Charles Leclerc has beaten Lando Norris by a tenth and a half to take pole position for Sunday’s United States Grand Prix. The Ferrari driver went fastest on his final run and was able to hang onto pole after three-time champion Max Verstappen’s fastest lap was deleted for breaching track limits dropping him to sixth.
Leclerc set a 34.723 to secure pole after Verstappen’s faster lap was deleted putting the Ferrari in the best position to win this race, which has never been won from off the front row. Norris was just a hundredth faster than the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton, continuing McLaren’s strong second half of the season.
Leclerc was fastest in Q2 and again on both runs in Q3 to cap a strong day and underline his return to form since Ferrari introduced a new floor in Japan two races ago. He improved by just over a tenth on his final run to put the pressure on his pursuers.
The Monegasque, it was a reminder of the one-lap speed he has become renowned for during his career, but had been lacking as he watched his team-mate Sainz claim consecutive poles in Italy and Singapore. But it looks difficult for him to convert that into a win on Sunday as Ferrari’s tyre degradation issues are likely to play a role in the Texan heat.
The McLaren driver launched himself up the order to go fastest on soft tyres, that put him nearly a hundredth ahead of Hamilton. Hamilton still looking to end his nearly two-year wait for a win, may have benefited from the last major upgrades by Mercedes this season.
Hamilton will be disappointed at failing to produce his best lap at the key moment, but the seven-time world champion is set to have a rare chance of ending his near-two-year winless streak with Mercedes appearing to have benefitted from a final major upgrade of the season.
Norris hadn’t looked quick enough in practice or qualifying to challenge for the front row, but timed his lap perfectly to beat Hamilton by a hundredth.
Leclerc said: “I felt good straight away from the first laps in practice and then the key was to put the laps together in qualifying. It is a surprise for us, we definitely did not expect to be fighting for pole position.
Norris felt he had perhaps missed out on pole position. he said, “I’m happy. It’s been a good day. Probably not expected. A good bonus for the whole team. There was enough in it to get pole. I know Charles said he made a few mistakes but so did I.”
Hamilton’s performance came after a major upgrade on the Mercedes, which has a new floor on it this weekend. Adding “This is right up there with Silverstone, every driver loves it. Good session for us. Grateful for the improvements the team have made with the car and for us to be this close to McLaren and Ferrari and the Red Bulls is showing just how hard everyone is working.”
Carlos Sainz spilt the two Mercedes, the Spaniard two-tenths off his teammate. Sainz was over a tenth ahead of George Russell. Verstappen’s time within track limits left him sixth, on his deleted lap the Red Bull driver made the classic mistake between Turn Nineteen and Twenty going over the white line.
Track limits had been a focus throughout qualifying, the drivers finding it hard through the final corners to be within track limits. The Dutchman’s error blew the battle for pole for Sunday’s Grand Prix, eventually allowing Leclerc to edge out the two Englishmen. But there were suggestions in practice the three-time champion wouldn’t have it all his own way, with Hamilton topping Q1.
This created an interesting Q3 where Ferrari, Red Bull and Mercedes had a chance of pole with them separated by half a tenth on the first runs in Q3. But the three-time champion made his intent clear by topping the first runs, however, felt he was impacted by teammate Perez.
The result sets up an enticing race on Sunday, in which Verstappen will still be a major threat to claim a fifteenth victory of the season, which would equal the record he set last year. The Dutchman is chasing a host of historic marks having sealed his third successive drivers’ title earlier this month in Qatar with five rounds of the season still remaining.
Ferrari knows their weakness in the Texan sun in the sprint and Grand Prix is going to be their problems with tyre wear are likely to make converting pole into victory in the Grand Prix. But Leclerc hasn’t won a race since Melbourne last year, should Verstappen stay out of the picture, Norris could fight for his first win having come so close in Sochi 2021 and Hamilton could seek his first win and end his longest winless streak dating back to Jeddah 2021.
Verstappen’s second lap was measured and he was not fastest of all in either the first or second sectors, and then he ran ever so slightly wide at Turn Nineteen. His qualifying fell apart in Q3, but despite asking for Sergio Perez’s help he felt the Mexican had impeded him.
Explaining what went wrong, Verstappen said, “I knew in Turn 19 that it was going to be a close call. I had a little mistake in Turn 1, so had to really push for it in the rest of the lap. I didn’t even understeer, I just tried to maximise the corner and I misjudged it by a little bit. It’s very fine margins when you are pushing to the limit.”
Pierre Gasly was seventh, he was three-quarters faster than his Alpine teammate Esteban Ocon. Perez was ninth, the Mexican looking to be under pressure over his long-term future, he was nearly a tenth behind his teammate and ahead of Oscar Piastri by nearly three tenths, as they completed the top ten.
Yuki Tsunoda was the fastest of those knocked out in Q2, the Alpha Tauri driver missing out by nearly two-hundredths of a second on a place in the top ten. But the Japanese driver and teammate Daniel Ricciardo face a post-qualifying investigation for possibly failing to follow the race director’s instructions regarding the maximum lap time for out and in laps that is aimed at reducing traffic issues in qualifying.
Investigations into this issue at Monza and Qatar resulted in no further action as the drivers involved were found to have gone slowly to avoid impeding others. Also under investigation is Lance Stroll, who was knocked out in Q1.
Guanyu Zhou out-qualified his Alfa Romeo teammate Valtteri Bottas by just over a tenth. Kevin Magnussen put his Haas fourteenth ahead of the team’s home race, but his teammate Nico Hulkenberg was knocked out in Q1, the German losing his final lap after breaching track limits.
But the biggest shock was both Aston Martin’s being knocked out in Q1, despite them bringing significant upgrade on the car but Fernando Alonso was out at the end of the first session for the first time in 2023 going seventeenth. His teammate Lance Stroll had been on the backfoot following practice only going nineteenth.
After the session, Alonso explained the issues with Stroll’s left front overheating had forced the team to pit both cars. Stroll did not get out again, while Alonso’s session was truncated. Both had improved by not enough on their final runs in Q1.
Alonso said: “We should go back and restart the day completely, starting from the morning. We had a terrible session. Lance didn’t complete any laps and I did only six or seven quality laps with the new package.”
Alex Albon spilt the two Aston’s, he was four hundredths behind Alonso and ahead of Stroll by over a quarter of a second. His teammate Logan Sargeant rounded out the