Sebastian Vettel is on the verge of an incredible third straight World Championship crown after qualifying ahead of the inaugural American Grand Prix to be held at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.
The German claimed his sixth pole position of the season while title rival Fernando Alonso languishes down in 9th after a torrid day on the track.
Vettel faced a stiff challenge from Britain’s Lewis Hamilton, but eventually pipped the Mclaren driver by a tenth of a second to land the top spot. The final top-ten shootout was a climatic affair, with drivers and teams grappling with the new circuit and their machines in their bid to find the fastest time on the track. Hamilton and Vettel went head-to-head in the dying moments with both men setting fast times in the first two sectors of the lap, although Vettel edged ahead in the final sector and topped Hamilton’s time with only seconds left on the clock. Hamilton made a second attempt to wrest the pole position from the reigning World Champion but failed to find the time he needed and so desperately wanted.
Mark Webber slotted into 3rd in his Red Bull, but was half a second off the leading duo, while Romain Grosjean took provisional 4th place. The Frenchman must take a five-place grid penalty following a gearbox change however, and this drops him to 9th on the grid. The change elevates Kimi Raikkonen to 4th, ahead of a superb Michael Schumacher, Felipe Massa, Nico Hulkenberg and despondent Fernando Alonso. The Spaniard struggled all afternoon with a serious lack of rear grip hindering his ability to produce a fast time, and his championship hopes have taken a serious blow with the disappointing qualifying result. Pastor Maldonado will start behind the demoted Grosjean, with Bruno Senna the fastest of those that dropped out in the second qualifying session.
The Williams drivers sit just ahead of Jenson Button, the 2009 World Champion suffering yet another disastrous day when a throttle problem meant his Mclaren was stripped of power. He crawled back to the pits and despite the best efforts of his mechanics he couldn’t rejoin the track to set a competitive time. Scot Paul Di Resta said he was having a difficult weekend and could only manage 13th fastest time, ahead of Jean Eric Vergne and the Sauber duo of Kamui Kobayashi and Sergio Perez, the Mexican superstar enjoying a huge following at Austin thanks to the circuit’s proximity to his native land. Nico Rosberg was a huge disappointment for Mercedes and was a lowly 17th, with Daniel Ricciardo the sole ‘big-name’ victim of the first qualifying session.
Marussia managed to out-qualify rivals Caterham as they battle over 10th in the constructors championship, while cash-strapped minnows HRT prop up the back of the grid.
At the front of the pack, Sebastian Vettel is the man sitting in the prime position – if the race were to finish in the order it starts he would take the World Championship tomorrow afternoon. Fernando Alonso must look for some of that magic of his to ensure that the German doesn’t.