Since the first Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas, the race has never been won by a driver starting from outside the front row, and while this doesn’t mean it can’t be won from the second or third rows, it does suggest that this is a circuit where being on pole, or at least alongside, is important.
On the evidence thus far, having been quickest in two of the practice sessions, Max Verstappen is looking good, the Dutchman no doubt buoyed by his pole-grabbing performance seven days ago in Mexico.
Back then we wondered how he would fare once Ferrari and Mercedes turned the wick up, but in the end it was the stewards who rained on his parade, handing him a three-place grid drop for not slowing under the yellow flags that followed Valtteri Bottas‘ crash.
Other than Verstappen, Ferrari looks strong, or at least Sebastian Vettel does, Charles Leclerc sidelined in FP3 following an oil leak which necessitated an engine change during the break. Fitting an old engine however, the youngster escapes any penalties.
Mercedes has struggled a bit this weekend, but that doesn’t mean we can write the Silver Arrows off, far from it, for in many ways this weekend is shaping up to be a repeat of Mexico.
The big surprise earlier was the performance of the McLaren pair, Lando Norris finishing a mighty impressive third and teammate Carlos Sainz seventh. However, speaking at the end of the session, Zak Brown was keen to play things down.
Following his weighbridge issue yesterday, Sergio Perez starts from the pitlane, while the William duo face another long, lonely day tomorrow.
Ahead of Q1, the air temperature is 20.1 degrees C, while the track temperature is 26.9 degrees. It remains bright and sunny.
With an eye on the grid penalty handed out to Verstappen last week, this time around it is worth keeping an eye on track limits, particularly at Turn 19. A number of drivers have fallen foul of the electronic system thus far this weekend and have had their times deleted as a consequence. As the pressure builds in the final moments of each phase of today’s session, this could prove to be an issue.
As could the bumps which over the course of the weekend have caused issues for both drivers and cars alike.
The lights go green and Kubica gets things underway, followed by his Williams teammate.
Leclerc is next out, his crew having done a great job of changing his engine during the break.
Kubica posts a benchmark of sorts, the Pole crossing the line at 38.302. Moments later, Russell eclipses his teammate with a 37.386.
Things get a little more serious as Leclerc posts 34.696, ahead of Raikkonen and Giovinazzi as more and more drivers head out, all of them on softs.
A 34.877 sees Gasly go second, as teammate Kvyat is advised of a tailwind in to Turn 12.
A lock-up in Turn 1 compromises Vettel’s lap almost before it’s begun, as Norris goes quickest (34.503), only to be demoted by Albon (33.984).
Sainz goes top with a 33.916, out-pacing Albon by 0.068s.
Verstappen stops the clock at 33.549, as Ricciardo goes sixth and Hulkenberg seventh.
Quickest in the final two sectors, Hamilton goes quickest overall with a 33.454.
Having aborted his previous lap, on his second flyer Vettel goes fourth with a 33.766, as Bottas goes third (33.750).
Magnussen goes tenth (34.506), as Perez can only manage 38.107, which is slower than the Williams pair.
Going quickest in S1, Leclerc subsequently struggles for grip and as a result the Ferrari driver aborts his second flying lap. He is currently seventh.
With 4:50 remaining, the Alfa pair along with Perez and the Williams duo comprise the drop zone, with Grosjean, Kvyat and Stroll hovering.
Despite the fact that it would take the mother of all shocks to see him fail to make the cut, pace-setter Hamilton is back on track at the final assault gets underway.
Leclerc is one of the many drivers either taking nothing for granted or seeking to climb up the order.
Hulkenberg improves to eighth, while Norris and Magnussen are on hot laps.
Norris goes quickest overall (33.353), as Grosjean can only manage 13th, while Stroll goes ninth.
Magnussen goes sixth, while Giovinazzi demotes his own teammate, only to be dumped into the drop zone by Grosjean who makes it by the skin of his teeth.
Quickest is Norris, ahead of Hamilton, Verstappen, Gasly, Bottas, Vettel, Magnussen, Ricciardo, Sainz and Stroll. Leclerc finished twelfth.
We lose Giovinazzi, Raikkonen, Russell, Perez and Kubica.
Verstappen heads out, also sporting the yellow-banded rubber, while his teammate is on softs.
As they begin their first flying lap, Leclerc is quickest in S1.
Hamilton crosses the line at 33.045, with Bottas posting 33.160 and Vettel 33.198. Leclerc goes third with a 33.188.
Sainz goes fifth (33.502), ahead of Gasly, Norris and Stroll, as Albon goes quickest in S2.
At the line Verstappen posts 33.120 to go second, but moments later Albon goes top of the pile with a 32.898.
After the first wave, Kvyat, Ricciardo, Stroll , Hulkenberg and Grosjean comprise the drop zone, with Magnussen and Norris hovering.
Asked if he can go faster, Leclerc responds: “Not with these tyres”. Which sounds like the Ferrari driver, who is currently fifth, just ahead of his teammate, may switch to the softs.
Stroll has a poor opening sector and looks unlikely to improve, while Norris posts a PB.
Stroll improves in S2, while Norris maintains his strong pace.
Hamilton posts a PB in S1, as do Verstappen and Vettel.
Norris improves to seventh, while Vettel and Verstappen trade fastest sectors.
Vettel goes quickest with a 32.782, but is demoted when his teammate stops the clock at 32.760.
Hamilton aborts his lap, while Verstappen is unhappy after an incident involving Hamilton and Kvyat in Turn 19, the Russian having has his lap time deleted in the process.
“Lewis ****** us all,” declares the Red Bull driver.
The stewards are to investigate.
Quickest is Leclerc, ahead of Vettel, Albon, Hamilton, Verstappen, Bottas, Norris, Sainz, Ricciardo and Gasly.
We lose Hulkenberg, Magnussen, Kvyat, Stroll and Grosjean.