Lewis Hamilton said he was unsurprised Red Bull had turned the tables on Mercedes in United States Grand Prix qualifying.
In recent races, Mercedes looked to have gained a performance edge on their World Championship rivals with Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas having won the last two grands prix in Russia and Turkey respectively.
But after a dominant display by the reigning champions in FP1 at the Circuit of The Americas, the tide began to turn and Max Verstappen was faster than his title rival Hamilton in all three parts of qualifying.
Consequently, the Dutchman will start on pole position at an Austin venue recognised as a Mercedes stronghold, with his third-placed team-mate Sergio Perez putting Hamilton as the filling in a Red Bull sandwich.
Bottas starts ninth after taking an engine penalty for the third time in four races, on this occasion dropping five places on the grid.
How about that for a front row?
Max Verstappen snatches pole position away from Lewis Hamilton in thrilling qualifying session at @COTA https://t.co/3GMdeGGdqN #F1 pic.twitter.com/w2H3SuTUzk
— PlanetF1 (@Planet_F1) October 23, 2021
Asked by Sky F1 if he was surprised by the Saturday edge Red Bull had found in Texas, Hamilton replied: “I think we saw signs of it all weekend, so it’s not a surprise necessarily.
“We looked good in FP1 and the wind changed direction today and we struggled to keep up with these guys. Not my favourite of days, but we can fight tomorrow.”
For the 140,000 spectators expected to pack into the circuit, it should be an exciting opening lap between the two arch-rivals who have provided plenty of thrills and spills this season – especially if they can keep their battle clean this time, unlike at Silverstone and Monza.
Hamilton is concerned, however, that Red Bull have mostly been quicker away than Mercedes at lights-out throughout the campaign.
“I’ll give it everything I can tomorrow and hope we can get a good start,” said the seven-time World Champion.
“They have generally had better starts than us this year, Max particularly has, but I’ll try to give it my best off the start and into Turn 1 there’s an opportunity.
“I think tomorrow will be tough. Tyre-wear is really aggressive here, so I think it will be really interesting to see what different strategies we are able to do.
“Again, the opportunities, there are a couple along the way. They have obviously got two Red Bulls up there and I’m up there on my own as Valtteri has the penalty, so we’ve just got to work really hard tomorrow and do our diligence overnight.”