Charles Leclerc took pole position for the Las Vegas Grand Prix after Ferrari dominated qualifying in Formula 1’s prestigious new race in Sin City.
Leclerc was quicker by just 0.044 seconds than team-mate Carlos Sainz, who has a 10-place grid penalty and will start 12th.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen – who was third fastest, 0.378secs off top spot – will therefore start alongside Leclerc.
Mercedes driver George Russell was fourth, ahead of Alpine’s Pierre Gasly.
In a frantic final few seconds of the session, Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso plummeted from being fourth after the first runs to 10th.
Struggling on the straights in the Aston Martin, Alonso was pipped by a clutch of drivers more used to being towards the back but who did only one run in the final session, with Williams drivers Alex Albon and Logan Sargeant sixth and seventh, Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas eighth and Haas’ Kevin Magnussen ninth.
Lewis Hamilton could manage only 11th in his Mercedes, and the second Red Bull driver Sergio Perez joined him in being knocked out in the second session in 12th place after Red Bull miscalculated and brought him in to the pits with more than two minutes still remaining in the session, resulting in him dropping down from sixth.
Both will move up a place as a result of Sainz’s penalty.
Leclerc, who has looked a favourite for pole since taking to the track on Thursday evening, had a smaller margin in the end than might have been expected – he was more than 0.5secs quicker than Sainz in the second session – and admitted he had not optimised his performance in the final part of qualifying.
“I am of course happy,” Leclerc said. “For first [race] in Las Vegas, it is an incredible event and to be starting from pole is great.
“But I am a bit disappointed with my laps in Q3. I didn’t do a good enough job but it was enough to do the pole.
“Now we have to see how we do in the race, normally that’s where we struggle.”
Sainz’s grid penalty is for using too many engine parts – and that is a consequence of an unfortunate incident early in the first session.
He hit a drain that had become dislodged, which caused substantial damage to his Ferrari – he needed a new chassis, engine and battery.
Ferrari applied to the stewards for mitigation, asking them to take into account that it had not been their fault. But Mercedes, who are fighting with Ferrari for second in the constructors’ championship, were preparing a protest if they were let off and the stewards decided against it.
Sainz said: “We did the maximum we could today. I am very disappointed about yesterday. I am still in a very bad mood after that, but I am trying not to show it too much.”
Verstappen started the weekend saying the Las Vegas race was “99% show and 1% sporting event” and after the first practice day said he had not enjoyed the track.
But following qualifying he said he “did enjoy it out there”, admitting that he had been struggling for one lap pace so far but expected as usual to be strong in the race.
“I am not a big fan of street circuits,” he said. “But out there when you are pushing on the limit it is exciting. It is very low grip, a bit like Baku. I just don’t really enjoy that. You are always limited with the sliding. But it is very exciting what they have built, it looks incredible.”
It was a dramatic session under the lights of Las Vegas and with the city’s famous casino hotels providing the eye-catching backdrop F1 had hoped for when they finally succeeded after 40 years of on-and-off effort to secure a race on a track that included the famous Strip.
The lap times kept tumbling throughout and the final seconds of the session saw a series of usually unfancied drivers jump up the order.
For Sargeant, it marked a career high in a rookie season that has had its difficult moments but in which he has begun to string together some strong performances in recent races, with his seat next year on the line.
The American was just 0.190secs behind team-mate Albon, who kept up his 100% record in their qualifying head-to-head, despite crashing in final practice when he lost control in Turn Four – the only driver-error crash of the weekend so far.
McLaren struggled, their car not suited to the circuit and both Norris and Oscar Piastri were knocked out in the first session.
Norris said: “I would say it’s not a surprise just because it’s very close and just when things aren’t quite going and just when you’re not quite comfortable, one or two tenths off where you want to be and it makes a big difference.”