Charles Leclerc dominated Las Vegas Grand Prix qualifying to take pole position for the race on Saturday night, with an excellent performance over one lap.
He pipped Ferrari team-mate Carlos Sainz to the P1 slot, but the Spaniard will have to drop 10 places come the race.
Max Verstappen was third for Red Bull, with George Russell and Pierre Gasly rounding out the top five, while the Williams duo of Alex Albon and Logan Sargeant set to benefit from Sainz’s grid penalty to lock out the third row on Saturday night.
Further back, both McLaren drivers were knocked out in Q1, before both Lewis Hamilton and Sergio Perez were knocked out in Q2, leaving a mixed-up grid for the Las Vegas Grand Prix.
Two drivers went into the session knowing that pole wasn’t possible, Sainz having a 10-place grid penalty hanging over him after his huge car repairs yesterday resulted in a new energy store, while Lance Stroll had a five-place penalty given to him for overtaking Sainz under double waved yellow flags in FP3.
And with qualifying getting underway at midnight local time, the drivers looked to use more than one lap to get their tyres and brakes up to temperature around the Las Vegas Strip Circuit.
As he showed in FP2, Leclerc looked the man to beat in Q1 – his second flying lap of a 1:34.072 a full seven tenths quicker than Sainz in second place and the rest of the field.
Verstappen closed up to within a tenth of the Ferrari driver, but that was as close as anyone could get to the Ferrari driver as the field pounded around the track to set the best possible lap times in Q1.
The huge track improvement saw Leclerc and Sainz dip into the 1:33s, and the leaderboard continue to shuffle – making it crucial for all 20 drivers to be on track at the last moment of the session to make the most of the available grip.
But for those to be eliminated, Oscar Piastri could not climb out of the bottom five on his final lap, while McLaren team-mate Lando Norris faced a nervous wait from the pit lane.
Improvements from George Russell and Lance Stroll dropped Norris into the Q1 drop zone himself, making it a double McLaren elimination in Q1 along with Esteban Ocon, Zhou Guanyu and Yuki Tsunoda, who made a mistake at Turn 5 on his final flying lap and could not improve.
Ocon was unimpressed with Verstappen as he put an overtake on him on the inside at Turn 1, the Alpine driver believing he ruined his lap with that while Verstappen called Ocon a “stupid idiot” as they jostled for position – but it was the Frenchman who dropped out.
Q2 began with the mission of making it through to the top 10 shootout and, again, the drivers opted to build up to their flying laps with the cool night temperatures in Las Vegas taking time to acclimatise to for the cars.
And despite Verstappen putting himself quickest in the first flying runs, Leclerc found even more daylight with a 1:32.834, 0.773s clear of the Red Bull driver and half a second clear of team-mate Sainz.
There was still time for one more run however, with plenty of improvement to be found as the track continued to rubber in around Las Vegas.
Sergio Perez was in sixth place after his first run but he stayed in the pit lane for the final laps, with the other 14 drivers circulating Las Vegas one more time – leaving a wait for him to see if he would make it into Q3.
Logan Sargeant, Fernando Alonso, Valtteri Bottas, Pierre Gasly and Alex Albon all improved enough to knock not only Perez into the drop zone, but Lewis Hamilton too, with the Mercedes driver qualifying 11th.
Nico Hulkenberg, Stroll and Daniel Ricciardo joined them in Q2 elimination, with Stroll’s penalty set to drop him to 19th once that takes effect.
This left a Q3 session where the two teams to get both their cars through to the final part of qualifying were Ferrari, and Williams.
Both Albon and Sargeant had looked full of speed throughout the session, and how high they could climb would be an intriguing sub-plot of qualifying.
The first runs saw Leclerc edge out Sainz and Verstappen by less than a tenth, with a large half-second gap to Alonso behind them – making it look like a three-way battle for pole come the end of qualifying.
The cool temperatures made it hard for the drivers to make up time but a 1:32.726 for Leclerc saw him claw an extra couple of tenths, while Verstappen could not improve in the first two sectors.
Sainz ran his team-mate extremely close within the first two sectors, and crossed the line just 0.044s behind – but will start down on the sixth row come Saturday night in Las Vegas.
The Williams duo performed excellently to line up sixth and seventh, which will become a third-row lockout for the Las Vegas Grand Prix.
Las Vegas Grand Prix 2023: Qualifying classification
1 Charles LECLERC Ferrari 1:32.726
2 Carlos SAINZ Ferrari +0.044**
3 Max VERSTAPPEN Red Bull +0.378
4 George RUSSELL Mercedes +0.386
5 Pierre GASLY Alpine +0.513
6 Alexander ALBON Williams +0.597
7 Logan SARGEANT Williams +0.787
8 Valtteri BOTTAS Alfa Romeo +0.799
9 Kevin MAGNUSSEN Haas +0.811
10 Fernando ALONSO Aston Martin +0.829
11 Lewis HAMILTON Mercedes 1:33.837
12 Sergio PEREZ Red Bull +0.018
13 Nico HULKENBERG Haas +0.142
14 Lance STROLL Aston Martin +0.362*
15 Daniel RICCIARDO AlphaTauri +0.471
16 Lando NORRIS McLaren 1:34.703
17 Esteban OCON Alpine +0.131
18 Guanyu ZHOU Alfa Romeo +0.146
19 Oscar PIASTRI McLaren +0.147
20 Yuki TSUNODA AlphaTauri +1.744
*Five-place grid penalty to be applied
**Ten-place grid penalty to be applied