Charles Leclerc has earned a superb pole position for the US Grand Prix on Sunday, beating Lando Norris to the P1 grid slot in a thrilling qualifying session in Austin.
Max Verstappen had set a time good enough for pole, but a track limits breach at Turn 19 saw him drop to sixth on the grid – with Lewis Hamilton, Carlos Sainz and George Russell rounding out the top five.
Further down, there was disappointment for both Aston Martin drivers, however, as Fernando Alonso and Lance Stroll both dropped out in Q1, set to start 17th and 19th respectively as they struggled to extract pace from the updated AMR23.
Both Aston Martins fall in shock Q1 exit at COTA
Given it’s a sprint weekend at COTA, US Grand Prix qualifying took place on Friday to set the grid for Sunday – and the drivers were naturally keen to get going in Q1 on a hot afternoon in Austin.
Having finished FP1 after only five laps due to a brake issue, Lance Stroll had been looking to bounce back as quickly as he could in qualifying, but went in with extremely limited data from the sole practice hour on Friday.
But with a mixture of new and used tyres on the cars in the early part of the session along with track evolution, the drivers were improving their times as the session progressed, with the bottom five far from set heading into the final part of Q1.
A 1:35.824 from Carlos Sainz was the first time close to the laps set in FP1 earlier on Friday, with everyone opting to run again in the closing stages of the session for one final crack at a flying lap.
The leaderboard continuously shuffled as drivers crossed the line, with a highly-contested session putting only 1.144s between Lewis Hamilton’s benchmark time and Nico Hulkenberg in 16th.
But the biggest shock of the session came as both Aston Martin drivers, Fernando Alonso and Stroll, were knocked out – 17th and 19th respectively as the upgraded AMR23 did not have the desired effect on Friday, with Alonso losing his 100% record of making Q3 at every race this season in the process.
Alex Albon and Logan Sargeant were the others to drop out in Q1, with a frantic session coming to a close.
Daniel Ricciardo drops out following track limits infringement in Q2, but a tight fight at the front
Q2 saw the remaining 15 drivers come out for another crack at the Circuit of The Americas, with a place in the top 10 the prize in qualifying.
There was added pressure on Lando Norris as he saw his first flyer deleted in the session, after going four tenths slower than Oscar Piastri in the sister McLaren on the same run.
Sainz called on Yuki Tsunoda to “be more careful” after alleging the AlphaTauri driver pushed him wide of the apex at Turn 15, but with times on the board it was time to get back to the pits before the crucial final runs in Q2, with both Alpine drivers getting into the top five at that stage in a turn of pace from the French team – and only half a second separating the top 10.
The Ferrari duo went first, Leclerc and Sainz clocking a 1:35.004 and 1:35.302 respectively, and Verstappen went just 0.004s behind Leclerc from his final flying lap in Q2, hinting that a multi-team battle for pole may have been on the cards in Austin.
As for those to fall away, Yuki Tsunoda was 11th, just one thousandth ahead of Zhou Guanyu, with Valtteri Bottas, Kevin Magnussen and Daniel Ricciardo also dropping out, the Australian seeing his last flying lap deleted for a track limits infringement.
Charles Leclerc takes superb pole as Max Verstappen sees best time deleted for track limits
The first flying laps in Q3 saw Leclerc get onto provisional pole ahead of Verstappen, the first driver into the 1:34s this weekend on a 1:34.829 compared to a 1:35.081 for the 2023 World Champion.
But as more drivers rounded COTA, a fastest middle sector put Hamilton right into contention before crossing the line only 0.056s behind Leclerc, putting him on the provisional front row.
Verstappen was furious over team radio, however, saying a sarcastic “well ****ing done” to Red Bull as he came too close to comfort to Perez in front in the final corner, suffering in the turbulent air of his team-mate.
This set up a grandstand finish to qualifying in Austin, with four constructors in the top five and a thrilling battle taking place over one lap in Texas.
Onto the final flying laps, Leclerc improved in his first sector while Verstappen suffered a lock-up at Turn 1, and Leclerc improved to a 1:34.723, with a late surge from Norris putting him only a tenth behind.
Verstappen went just 0.005s faster than Leclerc over his final flying lap, but having run wide at Turn 19, his lap time was deleted and dropped him to fifth on the road.
Further behind, Hamilton was next to cross the line, but could only manage third – with Russell being the last man to complete a lap and take Verstappen’s place, dropping the Red Bull driver to sixth.
US Grand Prix 2023: Qualifying classification
1 Charles LECLERC Ferrari 1:34.723
2 Lando NORRIS McLaren +0.130
3 Lewis HAMILTON Mercedes +0.139
4 Carlos SAINZ Ferrari +0.222
5 George RUSSELL Mercedes +0.356
6 Max VERSTAPPEN Red Bull +0.358
7 Pierre GASLY Alpine +0.366
8 Esteban OCON Alpine +0.431
9 Sergio PEREZ Red Bull +0.450
10 Oscar PIASTRI McLaren +0.744
11 Yuki TSUNODA AlphaTauri 1:35.697
12 ZHOU Guanyu Alfa Romeo +0.001
13 Valtteri BOTTAS Alfa Romeo +0.161
14 Kevin MAGNUSSEN Haas +0.183
15 Daniel RICCIARDO AlphaTauri +0.277
16 Nico HULKENBERG Haas 1:36.235
17 Fernando ALONSO Aston Martin +0.033
18 Alexander ALBON Williams +0.080
19 Lance STROLL Aston Martin +0.354
20 Logan SARGEANT Williams +0.592