AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Lewis Hamilton needs a late-season charge to catch Nico Rosberg for the Formula One championship. He can start Sunday from pole position at the U.S. Grand Prix.
Hamilton outgunned his Mercedes rival and teammate on the last lap to grab his first pole position at the Circuit of the Americas, where he’s won three times starting from second.
“I feel amazing,” Hamilton said. “I could hear the crowd cheering.”
Hamilton has been a Texas favorite with his three wins in four years and he returned this year facing a 33-point deficit behind Rosberg in the title chase. His fastest lap of 1 minute, 34.999 seconds pushed Rosberg to No. 2.
“It was a good lap I did. Annoyed when Lewis crossed the line and beat me,” said Rosberg, who also threw a jab at Hamilton’s season-long troubles getting off the starting line.
“As we’ve seen this year, qualifying isn’t all important,” Rosberg added. “From P2 I still have a great chance for tomorrow.”
Indeed, Hamilton has been bedeviled by poor starts and pole position Sunday could mean little. He’s won only three of the previous eight races this season when he started No. 1.
A good start will be critical Sunday. The first sector at the Circuit of the Americas sends the cars up through a 110-foot elevation and into a hard left turn that sends them back downhill. Rosberg admits he struggles with the turn, where Hamilton got the inside line at the start in 2015 and bumped him wide.
“It’s very technical in terms of braking and positioning. It’s very difficult,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton has dominated this track and his win last year clinched his second consecutive season championship and third overall. But Rosberg’s lead is large enough that he can chase down this season’s title without a victory over the final month. Even if Hamilton wins the last four races, Rosberg wins the title with three seconds and a third.
But a Rosberg win could crush Hamilton’s rally hopes. Rosberg has said all week he won’t settle into the safety of second place on Sunday.
“It would be amazing to win the U.S. Grand Prix,” Rosberg said. “I’ll be focused on that.”
A win Sunday would make Rosberg just the fourth driver in Formula One history to get 10 in a single season. And it would push him that much closer to matching the 1982 championship won by his father, Keke Rosberg. He would also be in striking distance of the single-season victories record held by Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel.
Red Bull flirted with the top spots Saturday when Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo went 1-2 in the morning practice. But neither car was able to challenge the supremacy of Mercedes once qualifying began.
Ricciardo, who finished third in Austin in 2014 and won in Malaysia when Hamilton’s car didn’t finish, hopes he can make another podium. Verstappen will start fourth. Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen and Vettel will start fifth and sixth.
“Not really close to Mercedes, but we expected them to be very hard to beat,” Ricciardo said. “It’s a good fun circuit, good for overtaking. We’ll see what happens.”
Watch the US Grand Prix on KXAN TV on Sunday at 1:30 p.m. CST.