Red Bull’s Formula One championship leader Max Verstappen secured pole position for the U.S. Grand Prix in the dying seconds on Saturday as Mercedes title rival Lewis Hamilton had to settle for second.
Verstappen leads seven times world champion Hamilton by six points with six races remaining and the pole at Austin’s Circuit of the Americas was the ninth of the season for the Dutch 24-year-old — and eighth in the last 11 races.
“Ah yes, this feels really, really good,” he exclaimed over the team radio after beating Hamilton by 0.209 of a second with a final flying lap of one minute 32.910 just as it started to drizzle on an otherwise hot and humid Texas afternoon.
“I think as a team we did a really good job … the car was a lot better today.”
The front row will have fans rubbing their hands in anticipation of another thrilling wheel-to-wheel battle between the two on Sunday, providing they make it safely through the first corner.
They have already collided twice this season, at Silverstone and Monza.
“I hope we make it through turn one and we get a good race. I don’t think it’s all decided on turn one,” said Hamilton, who has five wins in Texas among a record career tally of 100 victories.
The winner in Austin has always come from the front row, with Hamilton winning from second on the grid in the first race there in 2012 and then 2014 and 2015.
Verstappen was, however, the first non-Mercedes driver to take the pole there since the start of the V6 turbo hybrid era in 2014.
He was ahead of Hamilton also in the first two phases of qualifying.
Red Bull team mate Sergio Perez had been eyeing the first pole position of his career after setting the pace in practice but ended up third on the grid.
The Mexican, almost a local and roared on by much of the 120,000 strong crowd, was fastest after the initial flying laps but he could not make it stick as first Hamilton and then Verstappen went quicker.
“I thought this could be my day, unfortunately I didn’t put it all together at the end when it counted,” he said.
Perez will be joined on the second row by Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, who was fastest in the opening phase of qualifying.
Hamilton’s team mate Valtteri Bottas, winner from pole at the previous race in Turkey, qualified fourth but drops to ninth after a grid penalty for exceeding his season’s engine allocation.
The third row will be Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz and McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo, who had a nervous second phase when his first lap was deleted for going off track.
They were followed by the Australian’s team mate Lando Norris and AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly.
There was also a moment of pitlane drama just before qualifying started, with Red Bull mechanics seen hurriedly strengthening the rear wings on both their cars.
“We spotted a crack on Max’s car … the guys managed to beef up both cars,” said team boss Christian Horner.