Brake issue thwarts Hamilton’s pole quest in Austin

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AUSTIN – All the signs and momentum had pointed to Lewis Hamilton securing pole position for the United States Grand Prix. He’d led all three practice sessions and was poised to secure what would have been his eighth 2014 pole – level with Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg.

But the Englishman will line up second following a trying qualifying, as he battled a left front brake issue throughout the entirety of the day. Rosberg seized the advantage in securing his ninth pole of the year.

“I struggled with the brake temperatures,” Hamilton explained during the post-qualifying press conference. “The left was off from the right. It just kept catching. Even if I tried to save it, that really made it off.”

Asked whether it would be a further problem for race day if not fixed, Hamilton responded, “Potentially, yes.”

The primary issue, Hamilton said, is locking. There’s a handful of heavy braking zones at Austin’s Circuit of the Americas – particularly on the runs into Turn 1 and Turn 12 – which are both left-handers.

“The vibration isn’t so bad, and we had a minor flat spot. The issue is locking,” he said. “If I can’t fix the left brake, that will be a continuing issue without the race. Flat spots lead to blistering and more.”

It’s a delicate situation for Hamilton heading into tomorrow as it could well be a case of damage limitation for him. Finishing second to Rosberg would reduce Hamilton’s current 17-point World Championship lead to 10. Third to Rosberg would see the gap drop by 10, to seven. It gets worse the further down Hamilton would finish.

There’s still plenty of motivation for Hamilton to get the win though. As we’ve chronicled throughout the week, the U.S. is as good as a second home race for Hamilton, and he’s been busy speaking up the race as much as possible – including on NBC’s TODAY Show earlier in the week.

He’ll also be celebrating the six-year anniversary of his sole World Championship on Sunday, when he famously beat Ferrari’s Felipe Massa to the 2008 title by a single point.

The title isn’t specifically on the line Sunday, but how Hamilton and Mercedes manage this brake issue could go a long way towards determining which of the team’s two drivers is crowned World Champion later this year.