Sebastian Vettel is once again in the pound seats to continue his run of race victories after claiming pole position for the United States Grand Prix in Austin.
The German put in an impressive final flying lap around the Circuit of the Americas to snatch pole position from teammate Mark Webber by one-tenth of a second.
With another Red Bull front row lockout and over seven-tenths of a second back to Romain Grosjean in third, it looks set to be a another cakewalk to victory for the Milton Keynes team.
Vettel and Webber headed into the final qualifying shootout with a nice advantage over the remaining eight runners – that being an extra set of Medium compound tyres at their disposal – after clearing the first phase of qualifying by running only on Hard compound tyres.
Such was their pace advantage of the rest of the field, the question of who would claim pole position boiled down to a straight intra-team battle between the pair, who will race together for the penultimate time on Sunday.
Webber’s first timed attempt gave him the upper hand, but he ran wide at the end of his second flying lap, which swing the pendulum back in Vettel’s favour. Vettel still had to beat Webber’s time, however, and he just managed to move clear on his final run to earn the forty-fourth pole position of his career.
Grosjean took his Lotus onto the second row, while the evergreen Nico Hülkenberg put in another starring performance to qualify fourth-quickest in his Sauber, yet again underscoring the amazing form from both drivers, who many hope will be teammates at Lotus next year.
Hülkenberg bumped Lewis Hamilton into fifth place on the grid, while Fernando Alonso salvaged sixth place on the back of some off-the-pace practice showings in the Ferrari.
Heikki Kovalainen qualified a solid eighth-fastest in his first race outing in almost a year, while Valtteri Bottas and Esteban Gutiérrez both put in sterling efforts to make Q3.
For Gutiérrez, however, the good news would not last. The Mexican was flagged for a chat with a stewards after footage showed him impeding Pastor Maldonado in Q1, and he was duly handed a ten-place grid penalty for his troubles.
Maldonado and Adrian Sutil were the two high-profile casualties in Q1. The Venezuelan complained of a handling imbalance and the aforementioned traffic issues, while the unfortunate Sutil suffered a slow puncture.
Qualifying for the final two rows of the grid was a rather more closely fought affair than people had predicted. Giedo van der Garde led the charge for Caterham with the 19th-fastest time, while Jules Bianchi managed to split the Dutchman and his teammate, Charles Pic.
Max Chilton was – as is customary – the slowest to the tune of almost a second on the stopwatch. The Englishman also earned a summons to the stewards’ room (also for baulking Maldonado) and will have to serve a drive-through penalty in the first five laps of the race, on account of the traditional ten-place grid drop serving no effect at all.
Jenson Button, Nico Rosberg and Felipe Massa were the big names to tumble in the second qualifying session and will start mid-grid.
2013 United States Formula 1 Grand Prix – Qualifying Session Times:
|1.||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull Racing Renault RB9||1:36.338|
|2.||Mark Webber||Red Bull Racing Renault RB9||1:36.441||+ 0.103|
|3.||Romain Grosjean||Lotus F1 Renault E21||1:37.155||+ 0.807|
|4.||Nico Hülkenberg||Sauber Ferrari C32||1:37.296||+ 0.958|
|5.||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes AMG Petronas F1W04||1:37.345||+ 1.007|
|6.||Fernando Alonso||Scuderia Ferrari F138||1:37.376||+ 1.038|
|7.||Sergio Pérez||McLaren Mercedes MP4-28||1:37.452||+ 1.114|
|8.||Heikki Kovalainen||Lotus F1 Renault E21||1:37.715||+ 1.377|
|9.||Valtteri Bottas||Williams Renault FW35||1:37.836||+ 1.498|
|10.||Esteban Gutiérrez^||Sauber Ferrari C32||1:38.034||+ 1.696|
|Q3 Cut-Off – 1:38.078||Time||Gap*|
|11.||Daniel Ricciardo||Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari STR8||1:38.131||+ 1.066|
|12.||Paul di Resta||Force India Mercedes VJM06||1:38.139||+ 1.074|
|13.||Jenson Button^||McLaren Mercedes MP4-28||1:38.217||+ 1.152|
|14.||Nico Rosberg||Mercedes AMG Petronas F1W04||1:38.364||+ 1.299|
|15.||Felipe Massa||Scuderia Ferrari F138||1:38.592||+ 1.527|
|16.||Jean-Éric Vergne||Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari STR8||1:38.696||+ 1.631|
|Q2 Cut-Off – 1:39.094||Time||Gap**|
|17.||Adrian Sutil||Force India Mercedes VJM06||1:39.250||+ 1.429|
|18.||Pastor Maldonado||Williams Renault FW35||1:39.351||+ 1.530|
|19.||Giedo van der Garde||Caterham Renault CT03||1:40.491||+ 2.670|
|20.||Jules Bianchi||Marussia Racing Cosworth MR02||1:40.528||+ 2.707|
|21.||Charles Pic^||Caterham Renault CT03||1:40.596||+ 2.775|
|22.||Max Chilton^||Marussia Racing Cosworth MR02||1:41.401||+ 3.580|
* Gap to fastest Q2 time of 1:37.065 by Sebastian Vettel
** Gap to fastest Q1 time of 1:37.821 by Valtteri Bottas
^ Esteban Gutiérrez incurs a ten-place grid penalty for impeding Pastor Maldonado in qualifying. Jenson Button incurs a three-place grid penalty for ignoring red flags displayed during Free Practice 1. Charles Pic incurs a five-place grid penalty for an unauthorised gearbox change. Max Chilton incurs a drive-through penalty (which must be served in the first five laps of the race) for impeding Pastor Maldonado in qualifying.