Las Vegas Grand Prix – It was all Ferrari in qualifying with Charles Leclerc fastest in each part with Carlos Sainz right behind him.
It was Kevin Magnussen who was the first to emerge as qualifying got underway at midnight in Las Vegas. The Dane started things off with a 1:35.968 but was demoted by Sergio Perez and Charles Leclerc on their opening laps, the Monegasque going straight into the 1:34s.
As the clock ticked down to just under ten minutes remaining Leclerc had improved by eight tenths to a 1:34.072. Carlos Sainz was seven tenths back in P2 with Max Verstappen a further two in P3. The Mercedes of George Russell and Lewis Hamilton were the last to emerge from the pits and were still to set times.
With five minutes to go Leclerc remained at the top though he was joined by the Red Bulls while Zhou Guanyu, Daniel Ricciardo, Nico Hulkenberg, Pierre Gasly, and Yuki Tsunoda were in the bottom five spots.
The Ferraris traded times at the top before retreating to the pits for the final few minutes, there was a brief yellow flag in the final few seconds as Tsunoda went off at T5 but while nobody knocked Ferrari off the top, Lando Norris had pitted early and just fell back in the timesheets.
Leclerc’s 1:33.617 was the best time while Norris, Esteban Ocon, Zhou, Oscar Piastri and Tsunoda were eliminated. There was on-track battling and angry radio messages from Ocon and Verstappen at the end of the session as they fought over track position.
The Aston Martins were the first to head out as the second part of qualifying went green, Lance Stroll will be headed to the Stewards after the session for potentially failing to slow for the yellow flags. It’s not a great day for the Canadian and warning flags though, he was investigated for overtaking under double waved yellows after FP3 and handed a five place grid penalty for the infringement.
Fernando Alonso started things off with a leisurely warm up lap, a 1:42.897 but his next time was a much more competitive 1:33.880. With five minutes to go it was Verstappen on top with a 1:33.607 ahead of the two Mercedes, while Logan Sargeant, Stroll, Ricciardo, Valtteri Bottas and Hulkenberg were in the drop zone outside of the top ten.
Fourteen of the fifteen cars were out circulating in the final few minutes, Perez in P6 had pitted with two and a half minutes and remained in his garage. The Ferraris had returned to the top, Leclerc once again ahead of Sainz while Verstappen was P3.
Those in the danger zone were Albon, Gasly, Sargeant, Stroll and Ricciardo but there was a lot of changes at the end and three of those managed to escape and in the end only Ferrari and Williams managed to get both of their cars into the top ten.
The Williams and Alpine cars escaping meant that some big names fell – Hamilton and Perez ending in P11 and P12 – while Hulkenberg, Stroll and Ricciardo joined them. Leclerc and Sainz remained P1 and P2 with Russell moving up into P3.
Magnussen led the way out as the pole shootout began, Bottas the only driver to remain in the pits for the first runs, though the two Williams cars joined him after completing their out laps.
The Haas driver started with a 1:34.275, but after the other six drivers circulating with him set their times, it was Leclerc in provisional pole with a 1:33.021 while Sainz and Verstappen were both within 0.083 seconds of his effort.
There was a big gap between the top three and Alonso in P4, the Spaniard four and a half tenths slower than Verstappen. After their banker laps were set, everyone but Russell headed back to the pit lane.
With four and a half minutes to go the cars started heading back out, the Alfa Romeo and Williamses among them. The Ferrari drivers both improved, neither were overly happy with their effort but it still sealed the top two spots for them, Leclerc with a 1:32.726 and Sainz just 0.044 seconds behind. The Spaniard though won’t be starting from the front row as he has a ten place penalty to serve.
Verstappen didn’t improve but still took P3 ahead of Russell. Gasly put in a very strong performance for Alpine, just half a second off Leclerc in P5 while it was also a fantastic result for Williams with Albon and Sargeant taking P6 and P7. Bottas was P8, Magnussen P9 and Alonso rounded out the top ten with a 1:33.555.