USGP | Hamilton blitzes qualifying for pole, Vettel second best

Lewis Hamilton clinches pole position for the United States Grand Prix.

Where the front row has gone on to win on every occasion Formula One has raced at the Circuit of The Americas, Sebastian Vettel pulled a rabbit out of the hat to line up alongside his championship-rival after Lewis Hamilton stormed to pole position.

Hamilton has dominated at the Circuit of The Americas so far this weekend, having topped each practice session in a weekend he could become a four-time F1 world champion. Clinching victory, too, at all bar one United States Grand Prix‘ he has entered.

Lewis then continued to dominate the USGP weekend throughout qualifying as he put Ferrari in his shadow on route to another pole position in his record-breaking season. Shattering the COTA track record, to set another best on a 1:33.108.

The battle to be the fourth-fastest car, on the other hand, was even more contested as Force India faced the threat of Carlos Sainz at Renault and Fernando Alonso’s McLaren. Fighting amidst a tightly packed midfield for a Q3 place and vital track position with Max Verstappen the highest runner to take a grid penalty.

Q1

When the green light flicked on to begin the first stage of qualifying for the 2017 United States Grand Prix, Daniil Kvyat hit the uneven track immediately. Getting more track time under his belt having missed the opening session of the weekend, and with a rookie team-mate parked aside him that he must outshine.

Being first out on track, Kvyat went on to post the first time of the 18-minute session. Although, the Russian’s 1:37.865 was swiftly bettered by Pascal Wehrlein as the Sauber edged ahead.

Kvyat’s opening time, on the other hand, did have the legs to cover his debutant Kiwi partner. With Brendon Hartley’s inagural qualifying lap two and a half tenths down on the former Red Bull podium finisher.

Initial runs from Stoffel Vandoorne and Lance Stroll began to push Wehrlein’s benchmark down the order as the Haas duo and Ericsson failed to better the 2015 DTM champion’s time.

Bettering the German’s early effort also came Carlos Sainz, as the Spaniard making his Renault debut crossed the line one second off the benchmark set by Valtteri Bottas on the supersoft Pirelli’s.

Championship rivals Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton, too, posted their opening efforts on the supersoft rubber. Crossing the line a second down the order. With Hamilton pushing again two laps later to post the new fastest time, while setting the fastest first and middle sectors.

Others continuing to push for second timed laps included Sergio Perez and Romain Grosjean. However, the efforts by both were affected by traffic as K-Mag chopped down to the apex at Turn as the Force India approached.

While the other Haas man was hampered by Lance Stroll at the final corner as the Canadian tried to depart the racing line for the fast-encroaching Frenchman. Only for the Frenchman to have the same idea as he ran wide.

“What the **** is Magnussen doing? So unprofessional,” vented Perez.

A brief return to the pits soon followed for the driver’s occupying the bottom half of the field. With Stroll’s race engineer informing the teenager that the track was running a second slower than in final practice.

Stroll was also hampered in his final run, as he reported on the radio as he returned to the pits that he was suffering from a deployment issue. One possible cause for his lack of pace as he was only able to qualify in 17th place.

18th placed Brendon Hartley had improved on his earlier best effort as the chequered flag waved. Initially moving out of the drop zone to P15, before Vandoorne improved for P12 and a Q2 place at the Kiwi’s expense.

Hartley’s qualifying outcome was in most irrelevant, though. With the debutant adopting the engine allocation previously belonging to Kvyat and Gasly and thus taking the grid drop associated with the engine change that car was set to take.

Furthermore, Hartley had shown in practice that his one lap pace was down on Kvyat. While the endurance racing ace could easily match his team-mate’s race pace.

Q2

Having saved a set of the now pink-walled Pirelli ultrasoft tyres, Hamilton and Bottas hit the track from the off in Q2. Heading out early to set their benchmark times, while Renault confirmed Q1 would be the only action seen by Nico Hulkenberg. With the team believing fresh tyres for the race was the better option given the German is also carrying a grid penalty for an engine change.

On the ultrasoft tyres dipped in pink for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Hamilton went on to post an opening time of 1:33.560. Two-tenths faster than his team-mate’s opening effort, and 1.3 seconds faster than his best Q1 time.

The storming first run by Hamilton laid down an imperious marker for Sebastian Vettel to meet. Ending his first run eight-tenths down to the Mercedes, as the Silver Arrow eased comfortably ahead.

Narrow margins, meanwhile, separated Red Bull from Ferrari. As Daniel Ricciardo split the Prancing Horse’s, with all three covered by less than two-tenths. Max Verstappen, on the other hand, came home a further two-tenths back but on the harder supersoft tyres as he will start the race further down the order thanks to a grid penalty of his own.

The battle for the fourth best car also remained tight between Force India, Renault, Williams and McLaren. With the pink panthers leading the pack in seventh and eighth place going into the final runs of the session.

The places that soon become hot property to own as the drivers aiming to beat the drop all looked to improve amidst the tight pack.

Fernando Alonso was first to snatch P7 as he edged up the order from 11th, improving by four-tenths of a second.

Perez, however, regained the top position amidst the pack for Force India, ahead of Ocon, as the duo re-established their team’s lead. Pushing Felipe Massa back out of the top 10 having briefly nudged ahead of Sainz before the Spaniard found more time.

Daniil Kvyat had been first to set a second timed lap during the late charge. But only finding time to move up from 14th to 12th.

Mercedes and Ferrari also rejoined the action in the closing stages with neither content with setting the pace. With both teams sending their drivers back out for a second run in Q2. Seeing Hamilton pull a tenth further away at the top of the leaderboard.

Q3

The shoot-out for pole in the Lone Star State. A deciding factor in the United States Grand Prix with the only victors at the Circuit of The Americas coming from the front row of the grid.

A front row that Mercedes looked to lock out on their benchmark runs. With Hamilton taking provisional pole by four-tenths of a second to Valtteri Bottas. Despite suffering understeer through the opening hairpin and de-rates out of the final corner.

Hamilton’s benchmark run saw the Briton set another improved track record for the Circuit of The Americas as he set purple sectors in two and three.

Leaving time for Kimi Raikkonen to go fastest in the first sector. Only to lose half a second in sector two, on route to a lap seven-tenths off the pace yet ahead of Vettel.

Red Bull’s first runs left the team comfortably in fifth and sixth place. With Verstappen just one-thousandths of a second slower than Vettel.

Second runs as the chequered flag loomed were soon engaged by Sebastian Vettel as the German chased a miracle to snatch pole from the championship leader, Hamilton.

Chasing that miracle with a personal best first sector faster than Hamilton’s benchmark. Yet down on the time his team-mate had set.

Continuing to push, Vettel began to slip away from pole. Losing three-tenths in the middle sector despite a personal best, followed up with a purple sector three to move second. Taking a front row slot, two-tenths off provisional pole.

Hamilton himself could not meet his previous best time. Failing to improve in either sector two or three. But with enough done already for another pole position, with Bottas also failing to improve.

Raikkonen, four-tenths down the order, may have improved on his previous best time. But in a late charge by the ‘Bulls, Daniel Ricciardo set an identical time to the Finn to take P4. Out-qualifying his team-mate who will fall to the back of the grid.

After being the fourth fastest car in Q2, Force India remained ahead of the tight midfield pack via Esteban Ocon in Q3. Edging Renault’s debutant Carlos Sainz by two-tenths of a second.

Sergio Perez, in contrast, was the slowest runner in the final qualifying stage. Ending the hour half a second behind his team-mate and behind the Honda-powered McLaren of Alonso.

POS NO Driver Team/Engine Q1 Q2 Q3 LAPS
1 44 Lewis Hamilton MERCEDES 1:34.822 1:33.437 1:33.108 18
2 5 Sebastian Vettel FERRARI 1:35.420 1:34.103 1:33.347 18
3 77 Valtteri Bottas MERCEDES 1:35.309 1:33.769 1:33.568 17
4 3 Daniel Ricciardo RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER 1:35.991 1:34.495 1:33.577 14
5 7 Kimi Räikkönen FERRARI 1:35.649 1:33.840 1:33.577 17
6 33 Max Verstappen RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER 1:34.899 1:34.716 1:33.658 13
7 31 Esteban Ocon FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 1:35.849 1:35.113 1:34.647 17
8 55 Carlos Sainz RENAULT 1:35.517 1:34.899 1:34.852 17
9 14 Fernando Alonso MCLAREN HONDA 1:35.712 1:35.046 1:35.007 15
10 11 Sergio Perez FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 1:36.358 1:34.789 1:35.148 19
11 19 Felipe Massa WILLIAMS MERCEDES 1:35.603 1:35.155 9
12 26 Daniil Kvyat TORO ROSSO 1:36.073 1:35.529 15
13 2 Stoffel Vandoorne MCLAREN HONDA 1:36.286 1:35.641 14
14 8 Romain Grosjean HAAS FERRARI 1:36.835 1:35.870 14
15 27 Nico Hulkenberg RENAULT 1:35.740 3
16 9 Marcus Ericsson SAUBER FERRARI 1:36.842 9
17 18 Lance Stroll WILLIAMS MERCEDES 1:36.868 8
18 39 Brendon Hartley TORO ROSSO 1:36.889 7
19 94 Pascal Wehrlein SAUBER FERRARI 1:37.179 9
20 20 Kevin Magnussen HAAS FERRARI 1:37.394 7

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