Max Verstappen compared Formula One’s £500million Las Vegas Grand Prix to the fifth tier of English football – and suggested the sport’s new generation of fans are only interested in partying.

Verstappen will start from second place for Saturday’s 50-lap race on the strip after Charles Leclerc put his Ferrari on pole position with a dazzling lap under the Las Vegas lights.

F1 has sold the sport’s Sin City comeback after four decades away as the greatest show on Earth, but fans witnessed just eight minutes of practice on Thursday after a drain cover broke free and tore a hole into the underbelly of Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari.

A delayed second practice – which concluded at 4am on Friday local time – took place in front of empty grandstands after angry spectators were turfed out to comply with local employment laws.

An estimated crowd of 70,000 watched qualifying on Friday night while organisers had been expecting 100,000 attendees each day.

Earlier this week, Verstappen criticised F1’s maiden street race on the strip as “99 per cent show, and one per cent sport”. And in the moments after qualifying, he took another swipe at the event.

“Monaco is Champions League and this is National League,” he said.

“I feel like the show is important, but I like emotion. When I was a little kid it was all about the emotion of the sport that I fell in love with and not the show. As a real racer the show shouldn’t matter.

“An F1 car does not come alive on a street circuit. It is not that exciting. It is about proper race tracks. And when you go to Monza and Spa, these kinds of places have a lot of emotion and passion, and for me seeing the fans there is incredible. When I jump in the car, I am fired up. I love driving at these kind of places.

“I understand fans need things to do around the track, but it is more important that they understand what we do as a sport. Most of them just come to have a party, drink, see a DJ, or a performance act.

“I can do that all over the world. I can go to Ibiza and get completely s***-faced and have a good time. People come here, but they become a fan of what? They want to see maybe their favourite artist and have a few drinks with their mates, and then go out and have a crazy night.

“But they don’t understand what we are doing, and they don’t understand what we are putting on the line to perform.”

John Legend and Kylie Minogue were among a number of high-profile artists to perform in a dazzling 30-minute Superbowl-style show here on Wednesday, designed to kick-start the penultimate round of the season in style.

Verstappen and his fellow drivers were introduced to the crowd via an elevating platform. Verstappen, who secured his third world title in Qatar last month, later said he felt like a “clown”.

In the early hours of Saturday morning, he continued: “As a little kid I grew up wanting to become a world champion. More time should be invested into the actual sport, and what we are trying to achieve.

“The sport should explain what the team has done throughout the season, and what they are working for. That’s way more important than having these random shows all over the place. I am not passionate about that. I like passion and emotion.

“I love Vegas, but not to drive an F1 car. I love to go out, have a few drinks, throw everything on red and be crazy, but emotion and passion is not there compared to the old-school tracks.”

Despite starting behind Leclerc when the lights go out at 10pm local time here on Saturday (6am Sunday GMT), Verstappen will be favourite to take his 18th win of the season. George Russell will line up from third but Lewis Hamilton will start only 10th.

Hamilton, who finished half-a-second behind team-mate Russell, said: “I was lacking confidence and grip. I struggled.

“Yesterday, the car felt better and I was more competitive and I made changes overnight and it didn’t feel great today. I have got a lot of work to do.”

Charles Leclerc danced his way to pole position with an emphatic performance for Ferrari under the Las Vegas lights.

At just after 1am local time – the latest conclusion to a qualifying session in Formula One history – Leclerc finished just 0.044 seconds clear of team-mate Carlos Sainz.

However, Sainz will start down in 12th after a loose drain cover destroyed his Ferrari in practice and triggered a 10-place grid penalty.

Triple world champion Max Verstappen, a winner in 17 of the 20 rounds so far, took third spot for Red Bull, but will move up to second following Sainz’s demotion. Lewis Hamilton was eliminated in Q2, leaving him only 10th on the grid.

Hamilton finished half-a-second behind team-mate George Russell, who hauled his Mercedes into Q3 before taking advantage of Sainz’s penalty to secure third on the grid for Saturday’s 50-lap race.

Following the shambolic start to F1’s Sin City comeback here on Thursday night, qualifying passed off without significant incident – much to the relief of the sport’s under-fire bosses.

F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali stopped short of issuing an apology to the furious spectators, who saw just eight minutes of practice before they were ejected from the stands.

However, in the early hours of Saturday morning, the estimated 90,000 fans who filled the 3.8-mile street venue – 30,000 down on capacity – were treated to an uninterrupted session which saw Leclerc romp to top spot in his scarlet machine.

“I am happy,” said Leclerc. “To have first place in Las Vegas is great.

“I was a bit disappointed because my lap was not great but it was all we needed. In the race we usually lack pace but hopefully we can put it all together in the race.”

Against the backdrop of Caesars Palace, the MGM Grand and Bellagio hotels, Ferrari delivered, but it was another underwhelming showing for Hamilton.

A fortnight after the seven-time world champion finished eighth in Brazil – 63 seconds behind winner Verstappen – he struggled for pace in his underperforming Mercedes.

“Couldn’t go faster, mate,” said Hamilton following his elimination. Behind Hamilton, Sergio Perez qualified one place back.

Lando Norris arrived in Nevada as the grid’s in-form driver after scoring more points across the last three rounds than anyone else.

But the British driver failed to make it out of Q2 with his McLaren machinery not suited to the three long straights here coupled with slow corners.

He qualified only 16th, three places ahead of team-mate Oscar Piastri who also fell at the first hurdle.

“Very disappointed,” said McLaren CEO Zak Brown. “We thought we’d struggle this weekend but I didn’t think either car would be out in Q1.

“Not a good start to the weekend and now all we can do is focus on the race tomorrow.”

Lewis Hamilton has told Max Verstappen to stop complaining after his rival criticised Formula One’s maiden race on the Las Vegas strip as “99 per cent show, and one per cent sport”.

Verstappen’s controversial remarks – which will irk F1’s American owners’ Liberty Media following their estimated £400million gamble to bring the sport back to Sin City for the first time in 41 years – arrived just moments after a glittering Superbowl-style opening ceremony on Wednesday night.

John Legend and Kylie Minogue were among a number of high-profile artists to perform in a dazzling 30-minute show designed to kick-start the penultimate round of the season, billed as the greatest show on earth.

The grid’s 20 drivers were also presented to the crowd ahead of Saturday night’s 50-lap race which F1 executives are using to build on the sport’s growing popularity in the United States. The race in Nevada joins Austin and Miami as the third in America.

But moments after a fireworks display brought the curtain down on the glittering welcome party, Verstappen, crowned triple world champion in Qatar last month, was quick to pour scorn on the event.

“It is 99 per cent show and one per cent sporting event,” said the 26-year-old. “I was just standing up there, looking like a clown.

“I guess they (F1) still make money whether I like it or not. So it’s not up to me. But I’m not going to fake it.

“I voice my opinion on positive things and negative things. That’s just how I am. And you know, some people like the show a bit more. I don’t like it at all.

“I grew up just looking at the performance side of things. And that’s how I see it as well. I like to be in Vegas, but not so much for racing.”

However, responding to criticism, Hamilton, 38, said: “I hear there are a lot of people complaining about the direction that (F1 CEO) Stefano (Domenicali) and Liberty has gone. But they are doing an amazing job.

“The sport continues to grow. It is a business and you will still see good racing here. It is a country to tap into and really captivate the audience.

“We needed to have at least two races in the US, one wasn’t enough, and this is one of the most iconic and unique cities that they have here.

“It is a big show for sure, and it is never going to be like Silverstone, but maybe over time, the people in this community will grow to love the sport.

“Maybe the track will be good, and maybe it will be bad. It was so-so on the simulator. But don’t knock it until you try it.”

The debut race on the strip, which starts at 10pm local time, comes after three consecutive rounds in Austin, Mexico and Brazil and ahead of next weekend’s concluding race in Abu Dhabi – a weary time swing of 12 hours.

The circuit itself features 17 corners over 3.8 miles along the famous Las Vegas Boulevard, and against the backdrop of Caesars Palace, the Venetian and the Bellagio.

It is expected that the drivers will hit speeds in excess of 210mph, but Verstappen said: “The track is not very interesting with not many corners.

“It will depend a little bit on how grippy it is. It doesn’t look like there’s much grip.”

Verstappen has won 17 of the 20 rounds so far, while it is approaching two years since Hamilton, in his Mercedes, has tasted victory.

Hamilton, who will get his first taste of the street track in opening practice at 8:30pm local time on Thursday (4:30am GMT on Friday) continued: “From a racer’s perspective, you want to have the best show here.

“If the track provides a race like Baku – which is one of the best races with lots of overtaking – than that would be amazing, rather than just one car disappearing into the distance.

“Everybody I know in Hollywood is coming and there will be a lot of business going on this weekend.

“It will be a good spectacle to watch, even for those back home who have never been to Vegas. They will get to learn what it is all about.”

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said he is fuelled by a personal anger and drive to help Lewis Hamilton win the record eighth world championship he was denied in Abu Dhabi.

In an interview with the PA news agency ahead of this weekend’s blockbuster Las Vegas Grand Prix,  team principal Wolff also revealed his own succession plan at Mercedes – in which he plans to skip as many as 10 races each season – and claimed Hamilton, 38, could compete in Formula One for at least another five years.

Wolff has arrived in Sin City for the inaugural night race on the Las Vegas strip following Mercedes’ abysmal performance last time out in Brazil – one he described as the worst of his career.

Hamilton finished 63 seconds behind winner Max Verstappen, and gloomily predicted he will not be a championship contender for the next two years.

Next month will mark two years since the seven-time world champion last won a race, and that ill-fated evening in Abu Dhabi where race referee Michael Masi’s failure to imply the correct rules left him at the mercy of Verstappen. The Dutchman took the championship in the desert before quickly racking up another two titles in his all-conquering Red Bull.

“We are living in a hamster wheel where time passes so quickly that it doesn’t feel like it has been two years,” said Wolff.

“You can see how quickly the pecking order changes. We won eight constructors’ championships in a row, and it has been two years since Red Bull have been taking the trophy home. But we have to look forward, learn from the past, and the push now is to make Lewis win quickly again.

“I have a personal anger, and drive to make him win the eighth title because he should have had it.

“As a team principal, it is important to be fair and open with both drivers. But there is a big part of us that will always want to be a part of that story in undoing and overcoming 2021.”

Hamilton will start a new two-year deal with the Silver Arrows next season, worth an estimated £100million. He will be nearly 41 at the conclusion of the contract, but Wolff does not believe it will be his last with Mercedes.

“We are living from contract-to-contract, and it is important that we are doing what we think is right and what we feel is right, and at the moment I personally feel he can go longer,” added the Austrian.

And could he carry on for another five years?

“He is 39 in January, and Fernando (Alonso – 42) is still going strong,” replied Wolff. “As long as you look after yourself, you do the best preparation, physically and mentally, and develop different areas to when you are 25, then yes.

“We just need to give him a car that is quick enough. And, as a driver, I have no doubt about him. You have seen in the last races that his performance, speed and race craft are all there. But, if he doesn’t have the car underneath him, he cannot win.”

Wolff oversaw Mercedes’ crushing dominance which led to Hamilton winning six of his record-equalling seven world crowns.

But Wolff’s future as team principal is in the spotlight following Mercedes’ dramatic demise. And although he admitted he intends to stay on as team principal, the 51-year-old, who also holds a one-third shareholding in Mercedes, is plotting his succession plan.

“The clear aim is to build a structure for the future and that is my sheer responsibility for the team,” said Wolff, who was absent from the races in Japan and Qatar earlier this season following knee surgery.

“A stone could fall on my head and how does it look afterwards? That is why I would like to see myself in a few years maybe not going to 24 races, and just to 15.

“But that is many years away. I see myself in this role for a long time. I cannot imagine doing something else.

“I really struggled in 2020 to make a decision on whether I wanted to stay active in the sport or to be a shareholder and go back to my finance world. I was tired, mentally and physically, but then I came to the realisation that I wanted to continue.

“I feel I am contributing to the team in the crossover world of finance and motor racing, and I have a passion for both, and that is why I continue to do it.”

Over at Red Bull, Verstappen has won 17 of the 20 rounds so far – which included a record 10-in-a-row streak – in the most dominant season the sport has ever witnessed.

Wolff caused controversy when he poured scorn on Verstappen’s achievements, calling them “irrelevant” and “only for Wikipedia and nobody reads that anyway”.

“It was not an intelligent thing to say,” said Wolff.

“There were all these numbers about how many races we had won, and we used to joke that who cares about the numbers? It only goes on Wikipedia, and nobody reads that anyway. It was a joke, but it is much easier to joke about your own records than somebody else’s.

“His records are unbelievable and what he has been able to achieve clearly ranks him amongst the greatest drivers in the sport at that young age. I have clarified that with him.”

Max Verstappen completed an emphatic victory at the Brazilian Grand Prix after Daniel Ricciardo escaped injury when his car was struck by a flying tyre.

Lando Norris finished second for McLaren, with Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso holding off Verstappen’s Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez by just 0.053 seconds for third.

But it was an abysmal afternoon for Mercedes, with Lewis Hamilton eighth and George Russell forced to retire his car with an engine failure 12 laps from the end. Hamilton crossed the line an eye-watering 63 seconds behind.

The race in Sao Paulo was suspended following a chaotic start which saw a loose tyre hit Ricciardo’s rear wing following a collision between Alex Albon and Nico Hulkenberg.

Albon, 13th on the grid, drew alongside Hulkenberg ahead of the first corner, but the two machines made contact, sending the London-born driver into Hulkenberg’s Haas team-mate Kevin Magnussen and then into the barrier.

The force of the impact tore the left-rear off Albon’s Williams, with the bouncing tyre – which weighs 13 kilograms – narrowly flying over the top of Ricciardo’s head before smashing into the back of his AlphaTauri.

Footage from Ricciardo’s cockpit shows him turning sharply to the left to avoid the flying rubber.

“I tried to miss it, but the tyre was in the air and it clipped my rear wing,” he said.

The Australian driver, 34, was able to limp back to the pits for the repairs following the fortunate escape, while both Albon and Magnussen emerged unscathed.

Hulkenberg was able to carry on before the race was red-flagged for 25 minutes as the tyre barrier on the approach to the opening bend was repaired following Albon’s shunt.

Norris lined up in second place for the restart following a fine getaway by the British driver from sixth. Hamilton made up two places from fifth to take third on the grid for the second start.

Verstappen mastered the getaway to keep his Red Bull ahead of Norris before Alonso made light work of Hamilton to gazump the British driver at the Curva do Lago.

On lap eight, Norris was suddenly in Verstappen’s slipstream and for a handful of corners it looked as though he could do the unthinkable and take the lead.

Norris drew alongside Verstappen at the outside of Turn 4 to provide the Dutchman with a rare fright. But by the start of the lap, Verstappen had established a lead of more than one second, and for Norris, Verstappen was out of DRS range.

Behind, and it was starting to unravel for Mercedes. Performances at the previous two rounds had afforded Hamilton and the grid’s once-all-conquering team hope that they were closing the gap to the top. But they were dealt a desperate reality check here.

On laps 14 and 18, Perez cruised ahead of Russell and Hamilton respectively before Russell bemoaned that he was being held up by his team-mate.

“Are we working together, or are we just doing our own races?” Russell asked.

Hamilton stopped for rubber, with Russell following his team-mate in on the next lap. Perez came in three laps later than Hamilton and had to re-pass the seven-time world champion, which he did with ease on lap 23. Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll then blasted his way past the out-of-sorts Mercedes pair.

Russell, now seventh, was growing increasingly frustrated with Hamilton struggling for pace. Russell wanted Mercedes to order Hamilton out of his way.

“Do you want me to race or concede positions?” he asked.

Later, he added: “I haven’t been on the radio because I thought it was quite obvious about the pace.”

Mercedes were unmoved as Russell tried and failed to make his way ahead of Hamilton.

Carlos Sainz was soon all over the back of the squabbling Mercedes men, cruising past Russell on lap 35, and then Hamilton two laps later.

The Silver Arrows tumbled back through the field, with Alpine’s Pierre Gasly moving ahead of Russell for eighth on lap 43.

Russell stopped for a second time on lap 45 with Hamilton in a lap later, only for Gasly to take another position off Hamilton to leave the seven-time world champion in eighth – that is where he would finish.

Hamilton now trails Perez by 32 points in the race for runner-up after the Mexican failed to take the final spot on the podium.

Perez got ahead of Alonso on the penultimate lap only for the Spaniard to blast back ahead on the last lap. The two drivers then went toe to toe on the drag to the finish line, with Alonso narrowly remaining ahead.

Lando Norris saw off triple world champion Max Verstappen to take pole position for today’s sprint race in Brazil.

The British driver, 23, beat Verstappen to top spot by 0.061 seconds in Interlagos with Sergio Perez third.

George Russell and Lewis Hamilton will line up from fourth and fifth respectively for Mercedes.

Norris believed he could have taken pole for tomorrow’s 71-lap main event, but for a McLaren strategy blunder in Friday’s rain-hit qualifying session.

However, the young Briton made amends by delivering the quickest time for today’s 24-lap dash to the chequered flag.

Norris, who is seeking his first win in Formula One, said: “It felt like one of the worst laps I have done so I am a little bit surprised to be on pole.

“But I feel like we have made up for yesterday. I have no idea how the sprint will go, but the pace has been good this weekend and the car has been quick.”

Perez was a tenth back from Norris, while Russell finished 0.235 sec behind, with Hamilton 0.318 sec adrift.

Yuki Tsunoda qualified sixth ahead of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Daniel Ricciardo.

Q1 ended early after Esteban Ocon crashed out following a collision with Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso.

Ocon was on a hot lap, but briefly lost control of his Alpine though the left-hander at Turn 3, and thumped into Alonso.

The Spaniard was off the racing line, affording space for Ocon, but the Frenchman clipped Alonso’s Aston Martin which sent him into the tyre barrier at Curva do Sol.

“F****** idiot, Fernando,” said Ocon after he sustained significant damage to the rear of his machine.

Alonso limped back to the pits with front suspension damage leaving his mechanics scrambling to get his machine ready for Q2.

A 28-minute delay followed as the barrier was repaired but Alonso was unable to continue. He will start 15th.

The double world champion’s team-mate Lance Stroll qualified an impressive third for Sunday’s grand prix. But the Canadian will line up three places from the back for today’s sprint which gets under way at 3:30pm local time (6:30 pm GMT).

Max Verstappen completed a practice double for Sunday’s Mexican Grand Prix by edging out Lando Norris.

After leading the way in the first running at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City, Verstappen – who has won 15 of the 18 rounds so far – set the fastest time in the day’s concluding running.

The Red Bull driver finished 0.119 seconds clear of McLaren’s Norris, with Charles Leclerc a quarter of a second back in his Ferrari.

Home favourite Sergio Perez finished fifth, three tenths behind Red Bull team-mate Verstappen, while Lewis Hamilton took seventh for Mercedes, a third of a second down.

Verstappen has dominated this year, and wrapped up his third successive world championship in Qatar earlier this month.

And the Dutchman will head into the remainder of the weekend in the breathless Mexico City air as the man to beat.

The high-altitude venue, which sits 2,200 metres above sea level, can often throw up anomalies, and Valtteri Bottas was a surprised fourth for Alfa Romeo, with Daniel Ricciardo sixth in his AlphaTauri, just three tenths off the top.

Hamilton finished a close second to Verstappen in the United States a week ago before he was disqualified for running an illegal floor on his Mercedes.

But despite his post-race exclusion, Hamilton hoped his speed in Austin would enable him to challenge Verstappen here.

However, the seven-time world champion failed to challenge the top of the leaderboard on Friday, finishing 11th and seventh respectively in the two sessions.

George Russell, who sat out the opening running as Mercedes blooded academy driver Frederik Vesti, finished 10th, half-a-second behind Verstappen.

Earlier on Friday, Ollie Bearman made history by becoming the youngest British driver to take part in a Formula One weekend.

Bearman, 18, competing for American outfit Haas, ended his F1 debut in 15th, only 1.6 sec slower than Verstappen and three tenths adrift of Nico Hulkenberg – a veteran of 200 grands prix – in the other Haas.

Bearman also finished one place ahead of double world champion Fernando Alonso.

F1 teams must run a rookie driver at least twice during the season and Chelmsford-born Bearman was handed his chance to impress, breaking the British record previously held by Norris.

Norris was three months shy of his 19th birthday when he took part in practice for McLaren in Belgium in 2018 before he was promoted to a race seat the following season. Bearman turned 18 in May.

The teenager, a member of the Ferrari academy, has taken four victories in F1’s feeder series Formula Two and is sixth in the standings ahead of next month’s season finale in Abu Dhabi.

Max Verstappen has beefed up his personal security as he prepares for a hostile reception at Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez’s home race in Mexico.

Verstappen was jeered by Perez’s supporters at last weekend’s podium presentation in Austin as the triple world champion celebrated his 15th win of the season.

Chants of “Checo, Checo” – in support of Perez – were also audible during the Dutch national anthem.

A crowd of nearly 400,000 are expected at the high-altitude Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez over the course of the weekend, with practice starting on Friday and it is understood Verstappen will be flanked by multiple security guards in the paddock.

Perez’s fans are unhappy Verstappen did not help the Mexican secure second place in last season’s championship after he ignored a team order at the penultimate round in Brazil.

Perez has won only twice this season – his last victory in Azerbaijan on April 30 – with Verstappen racing to his third title in as many years.

The paddock in Mexico City has become one of the most manic on the calendar, with drivers mobbed as they make their way from the motorhome to the garage.

And Perez is also expected to have a bigger entourage than normal to cover-off his enthusiastic fanbase.

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner and the team’s motorsport advisor Dr Helmut Marko will also be accompanied by security guards.

Speaking after last weekend’s race in Austin, Horner said: “I don’t think Max is going to get the warmest reception in Mexico, but that is water off a duck’s back to him.

“One year you are the villain and the next year you are the hero.”

Perez heads into this weekend’s round 206 points behind Verstappen. However, he is 39 points clear of third-placed Lewis Hamilton, who was disqualified from second at the Circuit of the Americas for running an illegal floor on his Mercedes.

Max Verstappen saw off Lewis Hamilton’s early challenge to claim victory in Saturday’s sprint race at the United States Grand Prix.

For the first time since their 2021 championship duel for the ages, Verstappen and Hamilton ran line astern in the 19-lap dash at Austin’s Circuit of the Americas.

But Hamilton was unable to prevent Verstappen from taking the spoils, and accumulating yet another win of this most one-sided of Formula One campaigns.

Hamilton took the chequered flag a distant 9.4 seconds adrift of Verstappen with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc third.

Verstappen, crowned champion of the world for a third time in Qatar a fortnight ago, took pole position earlier on Saturday and then put his elbows out at the start to ensure Leclerc did not sneak up his inside on the uphill drag to the opening bend.

Verstappen moved over to his left to squeeze the Ferrari man allowing Hamilton a clean shot at Leclerc on the exit of the first corner.

Hamilton ran over the kerbs and past the Monegasque, and then set his sights on Verstappen.

Hamilton has not won a race for nearly two years, the longest losing streak of his career. Indeed, 685 days have passed since he claimed victory at the penultimate round of the 2021 campaign in Saudi Arabia.

But for half-a-dozen laps here, Hamilton will have dared to dream that a victory could be on the cards.

Hamilton has triumphed six times in America – with five of those victories in the Lone Star State – and his early pace certainly provided Verstappen with food for thought.

The seven-time world champion stayed within one second of Verstappen to provide him with a possible DRS slingshot past his Red Bull rival.

“Driveability is not there,” moaned Verstappen on the radio. “I lost the rear completely.”

Hamilton then hinted his nemesis was gaining an advantage by using more of the track than is allowed.

“Max has gone off quite a few times,” said the Mercedes driver.

Hamilton has lauded the improvements from his updated machine, but the superiority of Verstappen’s Red Bull came to the fore.

Six laps had passed and Verstappen was suddenly out of DRS range. A slim hope of victory for Hamilton was dashed.

Yet the 38-year-old, who starts third for tomorrow’s 56-lap main event, will expect to be a contender again.

And his chances of a possible win will be aided by Verstappen starting only in sixth after his pole lap in Friday’s qualifying was deleted for exceeding track limits.

Lando Norris took fourth spot ahead of Verstappen’s Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez, with Carlos Sainz sixth.

George Russell finished seventh but was demoted to eighth after he served a five-second penalty for an illegal move on McLaren’s Oscar Piastri.

Lewis Hamilton raised the prospect of challenging Max Verstappen for pole position at the United States Grand Prix after he finished third in practice.

Hamilton trailed Verstappen by 0.281 seconds in the sole running before qualifying later on Friday with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc splitting the rivals.

But the seven-time world champion, in his upgraded Mercedes, clocked the fastest first and second sectors before hitting traffic in the final part of his speediest lap at Austin’s Circuit of the Americas.

Verstappen claimed his third world title in as many years at the previous round in Qatar.

But Hamilton’s early pace at a track where he has enjoyed so much success over the years suggests he might be able to give the Dutchman a run for his money in qualifying for Sunday’s 56-lap race.

Leclerc could also be a contender in the Lone Star State after he finished just 0.156 sec behind Verstappen.

Verstappen’s Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez took fourth spot, three tenths back, a place ahead of Haas’ Kevin Magnussen with George Russell sixth for Mercedes.

Oscar Piastri survived a hairy moment when he temporarily lost control of his McLaren through Turn 8.

The Australian rookie, who won the sprint race in Lusail a fortnight ago, looked destined for the barriers after he ran on to the grass at high speed.

Piastri wiggled one way to the next but managed to catch his out-of-control machine to avoid a big shunt. He sustained minor damage to the floor of his McLaren in the accident and finished only 19th.

Lance Stroll was rooted to the foot of the time charts after he completed just five laps following a brake failure on his Aston Martin.

Qualifying takes place at 4pm local time (10pm BST).

Mario Andretti has come to the defence of Sergio Perez, claiming that the Mexican is "very valuable" to Formula One champions Red Bull.

Despite being in the best car on the grid, Perez has struggled since last tasting victory at the Azerbaijani Grand Prix back in April.

While his team-mate Max Verstappen was crowned champion for a third successive year after the Qatar Grand Prix, Perez fell to a disappointing tenth-placed finish.

It continued his recent run of poor performances following a mistake-laden performance in Japan – in which he ultimately failed to finish – and an eighth-place finish in Singapore the week prior. 

Perez's contract with Red Bull runs until the end of the next season, but a host of other drivers have been linked with the seat to partner Verstappen.

However, the 1978 drivers' champion Andretti believes Perez still has the ability to partner the Dutch driver moving forward.

"He has shown moments of brilliance, there are times when Max had some issues, and he picked up the ball and ran with it, and he won some great races," he told Stats Perform.

"We've seen his speciality in street races, for instance. So he brings something very valuable to the table. 

"And I think, to me, from where I stand, as a driver, that's a perfect team. Actually, they don't get into each other's way."

Perez has admitted to being frustrated by his own performances, particularly after his display in Japan, and Andretti believes the 33-year-old needs to look inward and make the necessary adjustments to get back to his best.

"There may be setups or something not totally to his liking," he added. 

"But it's a matter of adjusting, for every driver, that's the whole trick, to be able to adjust and compensate for some of the things that don't always go your way."

While Perez and Verstappen have combined to retain the constructors' championship, the latter has emerged as the clear star and number one driver in the Red Bull team.

Other teams have opted not to keep both drivers on an equal footing, but Andretti is unsure if such a system breeds the “optimal” environment for success. 

"There are teams that have got two number ones, and that's fine. I don't know if that's the optimal situation. But nevertheless, that's the way it goes, nothing is defined," he ended.

"They should give equal attention, equal commitment and everything is equal opportunity. But it's really up to the individual to earn the position of number one."

Ferrari have the capability to threaten Red Bull's recent dominance in Formula One, so says 1978 champion Mario Andretti.

Red Bull secured their second successive constructors' championship last month, with their number one driver Max Verstappen cruising to his third successive title at the Qatar Grand Prix shortly after.

Despite the poor form of Verstappen's team-mate Sergio Perez's, Red Bull have still accrued more than double the amount of points of the second-place team, Mercedes.

However, tentative signs in recent weeks have begun to hint at a long-awaited shift away from Red Bull’s dominance.

In Singapore, both Verstappen and Perez struggled - finishing fifth and eighth respectively - as Ferrari's Carlos Sainz claimed victory.

Ferrari were tipped to be serious title challengers this year and, despite their poor start to the season, Andretti is encouraged by their performances as of late.

"Well, they've shown the capability," he told Stats Perform. "There were two successive races where they were on pole, and then the one where Max Verstappen had some issues which they won. 

"So, they're there and can cause some issues for Red Bull. You're seeing Ferrari and McLaren also annoying Red Bull quite a bit. And that's the interesting part as well."

McLaren have been the surprise package in the second half of the F1 season, having struggled with their car earlier in the year.

The British team have bounced back superbly, with Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri both finishing on the podium in back-to-back races in Japan and Qatar and Andretti believes the future is bright for the young duo.

"It's been really interesting to watch how much McLaren has really improved in every way," he said.

"Obviously, they've given their drivers the equipment and the improvements that they needed to be competitive. 

"They've been right there, annoying the very top and Red Bull quite a bit. Two young drivers, one being a total rookie. There's a future there and no question, something to be built on. 

"Lando has shown that he is capable and between the two of them, it seems like they really get along very well. There seems to be a lot of harmony within the team."

McLaren's rapid rise has seen them put daylight between themselves and rivals Alpine this season.

Alpine pipped the British team to fourth in the team standings last season but have endured a disappointing season in 2023, with drivers Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly only able to secure one podium each so far this year.

They sit sixth in the standings and a considerable 129 points behind McLaren with six races remaining, but Andretti believes the team will soon rediscover their winning formula.

"You never know why some teams all of a sudden they fall behind; there are many reasons for that," he said.

"I wish you could say 'do this and that, and you'll be right back where you were, or even better', but there's always a reason somewhere.

"That's nothing unusual in this sport. And sometimes the team just have to reboot, but their competitive capability is there. No question. They've shown that before."

Mario Andretti has moved to allay fears that Max Verstappen's dominance of the drivers' championship might put fans off Formula One, asserting there is "nothing boring" about the Dutchman.

Verstappen sealed his third consecutive world title on Saturday, finishing second in an incident-packed sprint race in Qatar to ensure he can no longer be caught by Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez.

After subsequently capping his title by winning the Qatar Grand Prix on Sunday, the Dutchman has won 14 races in 2023, leaving rivals including seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari duo Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz trailing in his wake.

He also put together an unprecedented sequence of 10 successive victories earlier this year, leading to suggestions the one-sided nature of this campaign may impact F1's popularity.

The sport enjoyed a surge in popularity amid Verstappen's dramatic 2021 title tussle with Hamilton, while the Netflix documentary Drive To Survive helped engage a new generation of fans. 

However, 1978 drivers' champion Mario Andretti does not believe Verstappen's supremacy will have a negative impact on how the sport is perceived. 

"There's nothing boring about Max Verstappen," Andretti told Stats Perform. "The only thing is, the next thing that is obviously of interest is who can beat him? 

"That's the point, and that's interesting. You look forward to that every weekend, whenever the race is coming on, you say, 'I wonder if he's going to still be dominant?' 

"The other teams are not sitting still with the other drivers. But right now, Max is in a very enviable position to just really keep going."

Red Bull retained the constructors' title in September, with the team boasting a massive lead over Mercedes in the team standings. Andretti, though, does not feel changes are required to make things more competitive.

The team has won 16 of the 17 races so far this season.

"I personally love Formula One the way it is because, let's look at it on the technical side, you look at the grid and sometimes there are 10 to 12 drivers inside a second [of one another]," Andretti continued. 

"Each car, each team has different engineering, and the car looks different. Everybody obviously follows the same rules, but it's like a lawyer. A good lawyer obviously interprets a law maybe just a little bit better than the next one. That's what it's all about.

"I think Formula One has it all, it's got the technical side, but also, there's something to be appreciated there as to how close they come. I think that interest is there and will be prevalent."

Max Verstappen's third successive Formula One drivers' championship is "only the beginning", says 1978 title-winner Mario Andretti, who feels the Dutchman could go on to break records in the sport.

Red Bull star Verstappen wrapped up his third world title in as many years by finishing second in a dramatic sprint race in Qatar on Saturday, having left his rivals in the dust throughout a dominant 2023 season. 

Verstappen capped off his championship triumph in style on Sunday by cruising to victory at the Qatar Grand Prix.

The 26-year-old has a long way to go to match the accomplishments of the sport's all-time greats, however, with Michael Schumacher's record haul of seven titles being equalled by Lewis Hamilton in 2020.

However, Andretti – who captured the world crown when driving for Team Lotus in 1978 – feels those are the names Verstappen will be looking to hunt down in the coming years.

Speaking to Stats Perform, Andretti said of Verstappen: "There's no question that he fits the category of the greats, and it's ongoing.

"Like you say, it's three championships in a row and he's still going. There's no sign anywhere that he has reached a peak. 

"It's really fun watching someone like that, because he's just taking advantage of every single ounce that's at his disposal under any circumstance.

"The way I look at it, records are made to be broken. I never thought that Schumacher would have any rivals, not in my lifetime.

"I think Lewis Hamilton disproved that by tying that record, and Max is on his way, no question. 

"I mean, if there's anyone that you could consider to be a record-breaker, it's going to be Max Verstappen. At 26, it's only the beginning."

Verstappen has won 14 races this season, including an unprecedented run of 10 successive victories starting with May's Miami Grand Prix and ending after he triumphed at Monza last month.

Andretti recalled Verstappen's very first race win – which came as an 18-year-old at the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix – as he heaped further praise on the Dutchman for his dominant displays.

"What makes Verstappen a great driver is that he is something special," Andretti continued.

"As a matter of fact, when you say 'special', that's understating what this man is all about. He has shown something right from the very beginning. 

"I remember in 2016, what he did that day, he revealed himself. After that, obviously the rest is history. 

"He has been dominant and is taking advantage of every possibility in the best possible way. I think for any team on the grid, they're all envious of the fact Red Bull has a contract with this guy."

Max Verstappen hailed his third Formula One world title as the finest of his career – and vowed to celebrate by downing a few sparkling waters.

The 26-year-old Dutchman has emulated Sir Jackie Stewart and Ayrton Senna after being crowned a triple world champion with six grands prix still remaining – equalling Michael Schumacher’s 21-year-old record.

Red Bull’s Verstappen has dominated Formula One since he beat Lewis Hamilton to clinch his maiden championship at the deeply controversial season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in 2021.

And his coronation of this most one-sided of campaigns was confirmed on lap 11 of 19 of a frantic sprint race when Sergio Perez in the other Red Bull crashed out under the floodlights of the Lusail International Circuit.

Verstappen has failed to win just three of the 16 rounds so far this season, and he became the first driver in history to win 10 consecutive races following a remarkable unbeaten streak from the opening weekend of May in Miami to the Italian Grand Prix on September 3.

Verstappen’s title parade will start here at 8pm local time (6pm BST) when the lights go out on Sunday’s 57-lap Grand Prix.

“This championship is the best one,” said Verstappen. “The first one was the most emotional because that is when my dreams were fulfilled. But this has been my best year in terms of performance.

“I am the most proud of this one because of how consistent I have been. I will have quite a few sparkling waters tonight, but I will be here tomorrow.”

Verstappen’s championship-winning campaign has been one largely led from the front but the Dutchman dropped from third to fifth at the end of the opening lap of Saturday’s sprint race.

After being usurped by Mercedes’ George Russell and Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc off the line, Verstappen momentarily got out of shape at the opening right-hander, with Fernando Alonso nibbling at the back of his machine.

Verstappen survived, and then slung his Red Bull underneath Lando Norris for fifth. Two safety cars followed as Liam Lawson and Logan Sargeant beached their respective cars and Verstappen – on the slower, but more durable, medium rubber – set about his comeback.

First to be swatted aside was Leclerc on the main straight on lap nine, with Sainz the Dutchman’s next victim on the following lap.

On lap 11, the championship was officially over. Esteban Ocon attempted to overtake Nico Hulkenberg on the inside of the second corner, and with Perez to the right of the Haas driver, Ocon lost control of his Alpine and took the Red Bull with him. It summed up the Mexican’s woefully disappointing campaign.

Perez shared two wins apiece with Verstappen from the opening four fixtures but his demise has been dramatic. He is 177 points – the equivalent of more than seven victories – behind the man driving identical machinery.

On lap 16, Verstappen eased past Russell with Oscar Piastri 2.6 seconds up the road. However, the impressive McLaren rookie could not be caught as he claimed his first win in F1. It did not matter for Verstappen who could celebrate becoming just the 11th driver to win the title on more than two occasions.

“Max, you are a three-time world champion,” roared Red Bull’s jubilant team principal Christian Horner over the radio. “That is unbelievable. It has been an incredible year for you.”

Verstappen, who starts on pole on Sunday, could claim the 49th win of his career with only Hamilton (103 victories), Schumacher (91), Sebastian Vettel (53) and Alain Prost (51) ahead of him.

Verstappen turned 26 only last week, and the prospect of emulating the seven championships shared by Hamilton and Schumacher is surely possible.

“I am enjoying the moment and hopefully we will keep this momentum going for a while,” said Verstappen, whose deal with Red Bull runs until 2028.

“It is different to other sports where you can set out targets and if I keep in good shape then these things are possible.

“But in F1 it doesn’t always work like that. It depends on the package. I have quite a few more years in me to operate at my best but we will see how long that is. It is more about how long I want to be here.

“I live in the moment and I have achieved way more than I ever thought was possible.”

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