Valtteri Bottas ended his four-month pole position drought after he pipped Sebastian Vettel by 0.012 seconds to claim top spot in the United States Grand Prix Qualifying.
Bottas turned in a huge display in Q3 to set a new track record of a 1m32.029s around the Circuit of the Americas on his first flying effort of the session, and it proved good enough to beat Vettel by a whisker.
The result ended Ferrari’s streak of six consecutive pole positions since the summer break as Bottas scored his first pole since the British Grand Prix and Mercedes’ first since its home race in Germany at the end of July.
Yet it wasn’t all smiles from the Silver Arrows garage as champion elect Lewis Hamilton endured a mildly disappointing qualifying session, having been unable to hook up a competitive lap on either of his Q3 runs and was left to settle for fifth on the grid, some 0.292s off the pace of Bottas.
Max Verstappen came to within 0.067 seconds of Bottas’ leading time with Charles Leclerc following closely behind, which further reiterated the intense competition between the leading trio of teams heading into the race.
Q1 - Norris tops the timesheets
Bright skies and ambient temperatures meant conditions had improved considerably in comparison to Friday running, and teams were looking to take advantage of track evolution.
Vettel made life slightly trickier for himself by locking up heavily at Turn 1 on his first flying lap, but he easily put himself through on his next timed lap, on the soft tyres, as he clocked the sixth-quickest time.
Hamilton was initially the man to beat, fractionally edging out Verstappen by 0.095s, with Bottas – the only driver who can stop Hamilton winning a sixth crown – 0.2s further back. But the timesheets were torn up when Lando Norris had a second run late in the session and shot to the top of the pile in the McLaren.
Pierre Gasly hauled himself out of the drop zone in the closing stages to end up fourth quickest – but the Alfa Romeo’s couldn’t follow suit. Antonio Giovinazzi out-qualified team mate Kimi Raikkonen by one place as he ended up 16th, while George Russell finished ahead of a Racing Point, with Sergio Perez having different priorities as he is already condemned to a pit-lane start courtesy of missing the weighbridge in Friday practice.
Q2 - Hulkenberg exits as Hamilton/Verstappen clash
Nico Hulkenberg missed out by half a tenth for Renault, but will be the best-placed driver with free tyre choice in 11th.
In the build-up to the final runs, Hamilton and Verstappen clashed in the final sector as the duo looked to navigate their way past Daniil Kvyat.
As a result, Verstappen travelled across the grass in an attempt to avoid contact and Kvyat was forced wide, resulting in the Red Bull driver to use a select choice of words over his team radio.
At the start of the session, Mercedes. Ferrari and Verstappen opted to change things up and head out on the medium tyre, in a bid to start the race on that rubber, while the rest of the field stuck with the quicker, less durable soft.
Alexander Albon comfortably went quickest, with Hamilton the fastest of the medium runners in second. But it was beautifully tight, with Hamilton, Verstappen, Bottas and Vettel separated by just 0.15s.
For the second runs, everyone headed out on softs, apart from the Ferrari duo of Leclerc and Vettel, who opted for mediums. The duo both improved, with Leclerc going fastest by 0.022s from Vettel.
Hamilton set the best middle sector of all on the soft, but backed off to ensure he didn’t improve so he could start on the medium. Bottas and Verstappen did the same, which means both Mercedes and Ferraris plus Verstappen will start on the mediums. The rest of the top 10 will start on the softs.
Haas's Kevin Magnussen, Toro Rosso's Kvyat – who had his last time deleted for exceeding track limits – Racing Point's Lance Stroll and Haas's Romain Grosjean all got the boot.
Q3 - Brilliant Bottas
Bottas took pole by the smallest margin in COTA history, having never previously had the pace to start on the front row at the venue. Incidentally it was Mercedes' 200th front row start, while pole gives Bottas a chance to improve on his record of having won just three races from 10 P1 starts.
Vettel was edged into second, with Verstappen securing his best US GP start in third – his best grid slot since Hungary, seven races ago. In contrast, Leclerc fails to start on the front row for the first time in seven races.
Hamilton will start off the front row in the USA for only the second time in his career.
Albon secured his third consecutive top-six finish for Red Bull, with Carlos Sainz finishing best of the rest in seventh and taking the lead in his qualifying head-to-head with McLaren team mate Lando Norris 10-9, as he beat the Briton by a position.
Daniel Ricciardo – who opted for only one run in Q3 – was the leading Renault in ninth as Gasly rounded out the top 10 for Toro Rosso.