Lewis Hamilton at a loss to explain ‘struggles’ as Max Verstappen claims US Grand Prix pole

Billy Joel entertained the Circuit of the Americas crowds with some of his old hits as Formula 1 partied like it was 2019 in Texas last night. Piano Man. Uptown Girl. But it’s Lewis Hamilton who is going to have to start a fire today after being pipped to pole for the United States Grand Prix by title rival Max Verstappen.

Hamilton will line up second on the grid alongside the man he trails by six points in what continues to be an enthralling drivers’ championship. And it promises to be a cracker of a race, with the seven-time world champion the filling in a Red Bull sandwich with Sergio Perez, much to the crowd’s delight, producing an excellent qualifying performance and even holding provisional pole for a while. The Mexican will start third. 

Nor can Hamilton expect team-mate Valtteri Bottas to do much to help – at least initially – with the Finn dropping from fourth on the grid to ninth thanks to his engine change on Friday.

Hamilton is going to have to do it on his own. And he said he would do his best, smiling in his post-race interviews and saying his mindset was 100 percent to win. But his disappointed voice at the end of qualifying, saying “Sorry” to his team, told its own story.

Mercedes had been expected to have a slight edge at the Circuit of the Americas and they certainly began the weekend with a dominant showing in first practice. But Hamilton said he felt the team had “gone backwards” since then, struggling with the car’s setup in the remaining practice sessions. And he never looked truly comfortable in qualifying.

Red Bull suffered a late scare when they spotted a crack on Verstappen’s rear wing just before qualifying, deciding to “beef up” both cars just prior to the session in the words of team principal Christian Horner. But they always appeared to have the edge.

Hamilton was only able to go eighth fastest in Q1, although he was on a used set of rubber. And while the seven-time world champion upped the ante in Q2, producing the second quickest time, he still found himself more than three tenths off the pace of Verstappen.

And it was much the same story in Q3, Hamilton managed to produce a decent final lap to take provisional pole but even with some spots of rain falling – just to add a bit more drama to proceedings – Verstappen was able to go two tenths quicker.

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