Charles Leclerc has beaten his teammate Carlos Sainz by almost half a second to take pole for the Las Vegas Grand Prix. The Ferrari driver set a 32.726 to start on the front row alongside Max Verstappen who was third. Leclerc had looked to be the favourite going into qualifying having been quick in practice, but the gap was larger than he expected.
Leclerc topped all three parts of qualifying a session which saw several shocks through the midnight hour as drivers struggled to gain grip on the slippery and cool circuit during the midnight session. Ferrari had gone into qualifying as topping FP2 in the early hours of Friday morning. While Ferrari showed stunning pace throughout the session to dominate, the contest for the places behind them was hugely unpredictable.
Ferrari’s significant qualifying advantage provides Leclerc with hope that the result could be different to those on the four previous occasions he has claimed pole this season.
Leclerc topped all three parts of the session, as the track continued to improve right up until the final seconds. The Monegasque’s focus now turns to ending a streak of eleven races in which he has failed to convert pole position to victory.
Leclerc had set a provisional pole with a 33.021, while Sainz unlike his teammate and Verstappen did a double warm up lap but that didn’t pay off in Q3 with Verstappen and Leclerc set their fastest times on the first hot lap. But the Spaniard spilt the two, going three tenths faster than Verstappen.
Sainz has controversially demoted by a ten-place grid penalty incurred for exceeding his allowance of car parts after an incident caused by a faulty water valve cover during first practice. Verstappen was three and a half tenths off Leclerc’s time and eight thousandths faster than the Mercedes of George Russell.
Leclerc said “I am of course happy. For first [race] in Las Vegas, it is an incredible event and to be starting from pole is great. But I am a bit disappointed with my laps in Q3. I didn’t do a good enough job, but it was enough to do the pole. Now we have to see how we do in the race, normally that’s where we struggle.”
Sainz said: “We did the maximum we could today. I am very disappointed about yesterday. I am still in a very bad mood after that, but I am trying not to show it too much.”
Verstappen started the weekend saying the Las Vegas race was “99% show and 1% sporting event” and after the first practice day said he had not enjoyed the track. Adding “I am not a big fan of street circuits,” he said. “But out there when you are pushing on the limit it is exciting. It is very low grip, a bit like Baku. I just don’t really enjoy that.”
Russell was four tenths off pole in a session which saw several shocks in what was again a very competitive qualifying, with six different teams getting through to Q3. Russell was over a tenth faster than Pierre Gasly, who out qualified both Williams. Alex Albon going nearly two tenths faster than Logan Sargeant.
For Sargeant it couldn’t have come at a better time, under pressure following a difficult rookie year, the America has started to string together some strong performances in recent races, with his seat next year on the line.
The American was just almost a second behind team-mate Albon, who kept up his 100% record in their qualifying head-to-head, despite crashing in final practice when he lost control in Turn Four – the only driver-error crash of the weekend so far.
Williams being in the top ten shouldn’t be such a big surprise they have excelled at this kind of circuit and has found form at them during the second half of the season. Valtteri Bottas was eighth going a hundredth faster than Kevin Magnussen, with Fernando Alonso tenth.
The two-time world champion had gone fourth on his first run in Q3, but Aston Martin in hindsight took the wrong strategy, a single run. Alonso was then open to being pushed down a highly unusual approach to qualifying on a street circuit given it was only going to get faster with him ending the session eight tenths off the pace ,
Lewis Hamilton and Sergio Perez were the surprise knock outs in Q2, the Mercedes driver missing out by two hundredths and was knocked out by former teammate Bottas. But the seven-time champion was nearly two hundredths faster than the Red Bull, who had sat out the closing moments of the session.
But the Englishman did improve on his final run, however, it was too early in Q2 as the clock ticked down so did Hamilton into the drop zone as the final seconds approached.
Nico Hulkenberg was thirteenth going two-tenths faster than Lance Stroll and Daniel Ricciardo. Stroll is under investigation for failing to slow under yellow flags after Yuki Tsunoda went off at Caesar’s Forum (Turn Five)), and both Mercedes, Alfa Romeo’s, Albon and Gasly are under investigation for going too slowly on either out or cooldown lap.
Stroll has already been given a five place grid penalty for overtaking under double waved yellow flags in final practice.
What was a surprising qualifying had begun in Q1 with both McLaren’s being knocked out, recent form has put them in the leading pack behind Red Bull but both Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri were out. Norris missing out on Q2 by three hundredths, as he was knocked out by Stroll.
Norris went just over a tenth and a quarter faster than Esteban Ocon and Guanyu Zhou, while his teammate Piastri could only go nineteenth, a second and a half faster than Yuki Tsunoda. Norris, who has finished on the podium in five of the last six races, was unable to find the performance to advance from Q1.