United States GP Qualifying: Valtteri Bottas on pole, Lewis Hamilton struggles in fifth
Bottas edges Vettel, Verstappen and Leclerc for pole as Hamilton suffers worst qualy of 2019; Hamilton can clinch title with eighth in race, Bottas needs to win; Watch on Sunday at 7.10pm on Sky F1
By Matt Morlidge
Last Updated: 03/11/19 7:02pm
Valtteri Bottas secured a potentially crucial pole position for the United States GP, with Lewis Hamilton only fifth in the other Mercedes as the championship leader struggled in qualifying ahead of his title quest.
Bottas needs to win Sunday's race to have any chance of denying Hamilton a sixth F1 title this weekend and has put himself in the best possible position to do just that after holding his nerve in a frenetic Q3 - edging out Sebastian Vettel, Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc.
The top four - featuring a Mercedes, two Ferraris and a Red Bull - were split by just one-tenth, and Sunday will be the first time a Ferrari hasn't started on pole since before the summer break.
But an off-colour Hamilton couldn't join that fight, finishing 0.292s behind his pole-sitting team-mate.
Although Hamilton only requires four points - so an eighth-placed finish - to secure the 2019 championship on Sunday, he was unhappy with Austin qualifying after his worst Saturday result of the season.
"Nothing to do with the car, just me," Hamilton told Sky F1. "I just didn't pull the laps out together today and clearly the car had the capability to be on the front row and I just didn't do it today. It's my fault.
"But I'll try and rectify it tomorrow."
Sunday's race starts at 7.10pm on Sky Sports F1, with build-up from 5.30pm.
Alex Albon, who will start on the soft tyre on Sunday in contrast to the five ahead of him on mediums, was sixth in the other Red Bull as his final Q3 lap was deleted for exceeding track limits.
McLaren, meanwhile, enjoyed another impressive day with the on-form Carlos Sainz seventh, a couple of tenths down on Albon, and the Spaniard will share the fourth row with his teenage team-mate Lando Norris.
When's the US Grand Prix on Sky?
The United States GP will be exclusively live on Sky Sports F1 this weekend as Lewis Hamilton seeks to win a sixth world championship.
The Woking outfit even topped the opening segment of qualifying ahead of the leading three teams.
Daniel Ricciardo qualified ninth for Renault, ahead of Toro Rosso's Pierre Gasly.
Gasly's team-mate Daniil Kvyat lost out in Q2 after being forced off the track when the bickering Hamilton and Verstappen ran closely together.
United States GP Qualifying Result
1. Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes
2. Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari
3. Max Verstappen, Red Bull
4. Charles Leclerc, Ferrari
5. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes
6. Alex Albon, Red Bull
7. Carlos Sainz, McLaren
8. Lando Norris, McLaren
9. Daniel Ricciardo, Renault
10. Pierre Gasly, Toro Rosso
Bottas just 0.012s ahead of Vettel, Hamilton in 'trouble'?
Just like Friday's practice suggested, qualifying was incredibly close between the top three teams.
The long straights suited Ferrari, the low and medium speed corners suited Mercedes, while Red Bull were able to ride the COTA bumps better than their rivals.
It was actually Hamilton who laid down his marker first in Q1, before Norris surprisingly pipped him on a quickly-evolving track in the McLaren. Both Alfa Romeos will have been disappointed to have been eliminated.
In Q2, Hamilton, Bottas, Vettel, Leclerc and Verstappen all emerged on the medium tyres - meaning they will start the race on the compound - while Albon stuck on the softs. This time it was Ferrari's turn to lead the way, with Leclerc fastest - despite having to get his engine changed before the session.
Heading into the Q3 shootout it was anyone's guess who would be on pole - although it's usually when Hamilton, a driver with a record-breaking 87 poles, delivers. But not this time.
Hamilton was well off the pace on his first run and then the leading runners couldn't find their usual big gains at the end of Q3, with few drivers improving. Bottas, who had provisional pole, hung on, just 12 hundreds of a second faster than Vettel and 0.067s ahead of Verstappen.
It was Mercedes' first pole since July, and Bottas' first since the British GP.
Although Bottas did all he could on Saturday and Mercedes' quick race car should give him a great chance of winning the race, he still needs a miracle on Sunday. Hamilton has only finished lower than eighth once all season - in a crazy wet race in Germany.
But perhaps Hamilton starting in the pack, and a crazy Austin first sector, could give the Englishman a problem?
"Lewis will know full well that third row of the grid is the danger zone heading up into that first corner," said Sky F1's Martin Brundle.
"He'll need to stay out of trouble."
The opening laps could well be defining as Hamilton bids to clinch a momentous sixth crown.
United States GP Qualifying Timesheet
|1. Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes||1:32.029|
|2. Sebastian Vettel||Ferrari||+0.012|
|3. Max Verstappen||Red Bull||+0.067|
|4. Charles Leclerc||Ferrari||+0.108|
|5. Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes||+0.292|
|6. Alexander Albon||Red Bull||+0.519|
|7. Carlos Sainz||McLaren||+0.818|
|8. Lando Norris||McLaren||+1.146|
|9. Daniel Ricciardo||Renault||+1.459|
|10. Pierre Gasly||Toro Rosso||+1.572|
|Out in Q2|
|11. Nico Hulkenberg||Renault||1:33.815|
|12. Kevin Magnussen||Haas||1:33.979|
|13. Daniil Kvyat||Toro Rosso||1:33.989|
|14. Lance Stroll||Racing Point||1:34.100|
|15. Romain Grosjean||Haas||1:34.158|
|Out in Q1|
|16. Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo||1:34.226|
|17. Kimi Raikkonen||Alfa Romeo||1:34.369|
|18. George Russell||Williams||1:35.372|
|19. Sergio Perez||Racing Point||1:35.808|
|20. Robert Kubica||Williams||1:35.889|