With 10 drivers done for the day it was left to the remaining 10 to battle it out for pole position. After the first spate of times, it was Leclerc on provisional pole, with his lap of 1m 34.829s good enough to lead Hamilton by 0.056s.
A frustrated Verstappen returned to the garage after believing he was hampered by his team mate, Perez, at the last corner causing him to only be third following those initial runs. He was ahead of Sainz, Gasly, Perez, Norris, Piastri, and Ocon, with Russell down in 10th having had his time deleted for exceeding track limits.
The drivers then returned to the track for their final laps of the day, and it was Leclerc who crossed the line first. He improved on his first attempt with his time of 1m 34.723s now the one to beat for the rest of his rivals.
Verstappen looked to have beaten it but ran wide at the penultimate corner meaning his lap was deleted for exceeding track limits, as he went from first to sixth on the leaderboard. Norris improved on his final attempt to go second while Hamilton took third.
Sainz was over two-tenths off his team mate and will start fourth ahead of Russell, while the Alpine of Gasly is in seventh behind Verstappen. He was followed by his team mate, Ocon, in eighth, with Perez down in ninth ahead of Piastri in 10th.
"I think as a team we did a great job," said Leclerc. "We know that in this Sprint weekend it’s more important than ever to have a clean FP1 [and] we did. We had a good FP1, we started with a strong base thanks to the work the guys have done to prepare this weekend, with a car straight away feeling good.
"Then I was feeling good and the lap, I was happy throughout qualifying, the last lap in Q3, there was a bit of mistakes here and there, but I think it wasn’t easy for everybody. So, really happy to be starting on pole for Sunday."
Before the 2023 United States Grand Prix gets going on Sunday, the drivers will next hit the track for Saturday's Sprint Shootout at 12:30 local time ahead of the 100KM dash. Head to the RACE HUB for more information.