Another new helmet scheme and another pole position...

Sebastian Vettel has continued an uninterrupted display of dominance at the new Circuit of the Americas facility, winning pole position ahead of Lewis Hamilton for Sunday’s United States Grand Prix, which will be Vettel’s 100th career F1 start.

With his Red Bull Racing team having freighted in a new front wing for his exclusive use – which arrived overnight – the German clocked a pole-winning effort of 1:35.657, which only Hamilton could come close to challenging.

Vettel’s joy was enhanced further with another disappointing qualifying effort from his sole championship rival, Fernando Alonso, who could only manage the ninth-fastest time in his Ferrari.

There were surprises up and down the grid. After showing very poor pace in the lead-up practice sessions, both HRTs managed to scramble onto the grid – admittedly their customary position on the back row – despite fears that neither Pedro de la Rosa nor Narain Karthikeyan would get within 107% of the fastest Q1 time.

A little further ahead, Caterham’s late-season woes continue, with both of the green cars out-qualified by both of their rivals in the Marussia camp; rookie driver Charles Pic was thrilled to be leading the charge among the three newest outfits on the grid.

For just the second time this season, Daniel Ricciardo failed to make it out of Q1, leaving the disappointed Australian to start from 18th place in his Toro Rosso.

The second phase of qualifying gave more surprises, with several high-profile candidates suffering an early bath. Nico Rosberg never looked like scraping into a top-fifteen and was slowest of the Q2 runners in his Mercedes – a result that was in direct contrast to team-mate Michael Schumacher, who comfortably sailed into the top-ten pole shootout.

Also failing to make the cut was Jenson Button, who was only twelfth-quickest after his McLaren was struck with a sudden loss of power.

With Alonso running nowhere near Vettel’s pace, the question on everyone’s lips would be just how far the Spaniard would qualify behind the young German. The answer was staggering: as Vettel sailed to claim his 36th career pole position, Alonso was just ninth-fastest.

Alonso could take some solace in the five-place grid penalty awarded to Romain Grosjean – who qualified fourth-fastest – after the Frenchman’s Lotus team mechanics were forced to perform a hasty gearbox change on his car after it developed a problem in this morning’s practice session.

The penalty moves Alonso to eighth on the grid, but that has its own disadvantages by being on the rather gripless – and little-used – left-hand-side of the start/finish straight.

Behind the front-row pair of Vettel and Hamilton, Mark Webber took third place, although he was lucky to keep it after failing to stop at the FIA weighbridge earlier on in qualifying. That offence has traditionally carried an immediate disqualification, so the Australian was certainly lucky indeed.

The two Lotus runners of Grosjean and Kimi Raikkonen were fourth-and fifth-fastest, but the penalty to Grosjean means that the Finn will take his team-mate’s starting position, one spot ahead of Michael Schumacher, who delivered his best qualifying performance since September’s Italian Grand Prix.

Sixth place on the grid will go to Felipe Massa – outqualifying Alonso for just the second time this year – while the ever-improving Nico Hulkenberg will start from P7.

So it’s all set for Vettel to claim his third World Championship crown on Sunday, which would make him the ninth driver in the modern-era championship to achieve that feat.

2012 United States Formula 1 Grand Prix – Qualifying Session Times:

Driver Team Time Gap
1. Sebastian Vettel DEU Red Bull Racing Renault RB8 1:35.657
2. Lewis Hamilton GBR McLaren Mercedes MP4-27 1:35.776 + 0.119
3. Mark Webber AUS Red Bull Racing Renault RB8 1:36.174 + 0.517
4. Romain Grosjean* FRA Lotus F1 Renault E20 1:36.587 + 0.930
5. Kimi Räikkönen FIN Lotus F1 Renault E20 1:36.708 + 1.051
6. Michael Schumacher DEU Mercedes AMG F1 W03 1:36.794 + 1.137
7. Felipe Massa BRA Scuderia Ferrari F2012 1:36.937 + 1.280
8. Nico Hülkenberg DEU Force India Mercedes VJM05 1:37.141 + 1.484
9. Fernando Alonso ESP Scuderia Ferrari F2012 1:37.300 + 1.643
10. Pastor Maldonado VEN Williams Renault FW34 1:37.842 + 2.185
  Q2 Cut-Off – 1:37.404   Time Gap
11. Bruno Senna BRA Williams Renault FW34 1:37.604 + 0.200
12. Jenson Button GBR McLaren Mercedes MP4-27 1:37.616 + 0.212
13. Paul di Resta GBR Force India Mercedes VJM05 1:37.665 + 0.261
14. Jean-Éric Vergne FRA Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari STR7 1:37.879 + 0.475
15. Sergio Pérez MEX Sauber Ferrari C31 1:38.206 + 0.802
16. Kamui Kobayashi JPN Sauber Ferrari C31 1:38.437 + 1.033
17. Nico Rosberg DEU Mercedes AMG F1 W03 1:38.501 + 1.097
  Q1 Cut-Off – 1:38.862   Time Gap
18. Daniel Ricciardo AUS Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari STR7 1:39.114 + 0.252
19. Timo Glock DEU Marussia Racing Cosworth MR01 1:40.056 + 1.194
20. Charles Pic FRA Marussia Racing Cosworth MR01 1:40.664 + 1.802
21. Vitaly Petrov RUS Caterham Renault CT01 1:40.809 + 1.947
22. Heikki Kovalainen FIN Caterham Renault CT01 1:41.166 + 2.304
23. Pedro de la Rosa ESP HRTF1 Cosworth F112 1:42.011 + 3.149
24. Narain Karthikeyan IND HRTF1 Cosworth F112 1:42.740 + 3.878

* Denotes five-place grid penalty will be imposed for unauthorised gearbox change

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.