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Leclerc takes pole in Texas as Verstappen slips to sixth

Charles Leclerc claimed his third pole position of the season on Friday as Max Verstappen had his best lap deleted and slipped to sixth on the grid in a dramatic qualifying at this weekend’s United States Grand Prix.

The Ferrari driver showed commanding pace as he clocked a fastest lap in one minute and 34.723 seconds to outpace McLaren’s Lando Norris by a tenth with resurgent seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes taking third. 

Carlos Sainz was fourth in the second Ferrari ahead of George Russell in the second Williams and Verstappen, whose late best lap was quick enough for pole before it was rubbed out after he exceeded track limits at Turn 19. 

It was the 21st pole position of Leclerc’s career and gives him a chance of frustrating newly-crowned three-time champion Verstappen’s bid for a 50th career victory in Sunday’s race.

“I am very happy with my qualifying and to take pole position,” said Leclerc. 

“It was a really good lap and the team did a great job. We had a very clean FP1, which is so important on these sprint weekends.”

Norris described his front-row start as a “bonus for the team”.

He said: “I think I was quick enough to get pole position. I know Charles said he made a few mistakes, but so did I! And anyway, I am happy with second nevertheless.”

Hamilton, who relished the performance of his car’s upgrades at one of his favourite circuits, said: “I love being here at this circuit and I love the country. This is such an incredibly challenging circuit and one of my favourites, up there with Silverstone. 

‘My best shot’

“We’ve taken a step closer to these guys this weekend, thanks to everyone in the factory who have been pushing so hard. I will give it my best shot tomorrow.”

Behind a grumbling Verstappen, who complained on team radio, the Alpines of Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon were seventh and eighth ahead of Sergio Perez in the second Red Bull and Oscar Piastri in the second McLaren. 

The session began in glorious sunshine with a track temperature of 42 degrees Celsius and the air at 35, conditions to challenge tyres and cars at the Circuit of the Americas. 

Leclerc set an early fastest lap before Verstappen and then Nico Hulkenberg took command, the German making the most of a major upgrade package for his Haas on home soil. 

Both Ferraris then swept to the top with Sainz leading Leclerc by two-tenths ahead of Gasly’s Alpine, with everyone running on softs, before they began their second Q1 runs. 

Sainz chose to save tyres and miss a second run as Verstappen went top by almost half a second only to be outpaced by Hamilton, on new tyres, who beat him by two-tenths. Norris was second. 

At the bottom end, it was bad news for Aston Martin, despite an upgrade package, as both two-time champion Fernando Alonso and Lance Stroll failed to make the cut. 

Alonso was 17th and eliminated from Q1 for the first time this year along with Hulkenberg, in his Haas, Stroll, 19th, and the Williams pair Alex Albon and Logan Sargeant. 

Stroll had missed most of practice due to brake problems, which also afflicted Alonso. For the Canadian son of team owner Lawrence Stroll, it was a fifth consecutive Q1 flop. 

In Q2, Mercedes set the pace until Verstappen seized the initiative in a close scrap that saw nine cars separated by less than four-tenths before their second runs saw Ferrari shine again. 

Leclerc topped Verstappen ahead of Hamilton and Sainz while Alpha Tauri’s Yuki Tsunoda, Zhou Guanyu and his Alfa Romeo team-mate Valtteri Bottas, Kevin Magnussen of Haas and Daniel Ricciardo, in the second Alpha Tauri, were knocked out. 

All this left 10 cars from five teams in Q3’s shootout.

Leclerc topped the first runs ahead of Hamilton by 0.056 seconds with Verstappen third and Sainz fourth. Russell’s lap was deleted for exceeding track limits, leaving him 10th before the final showdown.

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