United States GP Qualifying: Max Verstappen beats Lewis Hamilton to Austin F1 pole on final lap
Watch Sunday's race at 8pm live only on Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports Main Event, with build-up in Austin from 6.30pm; title leader Max Verstappen claims ninth pole position of season, but Lewis Hamilton alongside on front row for long run to Austin's wide first corner
By James Galloway
Last Updated: 24/10/21 8:02pm
Max Verstappen put Red Bull back on the front foot against Mercedes in F1's gripping title duel by beating Lewis Hamilton to pole position in the final laps of United States GP qualifying.
The title rivals started their final attempts behind an on-form Sergio Perez, who impressively held provisional pole in the second Red Bull, but both ultimately lapped quicker than the Mexican - with Verstappen emerging fastest of all.
With late drizzle falling at the Circuit of the Americas, Verstappen outpaced Hamilton by two tenths of a second with a pole-winning lap of 1:32.910.
It is the first time Mercedes have been beaten to pole in Austin since 2013 and belies recent suggestions the reigning champions may have moved clear of Red Bull on performance.
Separated by just six points in the championship, Verstappen and Hamilton will nonetheless share the front row for the first time in four races and battle for the lead on the long uphill run to Turn One at the Circuit of the Americas when the five red start lights for Sunday's race go out at 8pm - live only on Sky Sports.
"That is why they are the championship protagonists," said Sky F1's Martin Brundle of the final-lap switch around with Perez. "When they need to they can find something a bit special. That was sensational driving all around."
Although Perez's hopes of finally landing his maiden F1 pole on his 211th race weekend were dashed at the last, the Mexican can take solace from a strong weekend so far and third place means it is Red Bull who have both their cars in the leading starting positions against one Mercedes.
Valtteri Bottas did qualify fourth in the other Mercedes but drops to ninth on the grid owing to yet another engine change penalty, which was confirmed on Friday.
That promotes Charles Leclerc to fourth and his team-mate Carlos Sanz to fifth, with improved Ferrari outqualifying constructors' rivals McLaren again. Sainz, however, could be vulnerable on strategy as he will start the race on the less durable soft tyre compared to those on mediums around him.
Three other drivers have grid penalties due to engine changes: Aston Martin's Sebastian Vettel (qualified 12th), Alpine's Fernando Alonso (14th) and Williams' George Russell (15th). They will now drop to the back of the pack in that formation.
United States GP Qualifying: Top 10
1) Max Verstappen, Red Bull
2) Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes
3) Sergio Perez, Red Bull
4) Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes*
5) Charles Leclerc, Ferrari
6) Carlos Sainz, Ferrari
7) Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren
8) Lando Norris, McLaren
9) Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri
10) Yuki Tsunoda, AlphaTauri
*5-place grid penalty
Full Qualifying results
Mercedes to dominate at COTA? Fast Red Bull prompt rethink
Back in the USA after a year's absence due to the pandemic, F1 growing popularity in the States has been underlined by six-figure crowds on each of the opening two days and a busy, bustling paddock at the Circuit of the Americas.
F1's best title battle for years is also clearly playing a driving role and the Mercedes-Red Bull battle has duly continued to twist and turn in Austin.
The build-up to the race weekend had been dominated by talk of an apparent edge Mercedes had gained in recent races, with focus on the way the W12 was working its suspension since the last upgrade at Silverstone.
ᴘ ᴏ ʟ ᴇ 🤘 Very happy with this result and thankful for all the hard work by @redbullracing and @HondaRacingF1 💪 Really enjoying the crowd here in Austin, this place has been buzzing all weekend 🤠🇺🇸 Looking forward to racing here again tomorrow ✌️ #USGP pic.twitter.com/yll1wVUnBG— Max Verstappen (@Max33Verstappen) October 23, 2021
On a track where they have generally dominated in the hybrid-engine era, Mercedes duly opened up by continuing in the same vein in opening practice on Friday - setting the pace by nearly a second - but Red Bull have come right back at them since then.
Perez topped the final two practice sessions and the RB16B looked marginally a quicker car than the Mercedes W12 all the way through the qualifying hour.
"We saw signs of it all weekend so it's not a surprise necessarily," said Hamilton to Sky F1 of Red Bull's superior speed after qualifying second.
Verstappen, who now has nine poles in 2021, said: "To be P1 and P3 as a team I think was a very strong performance."
United States GP Qualifying Timesheet
|1) Max Verstappen||Red Bull||1:32.910|
|2) Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes||+0.209|
|3) Sergio Perez||Red Bull||+0.224|
|4) Valtteri Bottas*||Mercedes||+0.565|
|5) Charles Leclerc||Ferrari||+0.696|
|6) Carlos Sainz||Ferrari||+0.882|
|7) Daniel Ricciardo||McLaren||+0.898|
|8) Lando Norris||McLaren||+0.977|
|9) Pierre Gasly||AlphaTauri||+1.208|
|10) Yuki Tsunoda||AlphaTauri||+2.008|
|Out in Q2|
|11) Esteban Ocon||Alpine||1:35.377|
|12) Sebastian Vettel*||Aston Martin||1:35.500|
|13) Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo||1:35.794|
|14) Fernando Alonso*||Alpine||1:44.549|
|15) George Russell*||Williams||No Q2 time|
|Out in Q1|
|16) Lance Stroll||Aston Martin||1:35.983|
|17) Nicholas Latifi||Williams||1:35.995|
|18) Kimi Raikkonen||Alfa Romeo||1:36.311|
|19) Mick Schumacher||Haas||1:36.499|
|20) Nikita Mazepin||Haas||1:36.796|
Drivers with engine penalties this weekend:
- Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes, 5 places
- Fernando Alonso, Alpine, Back of the grid
- Sebastian Vettel, Aston Martin, Back of the grid
- George Russell, Williams, Back of the grid