Lewis Hamilton continued Mercedes’ performance advantage in recent years at the Circuit of The Americas by putting himself on pole position for the 81st time in his career at the 2018 United States Grand Prix.
Championship rival Sebastian Vettel was a very close second, but he will start fifth following a three-place grid penalty for failing to slow sufficiently for a red flag during free practice.
Kimi Raikkonen was third quickest, but he’ll be promoted to second ahead of Valtteri Bottas and Daniel Ricciardo. The Finn will start Sunday’s race on ultrasoft tyres while Hamilton and Vettel will start on the supersofts.
Hamilton was quickest in the opening stanza of qualifying, nearly four-tenths of a second clear of team-mate Bottas with Vettel in third.
A fine lap from Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley was enough to knock Fernando Alonso out of qualifying while his team-mate Pierre Gasly finished seventh quickest overall with an upgraded Honda power unit. Unfortunately, the pair will start from the rear of the grid after Honda opted to fit fresh engines to both cars.
In the sister Red Bull, Max Verstappen’s participation was cut short as the Dutchman limped back to the pits with suspected rear suspension damage caused by a heavy impact with a kerb.
Williams duo Sergey Sirotkin and Lance Stroll, Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson and McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne were also eliminated.
On ultrasoft tyres, Räikkönen went quickest in Q2 followed by Vettel, Hamilton and Bottas on supersofts as Ferrari showed a sudden burst of pace. Meanwhile, Sauber’s Charles Leclerc was sixth-fastest.
Both Toro Rossos and Max Verstappen didn’t set times as Renault’s Carlos Sainz Jr. missed out on Q3 to team-mate Nico Hülkenberg by just 0.002s.
Kevin Magnussen missed out on Q3 and ended up in 12th as his Haas team-mate Romain Grosjean was seventh ahead of Force India duo Esteban Ocon and Sergio Pérez.
In Q3, Hamilton headed Vettel by just 0.088s with Bottas a fraction further back in third and Räikkönen a distant fourth. The quartet headed back to the pits for set-up changes and a splash of fuel before heading back out for one more flying lap.
Bottas crossed the line first and slotted into second just 0.049s behind Hamilton. Räikkönen demoted them both to take pole, but Hamilton improved to inch back ahead again. Vettel was last across the line, but couldn’t stop Hamilton from taking his third consecutive pole in Austin with just 0.061s separating the pair.
“That was close,” said Hamilton. “I didn’t know how close it was going to be once we got into qualifying but obviously when we went into that last run, I knew it was quite edgy between us and it was going to require solid laps.
“The first one was decent but not good enough. Then the second one was that little bit better that enabled me to pull that out. At some races where I haven’t done a better time—I’ve had to bail out the second lap so I was very, very adamant I was going to do a better lap.”
Esteban Ocon, who remains without a seat for 2019, finished best of the rest in seventh with Hülkenberg, Grosjean, Leclerc and Pérez completing the top ten.