Vettel on brink of history
Sebastian Vettel stands just 56 laps away from becoming the youngest triple world champion in Formula One history.
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Vettel continued his total domination of the United States Grand Prix weekend, following his clean sweep of practice by setting the fastest times in all three qualifying sessions.
It means the 25-year-old will start his 100th grand prix from his sixth pole position this year, and 36th of a career which threatens to scale new heights tomorrow.
Leading title rival Fernando Alonso by 10 points going into the race at the £250million Circuit of The Americas on the outskirts of Texan capital Austin, the duo are separated by seven places on the grid.
Alonso could only qualify ninth in his Ferrari, but will move up a position to eighth as Lotus' Romain Grosjean will drop five places from fourth after being penalised for a gearbox change.
Alonso has to finish within 15 points of Vettel to ensure the title fight goes down to the wire in Brazil next weekend, but clearly faces an uphill battle to achieve that on the evidence so far.
It was only just from Vettel, however, as McLaren's Lewis Hamilton produced a stunning performance to finish just a tenth of a second adrift down.
However, he will start on the dirty side of the grid which is a distinct disadvantage on this track.
The conditions - a combination of Pirelli opting for the harder two of the four dry compounds available and the glasslike nature of the new track - resulted in all three sessions proving hectic.
It allowed the drivers to stay out on track, putting in lap after lap with the aim of allowing the circuit and the rubber to come together, at least giving the American fans their money's worth.
It is why the inside line down the home straight will prove tough for anybody in their bid to get away, meaning Hamilton will come under pressure from third-on-the-grid Mark Webber in his Red Bull.
With Grosjean penalised, Lotus team-mate Kimi Raikkonen moves up to fourth, followed by Mercedes' Michael Schumacher, the Ferrari of Felipe Massa and Force India's Nico Hulkenberg.
On the fifth row of the grid, Grosjean will be joined by Williams' Pastor Maldonado just behind him in 10th.
McLaren's current fallibility struck again in Q2, with Jenson Button on the receiving end on this occasion as he complained of a loss of power with three minutes remaining of the 15.
At that stage he was eighth, and it was inevitable he would drop out of the top 10, the Briton eventually falling to 12th behind Williams' Bruno Senna.
Force India's Paul di Resta found himself out-qualified by Hulkenberg for the fourth consecutive race, finishing 0.6secs adrift and will start 13th.
Toro Rosso's Jean-Eric Vergne starts from his best grid slot of 14th since the fifth race of the year in Spain, lining up ahead of Sauber duo Sergio Perez and Kamui Kobayashi.
For Mercedes' Nico Rosberg, the German starts a dismal 17th as he found himself comfortably out-paced by Schumacher for once this year.
For only the second time this season Daniel Ricciardo failed to make it out of Q1 in his Toro Rosso and will start 18th.
Behind him, however, there was a triumph for Marussia as both Timo Glock and Charles Pic out-qualified the Caterhams of Vitaly Petrov and Heikki Kovalainen.
On the final row, the HRTs will start the race as there were fears they would be outside the 107% time.
With fears they will fold following next weekend's race in Brazil due to financial woes, Pedro de la Rosa and Narain Karthikeyan made the cut, despite the latter stopping on track towards the end.
Vettel declared himself "very pleased with the result", and rightly so given Alonso's position, although he claimed he is unconcerned as to the Spaniard's woes.
"There's not much to feel," said Vettel, when asked for his thoughts.
"We just look after ourselves, so we are very happy, we had no issues today, although we lost a little bit of time yesterday (with a water leak), but these things can happen.
"The best strategy is to keep your head down, which was the target in qualifying.
"But we saw at the last race (in Abu Dhabi) how quickly things can change, so we'll focus on our race.
"Tomorrow we have the chance to seal the constructors' title for the team, which is what Mark and I will be looking out for."
Hamilton naturally expressed his fears as to his starting position as he said: "I'm not really concerned about the hill (at turn one), I'm more concpractisederned about the dirty side of the grid
"I practiced a launch earlier (in final practice) from that side and it was very slippery.
"I don't want to get in the way of Seb's race, however, I do want to win and I'll try and get through their cleanly."
With Red Bull with one hand on their third constructors' title, it appears inconceivable they will not finish the job off tomorrow.
"We have an eye on the constructors' which we aim to put to bed," said Webber.
"It will be a huge result for everyone at the factory in Milton Keynes and (engine supplier) Renault."