Lewis Hamilton says he and Max Verstappen “hope” to make it into Turn 1 of the 2021 Formula One race in Austin without incident, but he doesn’t think the race will be decided there.
For the first time since the Zandvoort race in early September, and three events after their Monza crash, this year’s two title contenders will start on the front row for Sunday’s US Grand Prix.
That was the second collision between the two this season that resulted in at least one of them having to retire – the other famous incident occurred on the first lap of the British GP at Silverstone in July – though they also collided minorly at the start at Imola and were on the verge of doing so again in Spain.
The risk of another collision was raised during the pair’s post-qualifying press conference in Austin, shortly after Verstappen won his first pole since the Italian GP (which he inherited due to Valtteri Bottas’ grid penalty) by 0.209s in Q3.
“I hope we’ll make it through Turn 1 and we get a good race,” Hamilton said. “[But] I don’t think it’s all decided on Turn 1.”
Verstappen claimed he and Hamilton would drive “as we always try, as professionals,” before lamenting being asked about their clashes – as he did, rather more explosively, in the pre-event press conference in Sochi following the Monza crash.
“I don’t see why we always have to keep bringing this up,” said Verstappen. “It’s not like we are the only ones who have touched, you know.
“In this sport, these things happen, unfortunately.
“But we are on the front row again and everyone is just expecting a great race and that’s what we also expect, I think, as drivers. We just want to have a really good race.”
After Mercedes continued its strong form from Russia and Turkey in FP1 at Austin on Friday, Red Bull has made great progress since then, leading the way in FP2 and FP3 (albeit with Hamilton’s faster progress eliminated in both sessions) and Verstappen topping Q2 and Q3.
Late in FP2, Verstappen also took the lead on long run pace, with an average laptime on the medium tyres – which all the frontrunners will use for the first stint of the race – 0.301s faster than Bottas, who completed a similar stint length for Mercedes.
“I had a bit of traffic on my long runs as well, but everything felt quite normal,” Verstappen said when questioned about his race pace potential.
“I do think we also improved the car a little bit [on Saturday] so hopefully that will be better for [Sunday]. I guess we will find out, but there were no big problems.
“It’s mainly just tyre wear and tyre deg, which I think we have to look at a bit more closely.
“Also again, we have a little bit of information but also we’ll find out throughout the race how they are holding up.”
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