Formula One may be making its one stop of the year in America this weekend, but there’s another red, white and blue flag that’s important to this particular U.S. Grand Prix: the one British F1 star Lewis Hamilton could wave to celebrate his fifth series title on Sunday. He’ll start first in pursuit of that title.
Hamilton scored his 81st career pole during U.S. Grand Prix qualifying Saturday, finishing first in both the first and third qualifying sessions. Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen topped the board during Q2, ahead of his teammate Sebastian Vettel in second and Hamilton in third.
Given Hamilton’s record of dominance at Circuit of The Americas—five wins in the six races F1 has run there, with his closest title contender Sebastian Vettel being the only other driver to win—starting first will make the rest of the field feel lucky if they see anything but the back of his car for all 56 laps on Sunday.
Regardless, it wasn’t an easy pole to win. Hamilton led nearly all of Q3, the last of F1’s qualifying sessions, but Raikkonen shot to the top of the board at the end of the session with a 1:32.307. It didn’t take long for Hamilton’s name to go back to the top with a blistering new track record of 1:32.237, and for Vettel to grab the second starting position with a 1:32.298.
Raikkonen ended the session in third, with Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas and Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo finishing out the top five. Ricciardo’s teammate, Max Verstappen, didn’t have as good of a time—he didn’t make a run during Q2 after damaging his car on a kerb in the first session.
“That was close,” Hamilton said after getting out of the car, calling qualifying “edgy” between the top drivers.
The championship race is less edgy, with Hamilton on his own planet compared to everyone else. Hamilton clinched his third-career F1 championship in Austin in 2015, and his fourth title one race later than that with a ninth-place finish in Mexico in 2017. Hamilton’s then-teammate Nico Rosberg won in 2016.
Hamilton has a chance to win his fifth title in the U.S. once again, only needing to finish eight points ahead of Vettel to win the title in Sunday’s race. Here’s the breakdown for how that math will shake out, via a graphic on the Circuit of The Americas Twitter account:
It’s Hamilton’s race to win, as the saying (sort of) goes.