Bottas claims Austin pole with Hamilton to start fifth

Lewis Hamilton is in position to claim the Formula One drivers' championship in Austin, but Valtteri Bottas will start from pole.

Valtteri Bottas celebrates his pole   -  Getty Images

Valtteri Bottas' hopes of denying Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton a title party in Austin were boosted as he claimed pole position at the United States Grand Prix.

Bottas must win Sunday's race to delay Hamilton's celebrations, although the two-time defending champion will still clinch the championship this week if he finishes eighth or better.

The Finn could not have done more in qualifying on Saturday to extend a one-sided title tussle, though, as he ran fastest in Q3 with a time of one minute and 32.029 seconds.

A week on from a big crash in Mexico that briefly put his involvement in the race in doubt, Bottas set the benchmark early in the final session.

And none of the Mercedes, Ferrari or Red Bull drivers could climb the standings with their second flying laps, meaning Hamilton is all the way back in fifth.

Sebastian Vettel will join Bottas on the front row, an agonising 0.012 seconds behind, with Max Verstappen third fastest and Charles Leclerc fourth.

READ | Austin GP in numbers as Hamilton looks to seal world title

Hamilton aborted his second flying lap as each driver struggled to match the early Q3 pace, while Alex Albon – in sixth – saw his follow-up effort deleted for a track limit offence, a common issue in practice.

"I'm really happy about that. It was a nice lap at the beginning of Q3," Bottas said, having ended a run of six consecutive Ferrari poles. "To get those laps on a track like this was a good feeling."

Bottas, 17th in FP1 on Friday, had not challenged until Q3, with McLaren's Lando Norris fastest in the opening session before Leclerc led the way for Ferrari in Q2.

Kimi Raikkonen, the winner in the United States last year, failed to make it out of Q1.

The second session saw Verstappen fume over the team radio when Hamilton almost made contact in an incident also involving Daniil Kvyat.

Red Bull driver Verstappen this week claimed he had got "in [the] heads" of Hamilton and Vettel following apparent criticism of his decision not to slow for a yellow flag in Mexico, an action that cost him pole.

Hamilton takes blame for poor qualification

Given Bottas' impressive display, Hamilton acknowledged he had no excuse for finding himself on the third row of the grid.

"It's nothing to do with the car," he said. "I just didn't put the laps together today. The car had the capability to be on the front row and it was my fault."

"Honestly, I'm not trying to think about [the title] right now," he said. "I'm just trying to digest what happened and think about tomorrow [Sunday]."

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff was still confident Hamilton will be able to compete for the race win, though.

"It was so tight, you could see the were a few cars between the same tenths," Wolff said. "I'm very happy [with Bottas' result] – it's good to be on pole again. It's a shame for Lewis – we need to see what we can do tomorrow on strategy. With an aggressive strategy, you can still compete for the win. It wasn't his qualifying strategy so we will have to look into that."

PROVISIONAL CLASSIFICATION

1. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) 1:32.029

2. Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) +0.012secs

3. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) +0.067secs

4. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) +0.108secs

5. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) +0.292secs

6. Alex Albon (Red Bull) +0.519secs

7. Carlos Sainz (McLaren) +0.818secs

8. Lando Norris (McLaren) +1.146secs

9. Daniel Ricciardo (Renault) +1.459secs

10. Pierre Gasly (Toro Rosso) +1.572secs