Leclerc on pole for United States GP as Verstappen falters


Ferrari's Charles Leclerc will start Sunday's United States Grand Prix from pole position, with Lando Norris joining him on the front row for the race ahead of Lewis Hamilton and Carlos Sainz.

Mistakes by Max Verstappen left the newly-crowned 2023 world champion in sixth place on the grid, while major floor upgrades for Aston Martin proved an acute disappointment with both Fernando Alonso and Lance Stroll missing the first cut.

With just a single hectic hour of practice under their belts (or a mere five laps in the case of the unfortunate Lance Stroll) the teams and drivers had no time to waste getting down to qualifying at the hot and sunny Circuit of the Americas in Austin, but Charles Leclerc was close behind.

Q1: Hamilton and Norris quickest, both Williams and Aston Martin drop out

There were plenty of cars keen to take to the hot and sunny track when the lights at the end of pit lane went green to get the first round underway. Pierre Gasly set the initial pace, and Lando Norris briefly went top from McLaren team mate Oscar Piastri before Leclerc took charge with a time of 1:36.622s.

Verstappen was soon in action and it was no surprise when he took over at the top by 0.152s. Sergio Perez could only manage fourth, sandwiched between the two McLarens. Then it was the turn of Mercedes George Russell third with Lewis Hamilton sixth as he battled with oversteer as he got to grips with the new floor upgrade.

Sergio Perez (MEX) Red Bull Racing RB19 leaves the pits.
20.10.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 19, United States Grand Prix, Austin, Texas, USA, Qualifying Day
-, EMail: © Copyright: Batchelor / XPB Images

Nico Hulkenberg briefly displaced Verstappen from the top with a time of 1:36.235s in the Haas, Gasly promptly showed that the track was getting quicker and quicker by going top by 0.077s. The Ferraris were soon back in the running with Sainz faster than Leclerc.

Even though he was still shown in fifth, Verstappen was told that his current lap time risked leaving him on the bubble so it was time for the Red Bull to get back out and benefit from the improving conditions. Despite traffic spewing out of pit lane, he duly delivered by going almost half a second clear of Sainz, with Perez up to third. Then it was Hamilton's turn, and a cleaner lap saw him go top with a time of 1:35.091s while Norris slotted into second by 0.019s.

A battery of flying laps after the chequered flag saw significant improvements from Yuki Tsunoda, Kevin Magnussen and Zhou Guanyu. Russell was backed up to 14th ahead of AlphaTauri returnee Daniel Ricciardo who squeaked through on the bubble. Hulkenberg was bumped out, and there was bad news for both Williams drivers Alex Albon and Logan Sargeant, and for Aston Martin team mates Fernando Alonso and Lance Stroll who were struggling with the latest upgrades to the AMR23.

Daniel Ricciardo (AUS) AlphaTauri.
20.10.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 19, United States Grand Prix, Austin, Texas, USA, Qualifying Day
-, EMail: © Copyright: Batchelor / XPB Images

Q2: Leclerc and Verstappen closely matched, Ricciardo ends up slowest

Leclerc, Hamilton, Sainz and Russell made the first move from pit lane at the start of the second round on used soft tyres for a banker lap. Piastri on a new set claimed first blood with a time of 1:35.576s while Norris had his run deleted for a track limits violation. Sure enough Verstappen popped to the top by 0.085s while Ocon and Gasly reported in to P3 and P4 for Alpine leaving Perez fifth ahead of Russell, despite being only 0.188s behind his team mate at the top.

There was plenty of time for another run for those in the drop zone. Leclerc and Sainz were out early with Verstappen and Norris close behind, everyone taking great care not to overwork their all-important new set of softs. Leclerc went top on 1:35.004s with Sainz safety in second albeit three tenths behind the Monegasque.

Norris finally got a time on the board to go fourth. Improvements saw Leclerc and Verstappen take the top two spots. It left the two Mercedes drivers under pressure to deliver: Hamilton moved up to third ahead of Sainz, while Russell scrapped through in ninth ahead of Perez. Eliminated from the session were Tsunoda, Zhou, Bottas and Magnussen, with Ricciardo the slowest of the 15 cars in Q2 after his final run was deleted for track limits.

Charles Leclerc (MON) Ferrari celebrates his pole position in qualifying parc ferme.
20.10.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 19, United States Grand Prix, Austin, Texas, USA, Qualifying Day
-, EMail: © Copyright: Batchelor / XPB Images

Q3: Leclerc takes pole ahead of Norris and Hamilton after rare mistakes by Verstappen

Everyone was quick to get to work for the final top ten pole shootout. Fresh softs for Verstappen saw the Red Bull make his bow with a time of 1:35.081s but Leclerc was a quarter of a second quicker, taking provisional pole with Sainz third ahead of the two McLarens on used tyres. They were soon displaced by the likes of Gasly and Perez, but there were mixed fortunes again for Mercedes with Hamilton second just 0.056s behind Leclerc while Russell lost his lap for a track limit breach at turn 9.

Verstappen had been distinctly unhappy over the team radio after he was baulked by traffic, including Perez, on this flying lap and was quick to head out for a second tilt at pole. But he made a rare error, locking up and running wide into the first turn. It left him scrambling to make up time over the remainder of his lap. He somehow managed it, but in the process exceeded track limits at turn 19, and lost the time. Norris had bounded up to take second behind Leclerc ahead of Hamilton, while Russell recorded a late improvement to go fifth and push Verstappen down to P6 ahead of Gasly, Ocon, Perez and Piastri.

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