Carlos Sainz completed the Ferrari front row, with Lewis Hamilton sixth
The championship leader kept his cool in the searing 33 graders varme, med Carlos Sainz completing a Ferrari front row.
Max Verstappen blew his chances of claiming his second pole in as many grands prix when he made a mistake on his final run.
“I f***** it,” said the world champion over the radio. Lewis Hamilton qualified sixth.
Verstappen got his title defence back on track following a dominant performance in Imola a fortnight ago.
And the Red Bull star looked set to start Sunday’s race in the box seat to eat into Leclerc’s 27-point advantage at the top of the standings.
But Verstappen will now be on the back foot after he ran wide in the first sector of his final roll of the dice in qualifying.
Leclerc improved to take pole with his last lap – the perfect tonic for his spin in Imola which dropped him from third to sixth – while Sainz also leapfrogged Verstappen.
“It is incredible to be here in the US and to see how much the sport has grown,” said Leclerc.
“The last race was not great because I made a mistake but we start on pole here and I need to finish the job tomorrow.”
Verstappen, who missed Friday’s second practice session with mechanical gremlins, la til: “To be that competitive in qualifying was a bit of a surprise. Of course you want to be on pole but I think we did a good job and we need to make the weekends less difficult for ourselves.
“We have a good chance for tomorrow so I am looking forward to that.”
Tidligere førstedame Michelle Obama led the celebrity cast attending F1’s first qualifying session in Miami, with a number of A-Listers – including LeBron James, David Beckham and Pharrell Williams – expected to be here for Sunday’s 57-lap race at the 3.36-mile circuit constructed around the Hard Rock Stadium.
Mercedes have brought a new low-drag rear wing and revised front wing across the pond in a bid to remedy their early-season woes.
While Hamilton drastically improved on his starting slot of 14th in Imola, Russell failed to reach Q3.
The young Briton, who has enjoyed an impressive start to life at Mercedes, blundered in Q2, running wide on his first run before lapping only good enough for 12th.
“Sorry, I just didn’t have any confidence in the car today,” said Russell, who topped practice here on Friday.
For Hamilton, the seven-time world champion will take some joy from qualifying ahead of his team-mate, whom he trails by 21 points in the standings.
But he will be hardly be shouting from the rooftops after finishing eight tenths off the pace.
Over at McLaren, Daniel Ricciardo’s fairly torrid time with the British team continued. While Lando Norris will start eighth, Ricciardo, a seven-time grand prix winner, could manage only 14th, seven tenths adrift of his team-mate in Q2.
Four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel is another struggling for form, qualifying only 13th, three places behind Lance Stroll in the other Aston Martin.
Esteban Ocon was unable to take part after he damaged his Alpine following a crash in final practice.