United States GP | Hamilton smashes COTA lap record for pole

Lewis Hamilton secures pole for the 2016 United States Grand Prix.

Needing wins soon, Hamilton had Rosberg’s number in qualifying for the United States Grand Prix. Smashing the Circuit of the Americas lap record on route to his ninth pole of the year.

Q1

As the green light flicked on and the track was open once more, Pascal Wehrlein was first to venture back out onto the Circuit of the Americas. For Wehlrein, this was his first chance to gain track time after spinning off into the gravel during final free practice.

With a quiet track ahead, Pascal proceeded to post the first time of the session. Completing his first flying lap in 1 minute 39 seconds, three-tenths slower than Ericsson and three-tenths faster than Nasr.

The Sauber driver’s then found Romain Grosjean moving atop the leaderboard at Haas’ first home Grand Prix. But early runs for Mercedes highlighted how far Haas are from the front – with Hamilton leading Rosberg on supersoft tyres, two seconds quicker than Romain was capable of.

Ferrari’s form, like Haas, has deteriorated over the course of the season and the Italian outfit now find Red Bull consistently ahead. And in the early stages of Q1, not only were Ricciardo and Verstappen comfortably ahead of Ferrari but Nico Hulkenberg’s 1:36.950 saw the Force India end the run in fifth place.

The soon to be Renault driver also carried a four-tenths lead over his team-mate, with Sergio Perez in eighth place. While Jenson Button sat down in 21st, having failed to post a time within 107% of Hamilton.

Jenson’s poor start to qualifying saw the Briton head back out onto the track with plenty of time remaining for a final run. Starting with a 5-hundredths advantage on the drop zone by the end of the first sector.

Button went on to stretch his advantage over Romain Grosjean for 16th place over the course of the lap. Moving a tenth clear in the second sector, but traffic from Palmer into the final corner saw Jenson cross the line just shy of two-tenths ahead.

The narrow margin meant Jenson was far from safe. And the next car across the line saw his future secured, as Ericsson improved to P13.

Kevin Magnussen and Jolyon Palmer now found themselves on the cusp of elimination for Renault. And with neither driver able to improve, Kevin’s qualifying had reached its final destination as Gutierrez claimed P15.

While Palmer was unable to improve after moving aside for Button hampered the start of his lap, the Briton was able to progress into Q2. Yet despite his progression, his frustration from a lack of information regarding approaching faster cars was clear to hear on the team radio.

Q2

Looking ahead to the race, Mercedes sent their pilots out to parade the track on the middle of the three available compounds. The yellow-walled soft tyres should hold together far better in the early laps of tomorrow’s Grand Prix, whereas the supersofts are expected to degrade rapidly.

The harder compound certainly handed the constructors’ champions no disadvantage as Nico Rosberg edged Hamilton by one-tenth of a second. With Hamilton running three-hundredths faster in the opening sector, before losing time to his team-mate over the remainder of the lap.

Having seen Mercedes exit on the soft tyres, Red Bull split their strategy by handing Ricciardo the supersoft tyres while Verstappen exited on the softs. Giving their drivers a contrasting race as well, with neither driver running again in Q2 after Ricciardo went fastest on a 1:36.255.

With the harder compound, Verstappen was only able to cross the line six-tenths of a second down on his team-mate. A margin wide enough for Ferrari to slip within. But a lap fast enough to remain ahead of Hulkenberg, Bottas and Perez.

No improvements by Bottas and Perez meant they would also not go ahead of Verstappen in the final stages of Q2. Whereas Nico Hulkenberg cemented his Q3 place by improving for P6.

Carlos Sainz, Felipe Massa and Jolyon Palmer would also post their best times of Q2 in the final stages. But while Carlos improved for P8 and Massa claimed P10, the non-improving Fernando Alonso and Sergio Perez found themselves eliminated from qualifying.

Q3

The battle for pole in America. The decider of who is fastest over a single lap at the Circuit of the Americas. Shoot-out time in Texas, beginning with Rosberg running wide out of turn one.

As Rosberg straightened his car out of the first corner, he remained far to the right of the kerb. Meaning a loss of traction and a loss of speed he would go on to carry throughout the esses.

Hamilton, by not making an error, flew through the first sector and ended the zone already two-tenths up on his team-mate’s time. A time he would continue to better in the second sector, stretching a further tenth ahead.

But Rosberg replied in the final sector. Reducing the gap by tw0-tenths, to see Hamilton’s provisional pole margin fall to a slender seven-hundredths of a second.

The battle for pole would ignite once more when the Silver Arrows ran again. With Rosberg again slower in the first sector, where Hamilton improved to create a three-tenths lead.

Sector two, however, belonged to Rosberg. As the German linked the corners a tenth faster than the provisional pole man. And progressed to the flag with a 31.7-second final sector to take pole away from Hamilton for the meantime.

Hamilton, though, matched Rosberg’s final sector with a personal best time. Meaning pole would be the Brit’s, completing his lap two-tenths faster than Rosberg’s best.

After the first runs were completed, Ricciardo was leading the Red Bull battle – with Ferrari running over a second off Hamilton’s benchmark.

But come the second runs, Verstappen improved. Moving ahead of Daniel. But not for long as the Australian returned serve to snatch back P3.

Raikkonen also left it late to out-qualify his team-mate. Getting the better of Vettel at the death with a 1:36.131.

Pos Driver Team Time Gap
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1’34.999
2 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1’35.215 0.216
3 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 1’35.509 0.51
4 Max Verstappen Red Bull 1’35.747 0.748
5 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1’36.131 1.132
6 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1’36.358 1.359
7 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1’36.628 1.629
8 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1’37.116 2.117
9 Felipe Massa Williams 1’37.269 2.27
10 Carlos Sainz Jr. Toro Rosso 1’37.326 2.327
11 Sergio Perez Force India 1’37.353 2.354
12 Fernando Alonso McLaren 1’37.417 2.418
13 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 1’37.480 2.481
14 Esteban Gutierrez Haas 1’37.773 2.774
15 Jolyon Palmer Renault 1’37.935 2.936
16 Marcus Ericsson Sauber 1’39.356 4.357
17 Romain Grosjean Haas 1’38.308 3.309
18 Kevin Magnussen Renault 1’38.317 3.318
19 Jenson Button McLaren 1’38.327 3.328
20 Pascal Wehrlein Manor 1’38.548 3.549
21 Felipe Nasr Sauber 1’38.583 3.584
22 Esteban Ocon Manor 1’38.806 3.807