Verstappen hails 'surprise' pole at US Grand Prix as Hamilton in 'good position to fight'

By Sports Desk October 23, 2021

Max Verstappen ended Mercedes' run of six consecutive poles at the United States Grand Prix on Saturday as Lewis Hamilton repeatedly described his runs in Texas as a "struggle" but the rivals are geared up for another head-to-head showdown Sunday. 

Verstappen, Hamilton and Sergio Perez each held pole position at various points in qualifying before the Red Bull star emerged on top. 

That has not been the norm in Austin, but Verstappen noted the real work remains to be done on race day. 

"Yeah, maybe a tiny bit of a surprise but you can clearly see it has been swinging a bit throughout the whole season," Verstappen told reporters. "Luckily it’s still doing that and yeah, we’ll see.

"I’m of course happy with the performance we’ve had today, let’s find out tomorrow in the race – again, it’s a different story and then of course we’ll move on again to the next race and that again can be a different story because you can maybe look like favourites going into the weekend but you still need to pay attention to every single detail, to try and make it work.

"It’s so closely matched that if you maybe miss one tiny detail or you just can’t bring it together for whatever reason you miss out and that’s what happened for us, for example, in Turkey."

Verstappen and Perez finished second and third behind Valtteri Bottas a fortnight ago in Istanbul and will look to get Red Bull back to the top of the podium in Texas, where Mexico native Perez in particular has enjoyed strong support from the crowd. 

Perez will start third but said he does not believe starting positions will play a significant factor Sunday. 

"I think it’s going to be a pretty long race tomorrow, so not too concerned about the qualifying," he said. "I think there are plenty of opportunities for tomorrow."

Hamilton, a six-time winner at the circuit, will share that hope as he tries to bounce back after a fifth-place finish in Turkey, though his comments Saturday did not suggest much confidence in the way his car has felt this week. 

"It was definitely a difficult session," Hamilton said. "I would say for us since P1 it’s been a little bit tougher, we have been making lots of changes to try to improve the car.

"But it’s been a real challenge, and going into qualifying I think the first session wasn’t that great. Q1 wasn’t spectacular but it started to improve, particularly on the medium tyre, and the last two runs were pretty good.

"I think [Red Bull] have just been pretty quick all weekend and I think we were able to match them or be ahead in P1 but since then they have really pulled a lot.

"You can tell that the car is quick because obviously both of them are up there and pulling in some seriously good laps. But we are in a good position to fight them tomorrow and I hope we can."

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    A new deal has been agreed for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix to remain on the Formula One calendar until 2030.

    F1 races have taken place at the Yas Marina Circuit since 2009 and the track will this weekend stage a decisive finale to the 2021 season, with Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen level on points in a captivating battle for the title.

    It was announced on Thursday that F1 has renewed its contract with Abu Dhabi Motorsports Management (ADMM).

    F1 CEO and president Stefano Domenicali said: "We are delighted to confirm that we will be racing in Abu Dhabi until 2030 under this new agreement. We are hugely looking forward to the season finale this weekend when more Formula One history will be made.

    "The promoter, ADMM, always creates an incredible show for the final race of every F1 season and, combined with the changes made to improve the racing on the Yas Marina Circuit, we are excited for many years of racing in Abu Dhabi that is ahead of us."

    Saif Al Noaimi, CEO of ADMM, said: "The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and Yas Marina Circuit continue to introduce hundreds of millions of spectators and TV viewers to Abu Dhabi and the United Arab Emirates.

    "The signing of a new multi-year deal with the Formula One Group not only represents the strength of our relationship but reaffirms our commitment to delivering an unparalleled and world-class race weekend experience for all visitors to enjoy."

  • Wolff: Formula One title battle is amazing for the sport Wolff: Formula One title battle is amazing for the sport

    Mercedes boss Toto Wolff believes this year's dramatic Formula One title race is "amazing for the sport".

    Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen head into the final grand prix of the season level on points at the top of the drivers' championship.

    Mercedes, meanwhile, are bidding to win their eighth constructors' title. The gap between themselves and Red Bull is 28 points, though Wolff's team could still lose the crown to their rivals.

    With such drama promised in Abu Dhabi this weekend, Wolff thinks it can only serve as a boost to F1, which had become predictable due to Mercedes' dominance. 

    Indeed, Hamilton is aiming for a record eighth world title and a fifth consecutive championship triumph.

    Since 2014, Hamilton has only failed to win the championship on one occasion, finishing second to team-mate Nico Rosberg in 2016, while Verstappen and Red Bull are bidding for a maiden title.

    "The final race will be intense, but it's important to not get distracted, to just keep our heads down, our feet on the ground and bring the performance that we had last time out," Wolff said in a release on Mercedes' official team website.

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    As far as title races go, there have not been many better than this season's tussle between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen.

    A remarkable 2021 campaign ends in Abu Dhabi this weekend, with the Formula One championship up for grabs.

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    There is no more room for error. The winner will take it all in the United Arab Emirates.

    LAST TIME OUT

    Hamilton won an extraordinary Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in a race that set new standards for drama.

    Having clinched his 103rd pole in F1 in Saturday's qualifying session after a costly Verstappen crash, Hamilton held his nerve amid plenty of controversies.

    Verstappen got ahead after the season's penultimate race was red-flagged twice in the first 16 laps, but a series of virtual safety cars kept Hamilton in touch.

    With Verstappen going beyond track limits to keep the lead, he was instructed to give the place back, only for Hamilton to crash into the back of him. Verstappen then did give the lead back to Hamilton at turn 27, but did so in a DRS zone, allowing him to swiftly regain the edge, that move also deemed unsatisfactory by race officials.

    A five-second penalty all but ended hopes of a win for Verstappen, with Hamilton also clinching the fastest-lap bonus point to make things all square heading to Abu Dhabi. Verstappen leads the way in the championship thanks to his nine wins, however.

    It was a bad day for Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez, who crashed into a wall, with Valtteri Bottas' third-place finish leaving Mercedes with the advantage in the constructors' championship.

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    Drama. Tension. Blood, sweat and tears? This title race has had more twists and turns than Monte Carlo, but all will be settled.

    Should both title rivals finish out of the points – it would seem unlikely, though you never know – Verstappen would take the crown based on his nine wins.

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    Mercedes' dominance of the constructors' championship has seen them win seven in a row. They hold a 28-point lead as it stands, meaning even a Verstappen-Perez one-two, plus the fastest lap bonus, would not be enough to necessarily deny Toto Wolff and his team an eighth triumph.

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    This is also the final race of Kimi Raikkonen's F1 career, with the 2007 world champion set for retirement. Bottas will be his replacement at Alfa Romeo, bringing an end to his stay at Mercedes.

    TOP FIVE OPTA FACTS

    - Emerson Fittipaldi and Clay Regazzoni, in 1974, are the only other F1 title rivals to have gone into the last race of a season level on points. Never in the history of the championship has a season ended with two drivers tied at the top of the standings.
    - Hamilton is the driver to have won the most races in Asia (3) and in the Middle East (15). This tally includes five victories and five pole positions in Abu Dhabi.
    - Mercedes had won the previous six races in Abu Dhabi prior to Verstappen's victory in 2020. The Red Bull star is aiming to become the first F1 champion from The Netherlands, and he would be the fourth-youngest champion at the age of 24 years, two months and 12 days.
    - Bottas is one podium finish away from equalling Rubens Barrichello as a non-championship winning driver to have achieved the highest amount of top-three finishes (68) in F1.
    - Should Hamilton win, it will be a fourth race victory in a row, and would mean the Briton has achieved such a streak in six of the eight Hybrid Era seasons.

    CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS

    Drivers

    1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 369.5
    2. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 369.5
    3. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) 218
    4. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) 190
    5. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) 158

    Constructors

    1. Mercedes 587.5
    2. Red Bull 559.5
    3. Ferrari 307.5
    4. McLaren 269
    5. Alpine 149

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