Formula 1: United States Grand Prix qualifying results and race preview
The expected rain did not come so the teams were treated to their first dry running of the weekend. After the third free practice session Ferrari were at the top of the standings but given that all the teams were truly running test programs to gather data for the qualifying session later in the afternoon, it was impossible to know the true pecking order.
Sebastian Vettel set the early mark in Q1 showing that the speed Ferrari had shown in FP3 was real, however it was soon bettered by both Mercedes. A broken suspension that occurred by driving over the curbs ended Red Bull’s Max Verstappen’s session even though he had gone fast enough to make it to Q2.
During Q2 it became apparent that the top teams were taking a chance with race strategy by attempting to reach Q3 on the Super Soft as opposed to the Ultra Soft Tires. The rule is that for the 10 cars who reach Q3, their race will start on the set of tires used to set the fastest time in Q2. The advantage is that the Super Soft will last much longer than the Ultra Soft which will give those cars more strategic pit stop options. Ferrari decided to try a split strategy with Kimi Raikkonen setting his time on the Ultra Softs whereas Sebastian Vettel matched Mercedes strategy by setting his early hot lap on the Super Softs. Late in the session, both Mercedes, Vettel and Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo all set out on a warm up lap on the Ultra Softs, preparing to ensure their matriculation to Q3 if the times set on the Super Softs failed to hold up, but they were all able to pit without needing to better their previous mark.
Hamilton set the initial fastest time on the first timed laps in Q3. He was soon bettered by Raikkonen with Vettel on the hunt in the second hot lap. On the third, Hamilton was able to put down the lap that Ferrari only just missed with the top three of Hamilton, Vettel, and Raikkonen separated by only 7 hundredths of a second. Bottas was fourth by a further three tenths with Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo finishing 1.2 seconds back in 5th.
Hamilton scores his record setting 81st pole position, while Kimi Raikkonen will join him on the front row with Sebastian Vettel being moved to fifth on the grid after being forced to serve a three position grid penalty for failing to adequately slow during a red flag.
Hamilton’s road to his fifth championship is now before him. Vettel must find a way to finish second if Hamilton retains first throughout the race. The Ferrari strategy is clear. Kimi will start in second on the grippier Ultra Soft tires. His job will be to get ahead of Hamilton going into the first turn and hold him up until Vettel can clear the competition. As Formula 1 begins the race with a standing start that has no benefit of any launch control or traction control or any driver aid of any kind, the starts can be unpredictable. Will Hamilton get a clean start in his bid to secure his fifth World Championship, or will Ferrari play spoiler and keep Vettel’s chances alive for another day?