Saturday’s qualifying session in Austin came to feel like something of a scavenger hunt. Everyone’s aim was to try to get the tires into the correct temperature window, and with the lack of benchmarks due to the bizarre FP2 session, it was a ‘trial and error’ fest.
There were those who opted for a double warm-up lap, those who did just one at a very slow pace, those who decided in Q2 to run on a set of soft tires for Q3 and those who tried a double run interrupted by a cool-down lap.
Also contributing to the confusion was Carlos Sainz, who set the fastest time in Q1 with two warm-up laps, an option that his direct rivals immediately copied (Red Bull Racing first) but without great results.
No one found the perfect solution, given the slim margins in the top positions, but Carlos Sainz managed to get everything right when it was needed, that is, on the last lap of Q3.
The Ferrari also seemed to be the car least affected by the strong gusts of wind that affected several drivers’ laps, and the one-two finish achieved by the Scuderia was no accident.
“Already in Q1 I had a good feeling with the car, so I felt I could aim for pole position if I put it all together in Q3. But it was quite tricky, the strong wind always leaves you with the uncertainty of not knowing what to expect in some curves.
“You have to trust the car to hold its own on the tarmac and bring the speed into the corners without really knowing what’s going to happen. It was a bit nerve-wracking but also a lot of fun.”
Sainz also lifted a weight off his shoulders, returning to pole position after his wins at Silverstone and Spa.
That Ferrari was capable of fighting for the front row was made clear in Q2, when both Charles Leclerc and his partner were able to make the cut on a set of used soft tyres, thus salvaging a tactic that allowed for a double attack in Q3. .
Sainz looked radiant as he took his third pole position of the season (recall that he started first at Spa after Verstappen’s penalties) while Leclerc looked baffled at the end of the session as he was unable to overtake his team-mate.
“My last lap was not the best,” confirmed Leclerc. “Carlos did a better job and he deserves to be on pole. I will start from the sixth row of the grid and the aim is to try to catch up with the front group as soon as possible. Overall I did what I could, I lost a bit of time in the last corner but nothing happens either.
After one lap, and this is nothing new, the Ferrari is doing very well, to the point of monopolizing the front row of the Circuit of the Americas, which incidentally sees the Maranello team ‘s car on pole position for the first time.
However, it will be another thing to be able to turn Sainz’s pole position into a victory, given the great unknown about tire grip on one of the toughest circuits in terms of wear. The two-stop race is taken for granted, so all the drivers have saved two sets of new hard tyres.
“I think going into the race Red Bull is still the favourite,” Sainz explained. “They usually have the best pace, Max does a great job and his car has very good tire management. We know that when there is a lot of degradation we sometimes have more difficulties than Red Bull and Mercedes, so it is something we will have to keep an eye on. But we will do our best to try to stay in front and try to win the race.”
An opinion shared (somewhat surprisingly) by Max Verstappen himself: “I think that for us the performance in the race is usually better than the performance in qualifying. We have seen very narrow margins, so I expect a good race”.
As is traditional in 2022, many wondered what Mercedes can aspire to. After applying the penalties to Leclerc and Pérez, Lewis Hamilton and George Russell will occupy the second row, despite the fact that the seven-time champion made a mistake on his fastest lap without which he would have stayed four tenths from pole. Error included, Lewis confirmed that he felt more comfortable than expected between the corners of Austin, but it is evident that the answer on the track is missing and that will come at the end of the 56 laps scheduled for today.