Verstappen overcame title rival Lewis Hamilton by over two-tenths to clinch his ninth pole position of the season with his final lap of a thrilling qualifying session at the Circuit of the Americas

It marked a real statement from Red Bull at a circuit that is considered to be a Mercedes stronghold. Prior to this weekend, the Silver Arrows had boasted an unbeaten record in qualifying at COTA since the start of the V6 hybrid era in 2014.

But for the first time since 2013, a Red Bull will line-up at the very front of the grid in the United States, setting up the prospect of a mouth-watering grand prix with the two title contenders alongside each other for the start. 

Red Bull had begun the weekend on the backfoot but on Saturday it was Mercedes’ turn to struggle, with Hamilton conceding the team “fell back a little bit” through each practice session and into qualifying.

Asked if it was more a case of Mercedes losing speed or Red Bull making gains, Mercedes chief technical officer James Allison said: “Probably a little bit of each. 

“Remember we are running in qualifying very similar set-ups to where we started in FP1, having migrated a bit in between time and then come back. 

“So I think probably it's a bit more of Red Bull having a stronger weekend of development than we did.”

2983615.0064.jpg

Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff summarised: “We have lost relative performance from Friday to qualifying, clearly and we don’t know yet where that is. 

“We haven’t got the right explanations yet but clearly we haven’t met our expectations.”

Red Bull was boosted by the return of its design guru Adrian Newey in Turkey following a spell on the sidelines due to injury and his expertise and input would have been felt once again in Austin.

Whereas Mercedes struggled to make gains, the opposite was true for Red Bull. The Milton Keynes outfit made significant progress with its set-up between sessions on Friday and made another step overnight. 

“The set-up we arrived at the track with was a little bit out, but I think we just tuned the car in,” Red Bull team principal Christian Horner told Sky. 

“We've managed to improve the traction and we've managed to improve the car a bit over the bumps. The drivers are definitely... you can see their confidence has just grown and grown. So that was a big factor.” 

2983128.0064.jpg

Verstappen went into qualifying off the back of a tricky trio of practice sessions that were disrupted by traffic, deleted lap times and balance struggles, which threatened to unsettle the Dutchman’s weekend. 

Despite a difficult start to Q3, Verstappen was able to “dig deep” and deliver when it mattered most in a high-pressure scenario with light drizzle beginning to fall on the circuit. 

“I was just chasing maybe a bit of balance - just for myself,” he explained. 

“Normally I always feel very comfortable in the car and I easily get up to speed, but it just seemed on this track this weekend it’s been a bit more difficult.

“But it can’t be smooth all the time, right? That also makes it challenging and fun, because otherwise it gets boring if it’s always too easy.

“And I think as a team we worked very well together, they try to help me out to try and improve, and at the end to then just put it together in Q3 is of course what you want.

“It’s not always what you get, but it worked out this weekend.”

Verstappen admitted he felt some surprise at taking pole given the advantage Mercedes had started the weekend with. 

2983875.0064.jpg

“It was maybe a tiny bit of a surprise” he said. “But you can clearly see it has been swinging a bit throughout the whole season.

“Luckily it’s still doing that. I’m of course happy with the performance we’ve had. 

“Let’s find out in the race, if it’s again a different story. And then of course we’ll move on again to the next race and that can be again a different story because you can maybe look like favourites going into the weekend, but you still need to pay attention to every single detail to try and make it work.

“It’s so closely matched that if you maybe miss one tiny detail or you just can’t bring it together for whatever reason, you miss out. And that’s what happened to us for example in Turkey.”

Red Bull’s impressive turnaround will have got the alarm bells ringing at Mercedes, especially as Hamilton goes into the race fighting Verstappen and Sergio Perez single-handedly with Valtteri Bottas starting ninth due to an engine penalty. 

But Mercedes believes everything is still all to play for on Sunday. 

“Both Red Bulls look very strong and probably on paper are the cars that are ahead,” Wolff said. “But we’ve seen many Sundays that took a different direction because of the start scenario or DNFs and that’s why anything goes. 

“Even though I always tend to say ‘well the qualifying result is the result of the end of the race’, thank god it’s not the case. 

“There is ground we can still conquer and hopefully get Valtteri back to the sharp-end.”