20 October 2023

Charles Leclerc snatches pole position after Max Verstappen’s lap was deleted

20 October 2023

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc took pole position for the United States Grand Prix after Max Verstappen’s lap was deleted for exceeding track limits.

Verstappen looked to have qualified first in his Red Bull at a sizzling Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, only to see his lap – five thousandths of a second quicker than Leclerc – chalked off by the stewards.

Verstappen dropped from first to sixth with Lando Norris taking second for McLaren ahead of Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton.

Leclerc’s team-mate Carlos Sainz finished fourth with George Russell fifth for Mercedes.

Verstappen, who wrapped up his third world title in Qatar a fortnight ago, is bidding to join Hamilton, Michael Schumacher, Alain Prost and Sebastian Vettel by reaching 50 victories.

But the Dutchman’s quest will start from back down the grid after he put all four wheels off the track at Turn 18 following a rare mistake.

Verstappen headed into the final runs a quarter of a second down after he took aim at his team for putting him on track too close to Sergio Perez in the other Red Bull.

“Well f****** done there,” he yelled over the radio. “What the f*** was that in the last corner?!”

His subsequent error then allowed Leclerc to take the 21st pole of his career, 0.130 sec ahead of Norris, who finished nine thousandths clear of Hamilton.

“It wasn’t easy for everybody so I am really happy to start on pole for Sunday,” said Leclerc. “It is a surprise for us because we didn’t expect to be fighting for pole.

“Going into Turn 1 it is tricky here, but it is always better to start at the front than the back.”

Hamilton, who has only finished off the podium once in Austin, said: “I love being in the States. The circuit is incredible and is one of my favourites, right up there with Silverstone. it is a legendary layout and incredibly challenging.”

Hamilton, in his upgraded Mercedes, was fastest in the opening sector, but was unable to better Leclerc’s time.

He added: “We have taken a step closer to the front which I know everyone is working so hard for. They are still a little bit ahead but we will give it another shot tomorrow. With this crowd, anything is possible.”

Daniel Ricciardo is back in the saddle after missing five races with a broken hand sustained in practice for the Dutch Grand Prix on August 25.

The 34-year-old Australian progressed to Q2 before lining up in 15th, one second off the pace and four places behind Yuki Tsunoda in the other AlphaTauri.

Aston Martin have brought a number of upgrades across the pond, but both their drivers were sent for an early bath.

Fernando Alonso managed only 17th with team-mate Lance Stroll – on a torrid run of form – two places further back.

Meanwhile, American rookie Logan Sargeant, whose seat with Williams has not been confirmed for next season, will line up from last position at his home race.

A sprint race will follow on Saturday before Sunday’s 56-lap grand prix.

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