Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz took pole position for the U.S. Grand Prix in Austin, Texas, on Saturday as Formula One mourned the death of Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz ahead of a race likely to crown his team champions.
Red Bull’s double world champion Max Verstappen will join Spaniard Sainz on the front row for Sunday’s race with the Dutch driver having a strong chance of taking a record-equalling 13th win of the season.
No driver has won at the Circuit of the Americas from outside the front row since the first grand prix was held there in 2012.
“Pole position was a long time coming, after a few qualis of getting close but not quite getting there,” said Sainz, who last took the top slot in Belgium at the end of August and now has a career total of three poles.
“I think for tomorrow Red Bull are still the favourites and they normally have the better race pace,” he added. “But we are going to try to do everything we can to try to stay ahead tomorrow and win the race.”
The session was overshadowed by news that Austrian billionaire Mateschitz, who owned two of the sport’s 10 teams, had died at the age of 78 with Red Bull Racing on the cusp of their first title double since 2013.
“It has been hard news, I think, for everyone,” said Verstappen, who clinched his second successive drivers’ championship in Japan two weeks’ ago.
“It has been a very tough day and we tried, of course, to give it everything today in qualifying. Unfortunately we missed out by a little but…hopefully we will make him proud tomorrow.”
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc was second in the final top 10 shootout, with Verstappen third, but will drop 10 places down the grid due to engine penalties.
The Monegasque was 0.065 slower than Sainz’s pole time of one minute 34.356 seconds in a windy session at the undulating circuit outside Austin.
“The last lap wasn’t the best, Carlos did a better job today and deserves to be on pole,” said Leclerc.
“I’m starting a bit further back because of the penalty but the goal is to try and come back to the front as quick as possible.”
Ferrari need to score 19 points more than Red Bull, who have won the last seven races, to keep the constructors’ championship alive with three rounds remaining.
Verstappen’s Mexican team mate Sergio Perez was fourth fastest but has a five-place grid penalty, moving Mercedes seven times world champion Lewis Hamilton up to third with team mate George Russell fourth.
Perez, who should start ninth, is battling Leclerc for second overall in the championship and is just a point clear of the Ferrari driver, making for another compelling sub-plot on Sunday.
Hamilton had been quicker than Verstappen, and slower only than the two Ferraris, after the first flying laps but then made a mistake and could not improve his time.
Canadian Lance Stroll will line up on the third row in fifth for Aston Martin with Lando Norris alongside in the McLaren.
Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas and Williams’ Alex Albon filled the fourth row, after Alpine’s Fernando Alonso took a drop from ninth.
Aston Martin’s four times world champion Sebastian Vettel, who won his titles with Red Bull, starts 10th.