Mark Webber threw down the gauntlet early, and then in his subsequently qualifying run for the 2013 United States GP he moved the goal posts so far away that they were in a different state entirely as far as the other F1 teams in Texas were concerned.

After setting purple times in the first and second sectors on his flying lap, there was only one threat remaining to the Australian's hopes of starting on pole position at the Circuit of the Americas on Sunday: his Red Bull Racing team mate, world champion Sebastian Vettel. And Webber feared the worst.

"I didn't think I had done enough on the second run in Q3," he admitted. "We both had two shots with two sets of options: the first part of my final lap was very good, I was happy with that, but I didn't quite get Turns 19 and 20.

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"If I'd done what I did there initially in Q3, it would probably have been enough, but I tried to squeeze a bit more out and it's easy to load the car a bit too much in these conditions," Webber explained.

"Sometimes you're happy and think you've given your best, but today it slipped through the fingers," he continued. "Well done to Seb, he put the three sectors together and I put two and a half together. I just dropped it in the last sector and it's not satisfying when you do that, but I'm still pretty happy with second."

Vettel admitted that he had felt that Webber had the edge on him as qualifying neared its climax in Austin.

"I wasn't that happy with my first run in Q3, but I think I had a solid run at the end which was enough," he said. "It was very close with Mark, he seemed to get closer and closer as the weekend went on, so fortunately I was just able to stay ahead."

"A fantastic performance from both drivers today in what was a really exciting Q3," said Red Bull principal Christian Horner, celebrating his 40th birthdays on Saturday and overjoyed with the gift of a front-row lock-out for the team. "It yo-yoed between Mark and Sebastian trading fastest sectors and in the end Sebastian, by the smallest of margins, managed to achieve the pole."

Despite the huge margin that the Red Bull pair ended up enjoying over the rest of the field, Vettel insisted that today's qualifying had been a struggle for the team to get the handling of the RB9 nailed down in the tricky conditions, with blustery winds adding to rising temperatures.

"It was a tricky session as the wind had picked up quite a bit since this morning; it does influence the behaviour of the car and it's not that easy, especially in the corners," explained Vettel.

But having nailed the qualifying and clinched the front-row lock-out, Vettel's mind was already turning to putting his advantage to best use on Sunday and possibly claiming what would be hi eighth consecutive Grand Prix victory.

"It's obviously great for the team to have both cars on the front row for tomorrow," said Vettel. "I'm very happy with pole position today, I like this place and the circuit and I'm looking forward to tomorrow. It's important to start on the clean side, so we'll see what we can do."

In the past, what Vettel can do has more often than not proved to be perfectly acceptable, but as well as Webber alongside him the world champion will also need to be careful he doesn't get ambushed by Lotus F1's Romain Grosjean and Sauber's Nico Hulkenberg who will both be aiming for flying starts from the second row when the lights go out in Austin on Sunday afternoon.