Like yesterday, track conditions at the Circuit of the Americas remained treacherous, with low grip and hard tyres proving incompatible. This forced teams into plenty of running throughout the three segments to coax their tyres into the optimum window.
With championship rival Fernando Alonso wallowing, the Red Bull ace was in no mood to pass up the opportunity, carrying over his domination from practice to set a time of 1:35.657 – a full 1.6 seconds clear of the Ferrari in ninth.
But Vettel did not have it easy with Lewis Hamilton running the German to within two tenths of a second. At one stage the McLaren driver had looked to steal the show, only to fall short with a couple of miniscule errors on his final timed lap.
Even so the Brit’s efforts pushed the second Red Bull of Mark Webber into third, with Lotus finding a chunk of time to power Romain Grosjean and Kimi Raikkonen to fourth and fifth respectively – although the former will start ninth after a gearbox change.
This moves Michael Schumacher up a place; the German driver rediscovering some of his earlier form to qualify his Mercedes well up the order and strikingly well ahead of his team-mate Nico Rosberg – who was a full 1.4 seconds off the seven-times champion, only just missing the drop in Q1 in seventeenth. Here’s hoping the result gives Schumacher the impetus to bag good points tomorrow and allow him to end his career on a positive note.
Starting alongside will be former stable-mate Felipe Massa who proved to be Ferrari’s major threat as the session wore on. Aforementioned qualifying proved disastrous for Fernando Alonso who looked out of sorts and put himself in a bleak position to close the gap in the championship or even take the fight to the final round in Brazil. To make matters worse, Grosjean’s penalty means the Spaniard will start from the dirty side of the grid, with Nico Hulkenberg (eighth fastest, Force India) and Pastor Maldonado (tenth for Williams) likely to pose a threat at the start.
Bruno Senna came agonisingly close to taking both Williams into the top-ten, only to fall at the first hurdle and be forced to settle for eleventh. Ultimately the Brazilian will line up next to the second McLaren of Jenson Button, whose aspirations faded late on in Q2 when he was forced to coast to the pits with apparent throttle issues.
Paul di Resta (Force India) and Jean-Eric Vergne (Toro Rosso) will share the row behind while Sergio Perez, who escaped punishment for his practice clash with Marussia’s Charles Pic, got the better of his Sauber team-mate Kamui Kobayashi in fifteenth.
Despite this, there was plenty for Marussia to be happy about, with both Timo Glock and Pic out-qualifying chief rivals Caterham in empathic style.
With drivers running long stints, both HRT managed to set a time under the 107% time and will start tomorrow’s race – although Narain Karthikeyan stopped out on the circuit with technical issues, much to the annoying of the circling field.
So, with yet another pole Sebastian Vettel appeared to take a definitive step in claiming a third successive World Title – an astonishing feat at both his age and after only one hundred races.
The German can clinch the crown tomorrow should he win and Alonso fails to finish fourth or higher; if he finishes second and Alonso no better than ninth or third and the Spaniard does not score.
It’s a hard ask for Alonso to scrape anything from tomorrow’s race, regardless of his optimism. Though Ferrari should be stronger in race conditions, the likely field spread and ineffective rubber will not play into the Spaniard’s hands. Nor will the danger he faces at the start. Nevertheless, if anyone can make anything out of a bad situation it is him – the world will watch in anticipation.
Elsewhere Button’s recovery drive, Maldonado’s progress and the speed of the Lotus duo are also a tantalising prospect, but all-in-all most eyes will be at the front and Lewis Hamilton.
Of course the Brit will also have the misfortune of starting on the dirty side, but with nothing to lose he must be a real threat and both Vettel and Red Bull will be wary of his challenge throughout the race.
Finally, it was refreshing to see such a large army of fans who were in attendance – a true testament to event organisers and to the hardy followers of Formula One from the United States and beyond.
With a sell-out expected tomorrow let’s hope the United States Grand Prix serves up all the ingredients which have made the sport so pulsating this year.