Lewis Hamilton beat Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg by two tenths of a second to land his first US Grand Prix pole at the Circuit of the Americas, with Daniel Ricciardo taking third place. The Red Bull Racing driver will be joined on row two by team-mate Max Verstappen, while Ferrari locked out row three with Kimi Raikkonen ahead of Sebastian Vettel.
For the frontrunners Q1 was straightforward. Mercedes seized the initiative, with Hamilton quickly rising to P1 with a time of 1:36.296 and the four-time US Grand Prix was joined at the top by Rosberg, Verstappen and Ricciardo. After setting times hovering around two seconds clear of Romain Grosjean’s P16 time after the drivers’ first spell on track none of the leaders would require another run.
At the foot of the table though, Jenson Button was in trouble. Having failed to get the best out of his first run the McLaren was languishing in P19. With team-mate Fernando Alonso in P11 ahead of the final runs the expectation was that Button would quickly make the leap to safety.
However, on his final run his hit traffic and posted the 16th best time, and as rivals found more space on track the 2009 champion slipped back to where he began, P19 and elimination.
Joining him on the sidelines as Q2 began were Grosjean in P16 followed by Renault’s Kevin Magnussen, Manor’s Pascal Wehrlein, Sauber’s Felipe Nasr and the second Manor of Esteban Ocon.
Q2 saw the Mercedes make their customary early impact – this time with both Rosberg and Hamilton on soft tyres. They were joined in that strategic gambit by Verstappen. Rosberg took P1 followed by Hamilton but they were pushed back by Ricciardo who took P1 on supersofts with a time of 1:36.255.
The Mercedes drivers were followed by Verstappen whose first run time on softs was a lap of 1:36.857. That was better than 1.2s clear of then 10th-placed Alonso, so the question was whether the Dutchman would get to stick with soft tyres for the start or whether he would need to bolt on the supersofts to guarantee passage to Q3.
The answer was quick in coming. As the final runs began there was no sign of any movement in the Red Bull garage and so Verstappen, as well as Rosberg and Hamilton, will start tomorrow’s race on the soft compound Pirelli tyre.
Verstappen ended the session in P7 with the Ferraris of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen and the Force India of Nico Hulkenberg ahead. Carlos Sainz put in a good performance to make Q3 in P8 for Toro Rosso after missing out on most of FP3 due to punctures caused by problems with his car and Williams’ Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa completed the list of the those would battle in the final session.
Out though went Sergio Perez in 11th place, with the Mexican eliminated ahead of Alonso, Daniil Kvyat in the second Toro Rosso, Haas’ Esteban Gutierrez, Renault’s Jolyon Palmer and Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson.
The final segment saw Hamilton seize the initiative. Rosberg made a small error at the start of his first Q3 run and the Briton capitalised, taking pole position with a lap of 1:35.370. That put him 0.072 ahead of Rosberg, while Ricciardo slotted into P3 0.558 behind Hamilton with a time of 1:35.928.
And in the final runs Hamilton stretched the advantage, despite a brief concern about shifting to seventh gear as he worked through his out lap. The defending champion was quicker through the first sector and while Rosberg clawed time back in sector two, Hamilton had done enough and he took his first pole position at COTA with a lap of 1:34.999, 0.216 ahead of Rosberg.
Ricciardo edged team-mate Verstappen for third place on the grid, while Raikkonen pipped Vettel for fifth. Seventh place went to Nico Hulkenberg, with Valtteri Bottas eighth. The final top 10 slots will be filled by Massa in P9 and Carlos Sainz.