F1: Verstappen beats Hamilton for USGP pole

Before a packed grandstands with over 100,000 in attendance, Red Bull Honda driver Max Verstappen took his 9th pole of 2021 by beating his arch-rival Lewis Hamilton to the top grid spot for the USGP at COTA Saturday afternoon.

Despite drizzle starting to make the track slippery, Verstappen managed a lap of 1m32.910s – 2/10ths of a second faster than what Lewis Hamilton could manage in his Mercedes. Verstappen was the only driver to get into the 1m32s bracket.

2nd plce for Lewis Hamilton – Steve Etherington Photo

“It was quite exciting out there, in Q3 my first lap wasn’t amazing,” said Verstappen.

“In the final lap, I started slipping, there was a bit of drizzle, I wasn’t sure I could hold on to my lap time. P1 and P3 for the team is a strong result. We’ll work together as a team to get the best possible result Sunday.”

“I gave it everything today, a bit of a struggle through qualifying,” said Hamilton. “Since FP1 we fell backwards a bit. I was happy with my Q3 lap, it was everything I had. Mindset tomorrow is to win this race.”

Sergio Perez, fastest after the first runs of Q3, was third fastest 0.224s behind his teammate.  Perez, with many Mexicans in attendance, got the biggest cheers from the crowd.

3rd place for Sergio Perez of Mexico driving the (11) Red Bull Racing RB16B Honda (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

For all the world it looked like Perez had him, but that light drizzle scuppered the Mexican who was the last to cross the line and therefore had the worst of the conditions.

Verstappen though is so good in the wet, and while he only had to contend with a couple of corners of slippery stuff, he kept his foot in when it mattered to grab his ninth pole of the season.

“We were really close, on that final lap,” said Perez. “Unfortunately, it wasn’t as good throughout the lap, the rain hit me too hard in the final sector, I lost a bit of grip. Tomorrow is a very long race, there will be a lot of degradation on these tires. I’m looking forward to it!”

In the end, those two were split by a sterling effort from Hamilton. There is a reason he has seven world titles – he never gives up a lost cause and somehow dragged his W12 onto the front row. With this race having been won every year from that front row, he is well-placed to take the fight to Red Bull tomorrow.

One thing he’ll have to contend with though is the lack of a rear gunner. While Red Bull have Perez in situ, Hamilton won’t have Bottas that close – the Finn will drop to ninth after serving his grid penalty.

Valtteri Bottas was 4th fastest in the 2nd Mercedes, while Charles Leclerc rounded out the top-5 for Ferrari.

Valtteri Bottas drops to 9th with grid penalty – LAT Images

“They made a big step from yesterday, they found a bit more than we did overnight,” said Bottas. “My Q3, run two wasn’t that great, I had understeer.  I’m starting ninth I think – let’s see.”

Another thing to bear in mind – tire wear. Who is exceptionally good at managing their tires, other than the title protagonists? None other than Checo Perez. If Red Bull split strategies, they could really pressure Mercedes out there and make life very, very difficult for the Silver Arrows.

“Checo is on fire this weekend, I thought he was going to get his first pole position,” said Red Bull boss Christian Horner.

“Being last out there with rain on track didn’t help him. Yesterday, the set-up we arrived with was a little bit out, so we’ve fine-tuned it and especially on the medium – at one point we thought we’d use that in Q3.”

This is the first time in the turbo-hybrid era that a Mercedes is not starting on pole here. Symbolic? Is this one swinging back towards Red Bull?

Qualifying Results

1 33 Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing Honda 1:34.352 1:33.464 1:32.910 16
2 44 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:34.579 1:33.797 1:33.119 16
3 11 Sergio Perez Red Bull Racing Honda 1:34.369 1:34.178 1:33.134 19
4 77 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1:34.590 1:33.959 1:33.475 15
5 16 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1:34.153 1:33.928 1:33.606 17
6 55 Carlos Sainz Ferrari 1:34.558 1:34.126 1:33.792 15
7 3 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren Mercedes 1:34.407 1:34.643 1:33.808 15
8 4 Lando Norris McLaren Mercedes 1:34.551 1:33.880 1:33.887 14
9 10 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri Honda 1:34.567 1:34.583 1:34.118 17
10 22 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri Honda 1:35.360 1:35.137 1:34.918 18
11 31 Esteban Ocon Alpine Renault 1:35.747 1:35.377 12
12 5 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin Mercedes 1:35.281 1:35.500 9
13 99 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo Racing Ferrari 1:35.920 1:35.794 8
14 14 Fernando Alonso Alpine Renault 1:35.756 1:44.549 12
15 63 George Russell Williams Mercedes 1:35.746 11
16 18 Lance Stroll Aston Martin Mercedes 1:35.983 7
17 6 Nicholas Latifi Williams Mercedes 1:35.995 6
18 7 Kimi Räikkönen Alfa Romeo Racing Ferrari 1:36.311 7
19 47 Mick Schumacher Haas Ferrari 1:36.499 9
20 9 Nikita Mazepin Haas Ferrari 1:36.796 8

Note – Bottas drops 5 grid places for taking on a new ICE after exceeding his allocation. Vettel and Russell start from the back of the grid after taking on new PU components.