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Verstappen takes sprint pole in Austin

Red Bull Racing's Dutch driver Max Verstappen races in the Sprint Shootout at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, on October 21, 2023, ahead of the United States Formula One Grand Prix. (Photo by Chandan Khanna / AFP)

Newly crowned three-time world champion Max Verstappen secured his third sprint race pole of the season for Red Bull on Saturday when he outpaced Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc by only 0.055 seconds in Austin.

The 26-year-old Dutchman bounced back and made amends for his mistakes on Friday –when he had a lap deleted as he qualified a disappointing sixth for Sunday’s Grand Prix —  by dominating the three-part sprint ‘shootout’ session.

Seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton confirmed Mercedes’ improvement following a major car upgrade by qualifying a close third ahead of McLaren’ Lando Norris and team-mate Oscar Piastri, winner of the sprint race in Qatar.

“The whole day so far has been quite competitive for us all,” said Verstappen.

“My last lap was not great, but the car is working well. I’m expecting an exciting afternoon with many cars close to each other. Tyre management could be a key here.”

Carlos Sainz was sixth in the second Ferrari ahead of Sergio Perez in the second Red Bull, George Russell in the second Mercedes, Alex Albon of Williams ad Alpine’s Pierre Gasly.

“It’s a lot closer than yesterday I think,” said Hamilton. “So that’s an improvement and it was a tough session on the mediums, but to be so close in Austin is very positive for the team. We’re making progress.”

On a marginally cooler day, at 32 degrees Celsius, the ‘shootout’ began with Hamilton setting the early pace ahead of Norris before the Ferraris of Leclerc of Sainz gained the initiative in SQ1.

After his grumpy disappointment in qualifying only sixth on Friday for the Grand Prix race, Verstappen showed his intent by sweeping to the top, three-tenths clear of Sunday’s pole man Leclerc, with his first lap in earnest.

Ricciardo rescued himself from elimination with a last-gasp lap, pushing the Haas pair Nico Hulkenberg and Kevin Magnussen into the bottom five and early elimination along with Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Botas, Yuki Tsunoda of Alpha Tauri and Williams’ struggling American Logan Sargeant.

In SQ2, Verstappen set an early marker in 1:35.181 ahead of Leclerc and Sainz, but the Dutchman survived another ‘moment’ when he took too much kerb and spun at Turn Nine where he ran across the grass before re-joining.

It ended with Williams’ Alex Albon reaching SQ3 with a late effort, but at the expense of two-time champion Fernando Alonso and his Aston Martin team-mate Lance Stroll, together with Ricciardo in his Alpha Tauri, Esteban Ocon of Alpine and Zhou Guanyu in the second Alfa Romeo.

As this unfolded, the race stewards announced investigations into half of the drivers for failing to maintain sufficient speed on slow laps, thus allegedly interfering with others on hot laps.

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