Lewis Hamilton said there was something wrong with his Mercedes after he qualified only 11th for Sunday’s season finale in Abu Dhabi.

As Max Verstappen put his Red Bull on pole position for the final race of his all-conquering campaign – with Charles Leclerc second and Oscar Piastri third – Hamilton was left starting at another poor performance in his underperforming machinery.

The seven-time world champion, facing up to a second season without a victory, finished six tenths behind Verstappen and a third-of-a-second back from team-mate George Russell, who qualified fourth.

Hamilton’s failure to progress to Q3 – as he gloomily predicted here on Friday night – leaves the fight between Mercedes and Ferrari for second place in the constructors’ championship firmly in the balance.

The Silver Arrows head their Italian rivals by just four points ahead of Sunday’s finale in the desert. And Leclerc finished ahead of both Russell and Hamilton to hand Ferrari the initiative.

However, Mercedes were handed a minor boost after Carlos Sainz was a surprise eliminee in Q1.

A day after he crashed out in practice, Sainz bemoaned traffic for his lowly 16th grid slot.

It emerged earlier this week that Hamilton’s father and one-time manager Anthony had enquired about a seat for his son at Red Bull.

Hamilton has recorded just one podium in his last six appearances following Mercedes’ tumble down the grid, and he faces an uphill task to salvage a respectable result at the Yas Marina Circuit.

“There is something not right with this car, mate,” said the 38-year-old as he headed back to the pits shaking his head.

Hamilton is third in the standings, an extraordinary 317 points Verstappen, with the Dutchman starting Sunday’s 58-lap race as the overwhelming favourite to claim a remarkable 19th victory from the 22 rounds this year.

Verstappen finished 0.139 seconds ahead of Leclerc, while McLaren’s Lando Norris was a disappointing fifth. The British driver got out of shape on his final lap in the last sector, losing him considerable time.

“The whole weekend has been a struggle,” said Verstappen. “But we improved the car for qualifying so I am very happy to be on pole.”

Quizzed about Ferrari’s battle against Mercedes, Leclerc said: “I hope it is going to go well.

“The target is to beat them, so I hope Carlos get a good start and joins me in the fight.

“Let’s look to put both of our cars in front of Mercedes because finishing second in the constructors is all that matters to me.”

Elsewhere, Yuki Tsunoda impressed to take sixth spot for AlphaTauri, one place ahead of Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso. Sergio Perez’s final lap was deleted for exceeding track limits, leaving him in ninth.

Lewis Hamilton fears Mercedes could lose second spot to Ferrari in the constructors’ championship after he admitted it will be a scramble to qualify in the top 10 for Sunday’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc topped practice at the Yas Marina Circuit, seeing off McLaren’s Lando Norris by just 0.043 seconds, with world champion Max Verstappen third.

But George Russell and Hamilton finished only sixth and eighth respectively for Mercedes, with the latter half a second behind Leclerc.

Mercedes, who are facing up to their first winless season since 2011, hold only a four-point lead over Ferrari heading into Sunday’s finale in the desert.

And Hamilton said: “It was not the greatest of days. We have had difficult qualifying sessions this year, and getting out of Q1 and into Q2 has always been a tough battle, and getting into Q3 is a challenge.

“The work tomorrow is to try and get into Q3. But it is going to be close.”

Hamilton completed only four timed laps on Friday. He made way for the team’s Danish junior driver Frederik Vesti in the opening running, before a combined 30-minute delay wiped out half of the one-hour second session after Carlos Sainz and Nico Hulkenberg both crashed out.

Russell fared better than Hamilton, but he still finished three tenths behind Leclerc.

However, it was not a day without incident for Ferrari following Sainz’s crash.

A week after a loose drain cover tore through his Ferrari in Las Vegas, Sainz was in the wars again, but on this occasion it was through driver error.

Sainz – who appeared to be put off by another car arriving from the pits – lost control of his machine through turn three and ended up in the barrier.

Although the Spaniard was unharmed in the high-speed smash after just eight and a half minutes, he sustained significant damage to his car, with the sidepods, floor, rear suspension and front wing of his Ferrari all destroyed.

Sainz’s impact also left the barrier in a mess, and a 22-minute delay ensued as the tyre wall was repaired.

But only moments after the running restarted, the red flag was out again – this time after Nico Hulkenberg crashed on the exit of turn one.

On cold tyres, the German was too hasty on the throttle, sliding into the barrier before pulling up in his wounded machine.

The stoppages arrived as a blow to half the grid who sat out the opening session as 10 rookie drivers – including three Britons – were earlier blooded at the Yas Marina Circuit.

British drivers Zak O’Sullivan, 18, and Jake Dennis, 28, made their Formula One weekend debuts for Williams and Red Bull respectively, while Ollie Bearman, 18, who in Mexico became the youngest debutant from Britain at a Grand Prix, was handed his second practice appearance by Haas.

Dennis, in Verstappen’s Red Bull machine which Hamilton has described as the fastest ever seen in F1, finished 16th of the 20 runners, 1.1 secs off the pace.

O’Sullivan was 18th – seven tenths behind Williams’ Logan Sargeant – with Bearman 20th and last, albeit only a tenth slower than Kevin Magnussen in the other Haas.

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc edged out Lando Norris in practice for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix which was red-flagged on two occasions.

A combined 30-minute delay wiped out half of the one-hour session after Carlos Sainz and Nico Hulkenberg both crashed out.

Leclerc saw off Norris by just 0.043 seconds, with Max Verstappen third, 0.173 sec off the pace. George Russell and Lewis Hamilton finished sixth and eighth respectively for Mercedes.

A week after he smashed into a loose drain cover in Las Vegas, Sainz was in the wars again, but on this occasion it was through driver error.

Sainz – who appeared to be put off by another car arriving from the pits – lost control of his machine through turn three and ended up in the barrier.

Although the Spaniard was unharmed in the high-speed smash – with the running just eight-and-a-half minutes old – he sustained significant damage to his car; with the sidepods, floor, rear suspension and front wing of his Ferrari all destroyed.

Sainz’s impact also left the barrier in a mess and a 22-minute delay ensued as the tyre wall was repaired.

But only moments after the running re-started, the red flag was out again – this time after Nico Hulkenberg crashed on the exit of turn one.

On cold tyres, the German was too hasty on the throttle, sliding into the barrier before stopping in his wounded machine.

The stoppages arrived as a blow to half the grid who sat out the opening session as 10 rookie drivers were blooded at the Yas Marina Circuit.

Mercedes are looking to hang on to second in the constructors’ championship and are only four points ahead of Ferrari with one race to go.

And the troubled team will be alarmed by Leclerc’s speed as the Monegasque, on pole position in Las Vegas, topped the order.

Russell finished three tenths adrift of Leclerc while Hamilton, who made way for the team’s Danish junior driver Frederik Vesti in the opening running, was half-a-second back.

Mercedes’ sluggish pace also leaves the grid’s once-dominant team facing up to a winless season – their first since 2011.

In the day’s first running, British drivers Zak O’Sullivan, 18, and Jake Dennis, 28, made their Formula One weekend debuts for Williams and Red Bull respectively.

Ollie Bearman, 18, who in Mexico became the youngest British debutant at a Grand Prix, was handed his second practice appearance by Haas.

Dennis, in Verstappen’s Red Bull machine which Hamilton has described as the fastest ever seen in F1, finished 16th of the 20 runners, 1.1 sec off the pace.

O’Sullivan was 18th – seven tenths behind Williams’ Logan Sargeant – with Bearman 20th and last, albeit only a tenth slower than Kevin Magnussen in the other Haas.

Lewis Hamilton cannot be blamed for considering a blockbuster switch to Red Bull following Mercedes’ failure to provide him with a winning machine, Christian Horner has claimed.

Red Bull team principal Horner confirmed on Friday that Hamilton’s father Anthony made an inquiry about the availability of a seat alongside Max Verstappen at the grid’s all-conquering team.

Verstappen has won the past three world championships, while Hamilton last took a victory at the penultimate round of the 2021 season in Saudi Arabia.

“I have known Anthony Hamilton for 15 years and I don’t think he was enquiring about himself to come and drive,” said Horner of Anthony, who managed his son in the formative years of his career.

“I don’t know who represents who, but with the surname you would think they are reasonably close.

“Anthony is a good guy, a proud racing father and inevitably when drivers go through tough spots – and Lewis has not won a Grand Prix for two years – questions will be asked up and down the paddock.

“Lewis is the most successful driver of all time and he hasn’t won a grand prix since 2021. You have not got to be a rocket scientist to work that out and I doubt I was the only one that an inquiry was made to.”

Red Bull will head into the season finale having failed to win just one of the 21 rounds so far. Verstappen has triumphed on 18 occasions – a record for any driver during a single campaign.

Hamilton’s Mercedes team are in a state of flux, but the seven-time world champion signed a two-year deal with the Silver Arrows, worth £100million, in August. Sergio Perez is contracted to Red Bull for 2024.

On Thursday, Hamilton denied seeking a move to Red Bull and claimed it was instead Horner who approached him.

“I have checked with everyone in my team and nobody has spoken to them. However, he (Horner) did reach out to me earlier on in the year about meeting up,” Hamilton said.

Horner added: “It is entirely normal for drivers, drivers’ representatives and drivers’ parents to have different conversations during the year.

“There was never a seat available and there was never any engagement. There are many drivers we hear from during the course of the year.

“We have not had any serious discussions with Lewis and there was never a seat available.”

Lewis Hamilton has denied seeking a blockbuster move to Red Bull – and claimed it was instead Christian Horner who approached him.

Hamilton accused Horner of being “lonely” and “stirring” the pot, following the Red Bull team principal’s claim ahead of this weekend’s season finale in Abu Dhabi that the British driver’s camp inquired about a seat alongside Max Verstappen at the grid’s all-conquering team.

A front-footed Hamilton, who signed a two-year contract extension to remain at Mercedes until the end of 2025 in August, also said Verstappen would not want him as a team-mate.

Asked if he approached Red Bull about joining them, Hamilton, 38, replied: “No. I did not.

“I have checked with everyone in my team and nobody has spoken to them. However, he (Horner) did reach out to me earlier on in the year about meeting up.

“I picked up my old phone which I found at home. It has my old number. I switched it on, and hundreds of messages came through, and one was from Christian to get together and have a catch-up at the end of the season.

“He didn’t say (it was about driving for them). He just said about having a catch-up.

“I replied to him (Horner) on my new phone. It was quite late on that I found his message. It was from earlier on in the year, and it was months later (that I replied).

“I just said, ‘congratulations on the amazing season and I hope we are able to compete with you soon’, and he replied repeating the same thing.

“If you really think about it, there are a lot of people here that like to drop my name in conversations because they know it will make waves and if you are a little bit lonely, and are not getting much attention, that is the perfect thing to do, just to mention my name. He is stirring things.”

Hamilton is set to bring the curtain down on a second winless season. Verstappen has won the last three world championships and heads into the final round with a remarkable 18 wins from 21. Hamilton has described the Dutchman’s machine as the fastest ever seen in Formula One.

“I would be more than happy to race against Max in the same car,” added Hamilton. “That would be wonderful. But I don’t think he wants me to be his team-mate.”

Hamilton has been with Mercedes since 2013, and has said on numerous occasions that he could not envisage being at another team.

He continued: “I have so much respect for (team principal) Toto (Wolff).

“We have a great relationship. And I spoke to him when the story broke. I wanted my team to know because if people think those things (about leaving) it is never positive. Hopefully signing with them has shown my commitment to the team.

“Let’s be realistic, every single driver here dreams of being in a winning car. In my younger days, when I had not had a lot of success, joining Red Bull would have been more attractive to me.

“We have had two really difficult years, and if we were able to beat that Red Bull, that would be a way better feeling than just stepping into the best car.

“That wouldn’t do much for me – stepping into a car that has been the most dominant of all time – but working with my team to beat them. That would be better for my legacy.”

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.”

Formula One bosses were dealt a hugely embarrassing blow after first practice for the Las Vegas Grand Prix was cancelled.

The running under the lights of the Las Vegas strip was suspended when Carlos Sainz broke down in his Ferrari with just eight minutes on the clock.

And then 11 minutes later, at 8:49pm local time, it was announced the session would not be resumed – it emerged Sainz’s failure was caused by a loose manhole cover.

Television replays showed Sainz being jolted in his cockpit as the cover struck the underneath of his machine as he approached 200mph on the Las Vegas Boulevard.

Esteban Ocon also smashed into the debris – against the backdrop of Caesars Palace, Bellagio and Venetian hotels – causing significant damage to his Alpine.

Ferrari described the damage to Sainz’s car as “extensive”, while Alpine said Ocon will require a new chassis.

Ferrari team principal Frederic Masseur said: “He (Sainz) said I hit something on track, and he didn’t know what it was. It is just unacceptable for F1.”

An FIA spokesperson said: “Following an inspection, a concrete frame around a manhole cover has failed.

“We now need to check all of the other manhole covers which will take some time.

“We will be discussing with the local circuit engineering team about the length of time it will take to resolve and we will update with any resultant changes to the schedule.”

Second practice is due to begin at midnight local time (8:00 GMT). But there are significant doubts if there will be any running today at the 3.8-mile temporary street venue.

Speaking on Sky Sports, the highly-respected TV pundit and former driver Martin Brundle, said: “That’s it for today from my experience.

“Fixing that and checking everything else, letting it dry and making sure it won’t come out again is going to be a big job.

“Theoretically, they are going to re-open the Strip (for public use) after the F1 practice sessions. That is a very, very big issue if there are other areas like that around the track.”

The problems of loose manhole covers at street venues is not a new one in the sport.

Jenson Button struck a dislodged drain in practice in Monaco in 2016, while George Russell also ran over a drain cover in Azerbaijan four years ago.

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said on Sky: “It’s a shame that we are not allowed on track.

“They are going to have to check all the manhole covers and weld them or do something because you can see the damage that it has done.

“It’s a great shame for the fans but safety comes first. We have got to get this right and hopefully it won’t take too long.”

The cancellation of opening practice comes 24 hours after triple world champion criticised the staging of the Las Vegas Grand Prix – the first here in four decades and maiden event on the strip – as “99 per cent show, and one per cent sport”.

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.”

Toto Wolff said Mercedes’ worst performance on his watch as team principal shows they are right to make wholesale design changes for next season.

Lewis Hamilton finished eighth at Sunday’s Brazilian Grand Prix – more than a minute behind race winner Max Verstappen – while George Russell retired with an engine failure while running in 11th.

Far from being any closer to Verstappen’s all-conquering Red Bull, Mercedes were slower than McLaren, Aston Martin, Ferrari and the mid-table Alpine team in Sao Paulo, with Pierre Gasly embarrassing the former world champions when he batted Hamilton and Russell aside.

“It is totally baffling and unacceptable,” said a beleaguered Wolff.

“We are a proper structure, a solid team but that didn’t look like a solid team today. For me personally, it was the worst weekend in 13 years (in Formula One).

“The development of that car has been about putting plasters on something that was not right and it shows that it is so unpredictable that it can swing either side.

“Fundamentally, we will have a different car next year and today proves that is the right thing to do.

“It feels horrible for the whole team. And I wish we could start the new season concentrating on the new car.”

Performances at the previous two rounds had afforded Hamilton and Mercedes hope that they were closing the gap to Red Bull.

Armed with a new floor in Austin two weeks ago, Hamilton finished second before he was disqualified after his Mercedes failed a post-race scrutineering check. He was runner-up again in Mexico seven days later, this time with a legal car, 14 sec adrift of Verstappen.

But the Silver Arrows were dealt a grizzly reality check at Interlagos – a venue where they expected to perform well after Russell claimed Mercedes’ sole victory there last season.

Wolff continued: “It’s baffling. From having a really quick and balanced car and drivers really happy, to a nightmare. How is that possible?

“I wouldn’t be surprised if we analyse the cars in the next few days and we find out that there is a mechanical issue in the way we set them up.”

Russell was forced to park his machine with 12 laps remaining but the Englishman hopes Mercedes’ abysmal performance was track specific – with rounds to follow in Las Vegas in a fortnight before the concluding race in Abu Dhabi on November 26.

“It was a mind-boggling weekend to understand,” said Russell. “We had high expectations heading into this weekend and we had absolutely no pace at all.

“There are so many question marks. It is the same car that we have had for the last five races which has been capable of podiums.

“This is clearly a substantial one-off event, but we need to understand what we got wrong because right now, we don’t really know.”

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).

British racing driver Susie Wolff announced on this day in 2015 she would retire from motor sport at the end of the season.

Wolff, aged 32 at the time, had become the first female to take part in a Formula One race weekend in more than two decades in first practice at the 2014 British Grand Prix with Williams.

The Scot had also taken part in practice for the German Grand Prix that year as well as sessions in Spain in 2015 and again at Silverstone – but expressed her belief as she announced her retirement that F1 having a competitive female driver was something that was not going to happen soon.

Wolff – married to Mercedes boss Toto Wolff, who was a minority shareholder in the Williams team – said: “My progression into Formula One came to represent so much more than a racing driver simply trying to reach the pinnacle of the sport.

“It was also the hope that finally there may again be a female on the starting grid.

“I rode the wave, was energised by all the support and fought hard. There were those who wanted it to happen. Those who didn’t.

“I can only tell you, I gave it my all. Do I think F1 is ready for a competitive female racing driver that can perform at the highest level? Yes. Do I think it is achievable as a woman? Most definitely. Do I think it will happen soon? Sadly no.

“We have two issues – not enough young girls starting in karting at a young age and no clear role model. Sometimes you just have to see it to believe it. My gut feeling tells me it is time to move on.”

Wolff, who competed in Formula Renault, Formula Three and the German DTM series before her stint in F1, was appointed as Williams development driver in 2012 before being promoted to the role of test driver.

But her hopes of becoming the first woman to start an F1 race since Lella Lombardi in 1976 suffered a huge setback when Adrian Sutil was signed up by Williams after Valtteri Bottas sustained an injury in qualifying for the 2015 Australian Grand Prix, a move that appeared to scupper any long-term hope she had of competing for the team in a race.

Wolff added: “At 13, the dream and the goal became Formula One. I got oh so close.

“I wanted and fought very hard to make it onto that starting grid but the events at the start of this year and the current environment in F1 the way it is, it isn’t going to happen.”

In March of this year, Wolff was appointed managing director of the all-female F1 Academy series.

The series aims to develop and prepare young female drivers to progress to higher levels of competition.

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has revealed he has spoken to Sir Jim Ratcliffe about joining his bid to purchase a stake in Manchester United.

Ratcliffe, is set to buy a 25 per cent shareholding in the Old Trafford club, with the deal expected to see the 71-year-old billionaire have a significant say in sporting matters.

Ineos founder Ratcliffe, along with Wolff, 51, and Ola Kallenius own a third of the Mercedes Formula One team. Mercedes team principal Wolff has overseen six of Lewis Hamilton’s seven world championships.

Speaking to the PA news agency ahead of this weekend’s Brazilian Grand Prix in Sao Paulo, Wolff, a close ally and business partner of Ratcliffe’s, said: “Jim has shared the trajectory with me.

“I very much respect his values and we trust each other. If we felt it would make sense to be part of the investment group then I would certainly look at it.”

Austrian Wolff bought a share in Williams in 2009 before leaving the British team to become an executive director of Mercedes four years later. He spearheaded the team’s record of eight consecutive constructors’ world championships between 2014 and 2021.

He added: “I have never aimed for trophy investments but I like the competitiveness of the Premier League.

“Jim and Manchester United is a love story because he is born there. Our personal relationship is strong and with Ola Kallenius, they call us the Three Amigos because we live in the no bulls*** world.

“If felt I could contribute then I would consider joining him at Manchester United.”

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.

Lewis Hamilton said Mercedes’ strategy cost him his first victory in nearly two years at Sunday’s United States Grand Prix.

Hamilton conceded a 10-second swing to Max Verstappen when Mercedes left their star driver in no man’s land as they attempted a one-stop strategy at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin.

Hamilton was less than two seconds behind early leader Lando Norris and five seconds clear of Verstappen, who started only sixth, as they approached the opening round of pit stops.

But when Verstappen and Norris stopped for fresh rubber on lap 16 and 17 respectively, Hamilton was told to stay out – with an alternative strategy to Verstappen viewed as the only way to topple the all-conquering Dutchman. It quickly proved the wrong decision.

Asked if he could complete another five laps on his current set of tyres, Hamilton replied: “I am not sure, man. It is pretty tough.”

Hamilton then locked up before his race engineer Peter Bonnington was back on the intercom to inform his driver that Verstappen – who on new tyres had just lapped three seconds faster than the Briton – was now likely to gazump him when he eventually stopped.

“No s***, man,” yelled Hamilton, with his tyres falling off the cliff. “I am struggling out here.”

Hamilton came in four laps later than Verstappen with a slow front-right tyre change adding to his woes. When he emerged from the pits, he had dropped to third, five seconds adrift of Verstappen and 7.5 sec back from Norris.

Hamilton saw off Norris with a dozen laps to go, but he could not reel Verstappen in – taking the chequered flag an agonising 2.2 sec behind.

Asked if he felt he should have claimed his first win since the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix 686 days ago, had it not been for Mercedes’ offset strategy, Hamilton was defiant.

“Yes,” he said without hesitation. “I do think we would have been in a position to fight with Max.

“We made our life a lot harder today than it needed to be. There are lots of areas where we could have been better.”

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff added: “At the moment, we have mixed feelings because there is the pain of just having lost a race that we could have won.”

Hamilton was later facing the prospect of being disqualified from the race after the floor of his Mercedes was found not to be compliant with the regulations.

Leclerc’s Ferrari also failed the post-race check. Hamilton and a Mercedes team representative will meet with the stewards at 1800 local time (00:00 BST).

Hamilton, in his revamped Mercedes machine, could count himself unfortunate to drop from third to fourth at the start.

The seven-time world champion enjoyed a decent getaway, but he was blocked by Norris under braking allowing Carlos Sainz to sneak through. Norris had seen off pole-sitter Charles Leclerc with a lunge at the first bend to assume top spot.

As Norris set about building a lead – already two seconds clear of Leclerc at the end of the second lap – Hamilton set about passing both scarlet cars.

First up was Sainz. Hamilton used the tow to latch on to the back of Ferrari on the 210mph drag to Turn 12, and, assisted by DRS, drew alongside Sainz before sliding underneath the Spaniard.

Hamilton has won six times across the Pond, with five of those victories here in Austin, and the 38-year-old required only two laps to swat Leclerc aside for second.

Deeper on the brakes at Turn 12, Hamilton sailed round the outside of the Monegasque at the left-hander, with Norris now three seconds up the road.

Behind, and Verstappen, struggling with his brakes, was not finding it as easy to make progress.

He was stuck behind Leclerc for an additional five laps before finally making his move on the Monegasque.

He trailed Norris by seven seconds and Hamilton by four. Hamilton was now 1.9 sec behind Norris and would have taken the lead had Mercedes used the undercut. But, on the day, Mercedes got it wrong, and Hamilton knew it.

“You have given me a hell of a gap to close,” he said after his first stop.

On lap 28, Verstappen dived underneath Norris for the lead at Turn 12. Norris had a nibble back at the Red Bull heading into the ensuing right hander, but he failed to make it stick.

Hamilton was back into the pits for a second time on lap 37 of 56, changing to the faster medium compound.

Hamilton had the bit between his teeth and within 10 laps he was crawling all over the back of Norris’ McLaren.

Norris slung his McLaren to the inside on the entry to the first corner in a move to stop Hamilton, but the older Brit gained better traction out of the bend to slingshot by in his Mercedes.

Verstappen was five seconds ahead and Hamilton started to catch his old nemesis only to run out of laps.

Verstappen joined Hamilton (103 wins), Michael Schumacher (91), Sebastian Vettel (53) and Alain Prost (51) in the half-century club with his 15th win from the 18 rounds so far.

The Dutchman, jeered on the podium – possibly by supporters of his Mexican team-mate Sergio Perez – said: “To take my 50th career win makes me very proud and we will try to push for more.”

Sainz took fourth ahead of Perez with Leclerc sixth and George Russell seventh for Mercedes.

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