Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas speaks on securing F1 US GP pole as Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel eyes win, while Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen speaks on Lewis Hamilton run-in.
The qualifying at the Circuit of The Americas for F1 US GP was a vital one, as it set the grid for potentially championship-deciding race, with Hamilton leading Mercedes teammate Bottas in the standings, and the Brit having the capability to clinch the title in USA.
But it was his championship rival Bottas, who secured pole for Sunday’s US GP after a poor initial lap and degrading track conditions hampered Hamilton, leaving him only fifth. The British driver did not even complete the final lap as he was not improving.
“This is very satisfying – it’s been a while since we’ve last been on pole, so this is a great feeling,” said Bottas. “I was struggling with the car, but we’ve made a number of changes overnight and today the car felt much better. I knew going into qualifying that the car had the potential to fight at the front, I just had to get a good lap together.
“I’m very pleased with my first lap in Q3; it wasn’t quite perfect, but good enough to put us on pole. It’s always an advantage to start from the front; now it’s up to me to try and maintain the lead at the start. Our long runs looked good so hopefully we can get a strong result in the race.”
His teammate was less happy as he admitted to not being at his best in the session “This must be one of the worst qualifying sessions I’ve had in a long time,” said Hamilton. “Clearly the car had the capability to be on the front row, I just couldn’t put the lap together. Valtteri did a great job, so congratulations to him.
“Now I’ll have to try and figure out what went wrong today and how I can get myself to the front. It’s going to be a tough challenge trying to get past two Ferraris, a Red Bull and Valtteri, but I’ll continue to work at it and hope that I can do a better job.”
He also had a run-in with Verstappen in Q2, with the Dutchman not really happy. “We were all lining up to do our lap, or to get to the last corner, and I think it was Seb, the first Ferrari, then Charles and then I had Dany in front of me and we were all just slowing down to make space, and Lewis just drove by like nobody was there and didn’t care.
“So I was like: well, if you don’t care, I don’t’ care. So, I want to get my position back. I mean, everybody’s just respecting each other at that point, just to start the lap. That’s why it was such a close call,” summed up Verstappen.
In overall terms, the Dutchman was happy with a third place finish despite having been one of the fastest in the practice sessions. “It has been a good weekend so far and for us to be this competitive on this track is very positive and it shows that the car is working really well,” he said. “I think in general Q3 for everyone was a bit more tricky than Q2.
“It was because of a change in grip but to be P3 and that close to P1 is a good result and I’m happy with it. Of course, we would have liked to be P1 with that margin but this is still a good start and now we just have to hope for a competitive race. We are starting more towards the front than usual at this track, the car balance is good.
“I think the engine power has also improved and we are all so close. A lot will depend on the tyre life and strategy but whatever happens it should be a good race and I’m looking forward to it.” He will have Vettel’s Ferrari ahead while Charles Leclerc will be behind.
Ferrari hoped that their run of pole positions continued but were left slightly disappointed that they couldn’t put it together when it counted in Q3 of US GP. Their flags though, were still not flown at half-mast, as they managed to get both cars in the Top 4.
“I’ll be eight metres behind Valtteri on the grid for US GP, which will seem strange as the gap in qualifying was definitely smaller as 12 thousandths is really very little and so I can definitely say I was a little bit unlucky,” said Vettel. “I have to admit that, on my first run, there was maybe some room to be faster, as my aim was to set a good time and then improve on my second set of tyres.
“Unfortunately, I was a bit too aggressive and maybe the track had got a bit slower and that’s where the time that might have put me on pole, escaped me. It’s not bad being on the front row here, as was proved by Kimi’s start last year. It will be important to get everything right at the start and not make any mistakes when it comes to our strategy.
“We saw last Sunday that sometimes taking a risk can pay off, so we will study the situation very carefully before the start. Friday’s race pace wasn’t that strong, but I think all aspects of the car have improved, so we will just have to see where we are in the race.”
In the other Ferrari, Leclerc was satisfied with fourth despite lagging behind his seasoned teammate, given his lack of running in FP1 and FP3 of US GP. “I lost some track time this weekend, having missed half of FP1 and the whole of FP3, so qualifying was not so easy,” he said. “It’s not ideal, but it’s part of racing.
“After Q2, I was a bit more confident in the car, but in Q3, our competitors were just too quick. I do always expect more, but I think we can be satisfied with P4 if we take all the various factors into consideration. My focus has now shifted to the race. The start is always tricky here and I hope that it will present us with some opportunities.”
Completing the Top 6 drivers for US GP was Red Bull’s Albon, who rued a mistake in Q3 for the lowly position but was overall happy with how his qualifying went. “In the end I’m quite happy and I think we did a good job in qualifying had it not been for my mistake on the last lap,” he said. “FP1 was pretty good but I struggled in FP2 and FP3.
“I found the rhythm again in US GP qualifying and I was three tenths up on my final Q3 run before I ran wide and got my time deleted. I think as drivers we prefer circuits that don’t allow you to break track limits because if there’s something there to stop you, it will. It was my last lap in Q3 where you’re always pushing for an extra couple of hundredths.
“We’re the first to start on the soft tyre, so hopefully it gives us a launch advantage and we can overtake a couple of cars into Turn 1. We just need to avoid the carnage and then hopefully we’re in the fight. I think our race pace is always pretty good and let’s see what the weather does tomorrow. If it’s warmer than today, my tyres will degrade quicker but then the others will have to two stop, so let’s see what happens.”
Here’s how the F1 US GP qualifying panned out
The story was written by Duncan Leahy and edited by Darshan Chokhani