By Joey Barnes, Editor-in-Chief
AUSTIN, Texas — Lewis Hamilton moved one step closer to capturing a fifth Formula One championship by scoring the pole for the United States Grand Prix following an intense battle during qualifying on Saturday at Circuit of the Americas.
Despite a highly-contested fight brought by Ferrari, Hamilton managed squeeze enough pace out of his No. 44 Mercedes to lay down a lap of 1 minute, 32.237 seconds around the 3.426-mile, 20-turn circuit. That time was good enough to edge title rival Sebastian Vettel (No. 5 Ferrari) by 0.061 of a second and Kimi Raikkonen (No. 7 Ferrari) by 0.07 of a second.
“I didn’t know how close it was going to be once we got to qualifying, but once we got to the last run I knew it was quite edgy between us and that it was going to require solid laps,” Hamilton said.
“The first one was decent, but not good enough, and the second one was just that little better and enabled me to pull that out. You know there have been some races where I’ve not actually done a better time and I’ve had to bail out of the second lap, so I was very, very adamant that today I was going to do a better second lap.
“So I’m very happy with that.”
The outcome was just another near-miss by Vettel, who will have to start fifth on Sunday due to the a three-place grid penalty suffered after officials caught him failing to reach an acceptable minimum speed during a red flag period in opening practice.
“It was pretty close, obviously,” conceded Vettel, also a four-time F1 champion. “It’s always a bit of a shame when you miss out on just that little time. I think with six hundredths you can always debate you had them somewhere in you. But I was pretty happy with the laps I had.
“I think it was quite tricky to get everything together. It’s been dry today and better for us, but the wind was quite tricky for us but it’s the same for everyone. Yeah, pretty happy. I think given the last couple of weeks that we had, pretty happy that we are back in range.”
Should Hamilton get a clean getaway at the start and go on to win a fifth consecutive (seven in total) U.S. Grand Prix, Vettel, would need to finish second to keep his championship hopes alive.
Due to his teammates penalty, Raikkonen will move up to second on the grid and aim to make a fight out of it.
“Yeah, a little bit too slow, but I can deal with it,” Raikkonen said. “No, it’s been a pretty positive day and for sure I think we got pretty close.
“It’s far from ideal, but I feel good with the car. We’ll try tomorrow. It’s going to be a long race, and nobody really knows how the tire will survive, because of yesterday’s rain, so it will be interesting.”
Valtteri Bottas (No. 77 Mercedes) moves up to third behind his teammate, while Daniel Ricciardo (No. 3 Aston Martin Red Bull Racing) will start opposite in row two.
Other notable impressive outings came courtesy of Nico Hulkenberg (No. 27 Renault), who qualified seventh and just ahead of Romain Grosjean (No. 8 Haas F1 Team) and Charles Leclerc (No. 17 Alfa Romeo Sauber).
2018 Formula 1 United States Grand Prix – Qualifying Results
1. Lewis Hamilton – Mercedes 1m32.237s
2. Sebastian Vettel – Scuderia Ferrari + 0.061s
3. Kimi Raikkonen – Scuderia Ferrari + 0.070s
4. Valtteri Bottas – Mercedes + 0.379s
5. Daniel Ricciardo – Aston Martin Red Bull Racing + 1.257s
6. Esteban Ocon – Racing Point Force India F1 Team + 1.908s
7. Nico Hulkenberg – Renault + 1.978s
8. Romain Grosjean – Haas F1 Team + 2.013s
9. Charles Leclerc – Alfa Romeo Sauber + 2.183s
10. Sergio Perez – Racing Point Force India F1 Team + 2.357s
— ELIMINATED IN Q2 —
11. Carlos Sainz Jr. – Renault
12. Kevin Magnussen – Haas F1 Team
13. Pierre Gasly – Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda
14. Brendon Hartley – Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda
15. Max Verstappen – Aston Martin Red Bull Racing
— ELIMINATED IN Q1 —
16. Fernando Alonso – McLaren F1 Team
17. Sergey Sirotkin – Williams
18. Lance Stroll – Williams
19. Marcus Ericsson – Alfa Romeo Sauber
20. Stoffel Vandoorne – McLaren F1 Team