Sebastian Vettel continued his dominant form at the Circuit of the Americas to snare pole position for the United States Grand Prix – although Lewis Hamilton pushed the defending champion harder than many expected in the fight for top spot.
Vettel had topped the times in each of the three practice sessions and was then quickest in each stage of qualifying to clinch what could be a vital pole after title rival Fernando Alonso could only trail in down in ninth place.
Red Bull ace Vettel had been in imperious form throughout the weekend, leading the way every time the drivers hit the track despite a water leak that sidelined him for a lengthy spell in Friday's second practice session.
When qualifying got underway, the German was soon able to exert his authority as he topped the times in Q1 and Q2 with ease.
With many expecting it to be a foregone conclusion that Vettel would then clinch pole, the German duly moved to the top of the times with two minutes to go only to see Hamilton suddenly put in a lap just a fraction of a second slower. It forced Vettel to respond and he went faster still – meaning that he was able to take top spot despite Hamilton then improving on his final lap.
The final marging between the pair turned out to be just a tenth of a second, with Mark Webber in the second Red Bull more than half a second behind in third place – although the Australian ended the session with a visit to the stewards after suggestions he had missed a weight check at the end of Q1.
Romain Grosjean was a solid fourth fastest for Lotus ahead of team-mate Kimi Raikkonen, although the Frenchman will be demoted five places on the grid as a result of a grid penalty for a gearbox change following final practice.
Michael Schumacher put his recent troubles to one side to set the sixth quickest time, although he could face problems for seemingly blocking Alonso in Q2, with Felipe Massa and Nico Hulkenberg rounding out the top eight.
For Alonso, the session proved to be one to forget as he struggled to get heat into his tyres throughout Q3 and was nearly two seconds down on Vettel as a result. He will however start from eighth place thanks to the penalty imposed on Grosjean, with the top ten completed by the Williams of Pastor Maldonado.
Bruno Senna was the man closest to getting out of Q2 before he fell at the second hurdle once again for Williams and starts from eleventh place, one spot ahead of Jenson Button who failed to make it through to Q3 when his car developed a throttle problem mid-way through the second phase of the session – with the team unable to fix the issue in time for him to return to action.