Hamilton bemoans ‘real fight’ as Verstappen propels him to US GP pole position

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Hamilton bemoans ‘real fight’ as Verstappen propels him to US GP pole position


Lewis Hamilton struck a negative note after qualifying in second place behind championship leader Max Verstappen for the United States Grand Prix on Sunday.

In a dramatic climax of Saturday’s session, the Red Bull driver clocked the fastest lap, 0.2 seconds ahead of Hamilton, to end a streak of six successive pole positions for Mercedes on the Texas track.

Verstappen’s pole position could signal a change in momentum following Mercedes’ arrival in the US, driven by improving pace, although his confidence is tempered by concerns about engine reliability.

“It started well, it went well [the first practice session], then little by little they got faster and I don’t know if we slowed down, but yeah, it’s been a real struggle compared to normal here, ”said Hamilton. “This is probably partly due to the heat on the tires which I’m sure affects everyone, but yes it has been a challenge. “

Verstappen looked cautiously optimistic after clinching his ninth pole position of the season, saying he believed his Red Bull squad was going in the right direction, even though “I wasn’t very happy yesterday and I wasn’t entirely happy yesterday. today “. His teammate, Sergio Pérez, qualified in third place.

The Dutchman, who has yet to win a world title, is six points ahead of Hamilton, who has seven championships, with six races to go. Qualifying in the top two bodes well: despite all the overtaking opportunities on a track known for its long straights as well as the variety of turns, only a front row driver has ever won here. Hamilton finished second in 2019 – and won his sixth world title – after qualifying in fifth.

“We’re in the front row and everyone is expecting a great race, and that’s what we expect as drivers,” said Verstappen after securing pole position.

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The circuit on the outskirts of Austin is typically a happy hunting ground for Mercedes; Hamilton has won five of eight F1 races on the track, with his most recent victory coming in 2017. The event did not take place in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The conditions were not easy, with a track temperature of 37 ° C and an uneven surface. Several pilots noticed the bumps in the track. Relations between the title contenders are also far from fluid. Verstappen called Hamilton a “stupid idiot” and handed the middle finger to his rival after the duo nearly touched down in practice on Friday. The vulgar vignette was a sign of the intensity of the battle. The 24-year-old was in a much better mood when he spoke with his team on the radio after Saturday’s session.

“It’s all the fun and the games,” Hamilton said. ” Enjoy [during the race], give it everything you expect. A head fall seems to be in store from the get-go, which again can make the atmosphere less cordial, although Hamilton added, “I don’t think it’s all decided in the first round. “

Max Verstappen runs in front of stands containing many supporters dressed in orange. Photographie : Darron Cummings/Reuters

A sold-out crowd of 360,000 is expected over the three-day weekend. This can in part be attributed to the pent-up enthusiasm after the two-year wait. Personalities, including Hamilton, also believe that the popularity of the Netflix documentary, Formula 1: Drive to survive, helped sell the sport in the United States.

While Verstappen isn’t a fan – he has described some of the rivalry accounts as “rigged” – the series premiered in 2019 and a fourth season is slated for 2022, when Miami is expected to join Austin on the schedule.

McLaren CEO Zak Brown said: “Netflix has been exceptional for Formula 1. It has resulted in a younger fan base, a much bigger fan base, it has really had an impact in America. “

Even before the circus sets up its big top in South Florida next May, the growing buzz is sparking rumors that the United States should be rewarded with a third race soon. “Miami, I think, will be the hottest ticket in Formula 1 next year,” Brown said.

The idea makes some sense given the country’s size, population of 330 million, and U.S. ownership of F1 in the form of Liberty Media. However, there would be practical problems to overcome. “We have great racetracks,” said Brown, from Los Angeles. “But I don’t think any of them right now, with their current build, can handle a Formula 1 race, either for safety or the length of the circuit. “

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