Max Verstappen took pole for the Sprint Race in Austin on Saturday, beating Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc by slightest of margins, as Lewis Hamilton was third, not so far away.
The Triple Formula 1 Champion showed his intent from SQ1 and went on to top all three stages of the shootout, while surviving a spin in SQ2.
However, Verstappen did not enjoy the margins he previously had over his rivals as he was only 0.055s faster than Leclerc, 0.069s faster than Hamilton in third.
However he was more in control this time around, keeping his RB19 within the white lines making it stick, and taking pole for the Sprint.
Speaking in parc ferme after the shootout, Verstappen said: “We were quite competitive, the last lap wasn’t particularly great but still on pole, so that means the car is working quite well.
“It’s going to be an exciting afternoon. You can see a lot of different cars being very close to each other, so you don’t know what’s going to happen in the Sprint Race,” he added.
Asked of his expectations for the Sprint, he responded: “It’s all going to be a bit of a question mark. Overall, normally in the race we are quite OK. Nevertheless this track is always quite demanding.
“Tyre management is always quite key around here. The wear is quite high because of all the high-speed corners, then you have to deal with the low-speed where you need traction. It’s going to be tough,” Verstappen concluded.
SQ3: Verstappen vs Leclerc
Evidently from SQ1 and SQ2, the fight for pole for the Sprint Race in Austin was going to be between Verstappen and Leclerc, the former finding more pace since Friday, the latter still enjoying decent form, while Mercedes and McLaren seemed to drop back.
The Soft tyres were bolted on the remaining ten cars for SQ3, were one lap is possible in the final eight-minute stage. No mistakes allowed.
In the end that was the case, as Verstappen posted a fastest lap of 1:34.538, with Leclerc a negligible 0.055s behind in second, but Hamilton got close this time around as the top three were separated by just 0.069s.
Lando Norris also did a decent job to put his McLaren in fourth , 0.101s off the pace which means the start of the Sprint should something to look out for with the first two rows the Shootout produced.
While Oscar Piastri was way off Norris’ pace on Friday, he came closer in the Shootout, fifth fastest, 0.255s slower than his teammate.
Carlos Sainz was sixth fastest for Ferrari, 0.346s slower than his teammate, and 0.102s faster than Sergio Perez in the other Red Bull – seventh fastest.
George Russell, for the second day, was no match to Hamilton and had to settle for an eighth-place-start for the Sprint Race, almost six tenths slower than his teammate.
Alex Albon was a superb ninth for Williams, albeit over eight tenths off the pace, while Pierre Gasly completed the top ten, a whopping 1.359s off the pace.
SQ2: Verstappen spins, but still in control
Action resumed in SQ2, with Medium tyres in used once again, and the first round of laps saw Verstappen go two tenths faster than Leclerc, while Sainz was third.
Norris was fourth in the McLaren ahead of Perez who was fifth.
But while Verstappen did only one lap in SQ1, he remained on track in the second stage of the Shootout for another lap, but he spun his RB19 at Turn 9, but kept going after doing a 360. He head back to the pits.
In the end, the Red Bull ace also led the way into SQ3, with Leclerc in second as Sainz was third fastest, while it was worth mentioning Albon making the cut in tenth.
Daniel Ricciardo’s Shootout ended as the Australian driver was 11th fastest, missing out by 0.031s to Albon.
Fernando Alonso’s struggles continued on Saturday, and while he did not make the top 15 in qualifying on Friday, he was 12th fastest in the shootout, but no top ten appearance for the Spaniard.
Esteban Ocon was 0.050s behind the Spaniard in 13th and was 0.044s ahead of Lance Stroll, who was 14th in the other Aston Martin.
Zhou Guanyu was 15th fastest in the Alfa Romeo.
SQ1: Verstappen fires a warning shot
The Sprint Shootout started in clear conditions with track temperatures at 37 degree Celsius, while the ambient temperatures were 32 degrees Celsius.
As the rules mandate, all the teams will have to use the Medium tyre for this stage of the shootout, which also applies for SQ2, the Softs only to be used in SQ3.
Hamilton kicked off the 12-minute stage, and was the first driver to start a timed lap, as other cars lined up in the pitlane awaiting their turn to head out on track.
The seven-time F1 Champion posted a 1:36.402 as a first effort, but was soon relegated to second by Leclerc who went one tenth faster, but soon Verstappen goes even faster, three tenths faster than the #16 Ferrari.
The top five order after the first round of laps was: Verstappen – Leclerc – Sainz – Russell – Perez.
Russell in the Mercedes told Andrew Shovlin, the team’s trackside operations director that he can hear the engineers’ conversation over the radio… He needs calm as he does his business on track. But the issue was soon sorted.
Verstappen did not need to do another lap and led the way into SQ2, with Leclerc in second, 0.002s behind the Dutchman after another lap. Albon was third in the Williams.
The first driver to head for an early shower was Nico Hulkenberg, who was 16th fastest, missing out to Ricciardo by a painful 0.012s, and teammate Kevin Magnussen was just behind him in 17th, 0.173s slower.
Valtteri Bottas was 18th fastest in the Alfa Romeo, 0.023s ahead of frustrated Yuki Tsunoda, 19th fastest in the AlphaTauri.
Logan Sargeant was 20th for Williams.
Russell is under investigation for impeding Leclerc, the latter saying over the radio: “Penalty for Mr Russell, thank you.”
Hamilton also had a close moment with Tsunoda, the former informing his team to check his front wing as he suspected they have touched.
Several other drivers were also being looked at by the stewards for going too slow on their cool down laps.