Lewis Hamilton will start Sunday’s Miami Grand Prix from 13th following a qualifying session to forget for the seven-time world champion in the United States.
As Sergio Perez took a surprise pole position after Charles Leclerc’s late crash resulted in a red flag to leave Max Verstappen ninth on the grid – Hamilton endured another sobering evening in his unruly Mercedes.
Fernando Alonso joins Perez on the front row following another impressive display by the evergreen Spaniard, with Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz third.
Hamilton ended Q2 an eye-watering 1.1 seconds off the pace and two tenths down on team-mate Russell.
Hamilton, who returned to the pits shaking his head, took aim at Mercedes for leaving him with too much to do at the Hard Rock Stadium
“We left that way too late, guys,” he said over the radio. Hamilton now trails team-mate Russell 4-1 in qualifying after the opening five rounds.
Hamilton, already 45 points behind championship leader Verstappen, started Saturday’s running on the backfoot following a near-miss with Haas driver Kevin Magnussen.
The 38-year-old was on his first speedy lap of the afternoon when he was blocked by the Dane under braking at Turn 17.
Hamilton was forced to take evasive action, brushing the barriers in the process.
“Check the front wing”, said the Mercedes driver, who swiftly dived into the pits for repairs. “I just hit the wall.”
The incident will be investigated by the stewards.
Hamilton’s afternoon then took another major setback following a scruffy lap, leaving him way down the order for Sunday’s 57-lap race.
“It was a difficult session,” Hamilton told Sky Sports. “We’re not that quick so we really needed perfect laps but it was difficult to get into a rhythm, and at the start I had that issue with the car going slow in the last corner.
“When you’re fast you can be sat back and more relaxed, and you can go at the last minute and take your time. You know you’re likely to make it easily into Q3.
“But we knew it was very hard and there was a 50:50 chance we could get into Q3 so we need to be better with our timing.
“It’s done. I’ll try and get my head down tomorrow and see what I can do – 13th to God knows where.”
Verstappen looked set to secure pole after dominating practice, but he made a mistake in his first run in Q3.
With less than two minutes remaining, Leclerc then lost control of his Ferrari and thudded into the wall.
The session was red-flagged and did not restart, leaving Verstappen, who leads Perez by just six points in the standings, in the midfield.
“F*** sake,” said the Dutchman over the radio after he was unable to complete his final lap.
Perez’s pole comes a week after his victory in Azerbaijan and provides him with the chance to take the lead of the world championship.
“It has been a bad weekend,” said the Mexican, who had struggled to get up to speed in his Red Bull before qualifying. “But we made a small change and everything came alive.
“Tomorrow is an opportunity starting from pole and we will go out there and enjoy this amazing crowd.”
Both McLarens failed to progress from Q1 with Lando Norris 16th and rookie team-mate Oscar Piastri last but one on another sobering evening for the British team.
The television feed immediately cut to McLaren CEO Zak Brown whose pained expression was evident to see.
Williams driver Logan Sargeant, 22, who was raised in nearby Fort Lauderdale, will bring up the rear for his first F1 race on home soil.