Drivers compete in practice session for the Formula One United States Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas on Oct. 18, 2017, in Austin, Texas.
Lewis Hamilton matched Michael Schumacher’s record of seven world championships by taking the podium in qualifying at the Mexican Grand Prix, and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen missed the final shoot-out by just 0.007 seconds.
Hamilton started the final round with a 12-point lead over Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel. The Briton’s championship-winning run of five straight titles in 2014-16 is now matched.
“These have been the toughest races of my life,” Hamilton said. “I never thought I would be in this position after that race at Suzuka and the only thing I can do is stay positive and keep fighting.”
Max Verstappen finished fourth, 0.187 seconds behind Hamilton.
“It’s always difficult to go to the back, but you just have to push as hard as you can,” Verstappen said. “I can’t believe what I’m driving. Even on the final lap, I couldn’t believe how far I got.”
Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen qualified second, while Vettel was third. Vettel can reclaim the title if he wins Sunday.
Alonso led the opening two sections of the 10-minute qualifying session, but his Honda-powered McLaren crashed when he lost control of the steering and spun off during the third section. The first and last phases were re-started, as was the last, with Alonso in the top 10, and to his relief the top five cars included his team.
Three McLaren drivers managed to finish, including Stoffel Vandoorne, who finished sixth. Esteban Ocon is the fourth McLaren and Heikki Kovalainen is in 12th place.
“It’s a bit of a nightmare,” Alonso said. “I’m going to tell everyone, I think, it’s my worst nightmare.”
Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen started in second, but failed to make it through to the second qualifying segment. After handing Alonso a ride to the pits to secure a new set of tires, the Finn bolted to the pits on his own and then traveled back to the garage by the adjacent entrance. He drove back to the pits, stopped and entered his motor home under his own power.
When he did return to the track, he was fifth, and is now locked in a four-way fight for fourth place. A place in the top five would ensure the drivers qualify for the race.
However, it’s unlikely he would qualify for the third round, given his inability to pass the initial check-point in time.
Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo also crashed during the opening two sections.
The race in Mexico City starts Sunday.
Saturday’s Stage 1 qualifying was short, and the drivers were only in the final section of qualifying to score points, which they easily did.
Carlos Sainz out-qualified Hamilton for second place, Verstappen edged Vettel for third, and Vandoorne, who finished third in Stage 1, was fourth.
Alonso said he would use his five time in Saturday’s qualifying as “clarification” to calm his mind on the error he made on the super-soft tires in the closing stages of the practice session. The Spaniard was on the mediums but stopped on the softer tires at the beginning of the final session as the temperature dropped.
He immediately left the car and returned to the pits to exchange the tires for the supersofts. He sat alone in the garage, unable to drive the car and unsure why.
Alonso declined to talk to journalists.
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Copyright Associated Press