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Sebastian Vettel notched up his 6th pole position of the season in qualifying for the United States Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas this afternoon. The reigning double world champion seemed to be headed for a comfortable pole throughout the session until the final minutes of Q3 where Lewis Hamilton's McLaren got closest to challenging the Red Bull at the top. The Briton ended up a tenth down and will join the young German on the front row of the grid.
Australian superstar Mark Webber begins the race on the second the row in P3, on the favoured clean side of the grid on the racing line at the new track and will fancy his chances of getting the jump on Hamilton at the start.
Championship contender Fernando Alonso did not have the greatest of sessions, qualifying down the order in 9th place. The Ferrari man will be promoted to 8th after Romain Grosjean, who put in the 4th fastest lap, drops 5 places for a gearbox change. The Spaniard needs to finish at least 4th if Vettel goes on to win in order to keep his title hopes alive heading into the final race in Brazil.
The qualifying session began in warmer conditions than were seen during a chilly morning practice, with the track at 31 degrees C. Abu Dhabi winner Kimi Raikkonen was the first to set a competitive time in his Lotus, ahead of the HRTs and the Marussias. His teammate Romain Grosjean then went faster at a 1:39.078, having put on the faster medium compound tyres in a run plan away from the norm perhaps influenced by the grid drop.
The Frenchman then went faster still with a 1:37.486 lap, as other cars were running on their hard tyres. Bruno Senna also had a brief time at the top on mediums. With 6 minutes to go it was champion Vettel who set the benchmark at 1:37.165, his car advantage underlined by the fact that it was set on medium rubber.
Narain Karthikeyan had an issue with the engine of his HRT and parked the car at the outside of Turn 2, bringing out the yellow flags in the second-last minute as Hamilton went top of the sheets with 1:37.058. Vettel beat that immediately, slashing half a second off with a 1:36.558 effort.
Owing to the yellow flag there were not many improvements as the session came to a close, although Nico Rosberg in the Mercedes had left it till the very end to post a lap to get out of the elimination zone.
Among the drivers knocked out in Q1 was Daniel Ricciardo in the Toro Rosso in 18th, followed by the Marussias beating both Caterhams. HRT were lucky to make the 107% cutoff time having struggled so far over the weekend.
Out in Q1- 18. Ricciardo 19. Glock 20. Pic 21. Petrov 22. Kovalainen 23. de la Rosa 24. Karthikeyan
Raikkonen was the first to set a time in the middle session on mediums, the Finn touring the circuit in 1:37.672.
Alonso was displeased on his first fast lap by being blocked by Michael Schumacher, the Spaniard making his feelings very clear on the pit radio. Hamilton went top with 6 minutes to go with a 1:36.795 time.
Alonso's further efforts were not fast enough for the top 10, the pressure very much on the championship contender as rival Vettel went top with a 1:35.971 lap. The Spaniard did however go 4th fastest on his next lap, a massive 1.2 seconds down on the Red Bull.
Jenson Button meanwhile had trouble with his McLaren, reporting loss of power and coming into the pits with 2 minutes to go and on the cusp of the drop zone. He was pushed into elimination by Schumacher going P5 as Vettel went quicker still with a 1:35.796 time.
Out in Q2 - 11. Senna 12. Button 13. di Resta 14. Vergne 15. Perez 16. Kobayashi 17. Rosberg
The Ferraris went out in tandem on their first run in the third session, Alonso ahead of Massa. Alonso was struggling to get his tyres working while Massa appeared to have an easier time.
Grosjean set the first serious lap of 1:37.227. Webber then beat that effort with a 1:36.845, which was further bettered by Hamilton at 1:36.209.
Peerless Vettel was to beat them both with a supreme lap of 1:35.877 with 3 minutes to go. Hamilton's penultimate lap was however only 5 hundredths off Vettel's time as the cars began the final shootout to the flag.
Alonso's last effort was only good enough for P7, he was to drop further back later. Vettel meanwhile went faster still with 1:35.657 but with Hamilton in hot pursuit. Webber next went third fastest and Hamilton's hot final lap did not disturb the order as he remained second.
Top 10 - 1. Vettel 2. Hamilton 3. Webber 4. Grosjean 5. Raikkonen 6. Schumacher 7. Massa 8. Hulkenberg 9. Alonso 10. Maldonado
- 19/11/2012 12:35 - Mercedes fail to pick up any points at United States Grand Prix as tyres let Schumacher down
- 19/11/2012 12:30 - Williams record double points finish at United States Grand Prix
- 19/11/2012 02:06 - Hamilton romps to victory in US GP; Vettel and Alonso complete the podium as Drivers' title fight goes down to the wire in Brazil