The reigning World Champion beamed after his title rival Fernando Alonso only managed the 9th fastest time of the day. "We had to try a couple of things to make the car go quicker in qualifying," said Vettel at the end of the day. "I think you could say that we are very happy with the result.”
The weekend was already off to a flying start after impressively large crowds flocked into the track to watch Friday and Saturday's practice sessions in defiance of predictions that F1 would prove just as unpopular in the U.S. as it has before.
Red Bull Racing's Vettel will start his 100th Grand Prix on Sunday at the pole and he leads the driver's championship standings by only 10 points. Formula 1 awards points based on race finish; a driver receives 25 points for finishing in first place, 18 for second, 15 for third, and so on through the top 10. The 10th place finisher receives one point. To clinch the championship here in Austin, Vettel needs 16 points more than Ferrari rival Fernando Alonso.
With racing legends such as Mario Andretti, Jackie Stewart, Emerson Fittipaldi and Damon Hill watching on from the sidelines at the Circuit of the Americas tomorrow, Sebastian Vettel could well claim his third straight championship crown in exalted company.
Austin is F1's penultimate race, Formula 1 heads to Sao Paulo next week.
Qualifying itself began in somewhat cool weather, and tyre supplier Pirelli came in for criticism from some teams after the conditions meant grip was at a premium for many of the drivers. The HRT team struggled on to the back row of the grid, and Marussia managed to out-qualify the Caterham team taking 19th and 20th places on the grid, while Australia’s Daniel Ricciardo failed to progress from the first session and will start 18th.
Nico Rosberg was the disappointment of the day as he struggled to 17th in the second qualifying session, which determines who will start between 11th and 17th on the grid.
Vettel was fastest as he had been in the first session, but it was frustration again for Briton Jenson Button as his McLaren car broke down without giving him the chance to set a competitive time. A malfunctioning throttle pedal denied him any chance of progressing to the final top-ten shootout and he limped back to the pits and what became an eventual 12th position. Paul Di Resta, cousin of Indy-racer Dario Franchitti was 13th behind Button, while Jean-Eric Vergne, Mexican hero Sergio Perez and Kamui Kobayashi filled out 14th, 15th and 16th places. Brazilian Bruno Senna crept ahead of the crippled Button to snatch 11th at the end of the session.
In the final shootout session, Lewis Hamilton looked to be a real threat to Red Bull’s hopes of securing the pole position, although Vettel was undoubtedly focusing most of his attention on the whereabouts of his rival Fernando Alonso.
Alonso was in dire trouble, the Ferrari driver having only just made it into the final session and was repeatedly slower than team mate Felipe Massa. In the dying moments of the qualifying hour, Vettel and Hamilton went head-to-head and despite matching the German in the first two sectors of the lap, Hamilton lost vital tenths in the final sector and duly took 2nd place ahead of the other Red Bull machine of Mark Webber.
Frenchman Romain Grosjean initially went 4th fastest, but an unscheduled gearbox change means he must take a five place grid penalty that drops him to 9th behind Kimi Raikkonen, Michael Schumacher, Felipe Massa and an impressive Nico Hulkenberg. It also crucially places him behind Alonso who will start 8th after struggling with a complete lack of grip at the back of his car all day. Pastor Maldonado finished the session in 10th place.
With racing legends such as Mario Andretti, Jackie Stewart, Emerson Fittipaldi and Damon Hill watching on from the sidelines at the Circuit of the Americas tomorrow, Sebastian Vettel could well claim his third straight championship crown in exalted company. Of course, that all depends on whether Fernando Alonso can produce some of that legendary genius that has kept him in the fight all season.
So sit down, buckle up and get watching tomorrow. Forget the NASCAR finale at Homestead; Austin is the place for real racing!