Sebastian Vettel secured his eighth pole position of this season, and his second in Austin, as he edged Mark Webber in qualifying for the United States GP.
Although Webber appeared to have the advantage after their first runs put the Aussie ahead, Vettel fought back on his final run. Putting in a brilliant final sector, the German claimed pole position with a 1:36.338, 0.103s up on his team-mate.
Romain Grosjean was third for Lotus, however, Nico Hulkenberg in the Lotus who was the star of the session. He finished fourth quickest and ahead of the likes of Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso.
The ambient temperature was 27C with the track at 31C at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin. Most important of all, there was a gusting wind which was most noticeable in Sectors 1 and 2.
Valtteri Bottas set the first sub 1:45 lap on hard tyres, as all but Caterham and Marussia circulated on the hard tyres before the expected switch to the faster mediums. Nico Hulkenberg took the fastest time down to 1:43.698.
It was rare treat to see Charles Pic appear on the top of the timesheets with a 1:42.462 on mediums, but it didn't last long as Paul DiResta spoiled the party with a 1:40.966.
Valtteri Bottas re-affirmed his great free practice form by regaining top spot with a 1:39.825, then it was Alonso with a 1:39.658 and Lewis Hamilton undercut that with a 1:39.153, before that man Bottas was round again with a 1:38.773. It almost seemed churlish of Romain Grosjean to displace him with a 1:38.676.
Teams started to switch to the medium tyres with seven minutes to go - but Red Bull and Romain Grosjean stuck with the harder tyre. Lotus's last-minute replacement for Kimi Raikkonen, Heikki Kovalainen, wasn't going to risk it and was safely into Q2 on the medium tyre.
The Red Bulls left it late in the session to come out, but when they did come out on hard tyres Mark Webber took P1 with a 1:38.493 and Sebastian Vettel slotted into P2.
Running into the last four minutes the danger zone looked like: 15.Sutil, 16.Hulkenberg, 17.Vergne, 18.Ricciardo, 19.Van der Garde, 20.Bianchi, 21.Pic, 22.Chilton
Many of the drivers on medium tyres got ahead of the Red Bulls, the first being Lewis Hamilton with a 1:37.959 good enough for P1, then it was Gutierrez and Bottas who eased in front of the Bulls, then Perez. But team-mate Jenson Button did not. They had clearly judged it right.
As the chequered flag fell it was Sutil in P17 and Maldonado in P18, but Sutil ran off track at the first corner with what was possibly a brake problem and couldn't complete the lap - he pulled off later round the circuit. A demotivated Maldonado, just went slower.
Remarkably, while the Venezuelan was crawling around the Austin track his team-mate, Bottas, scorched round to re-set P1 at 1:37.821 - a second and a half quicker than the identical car. P1 and P18 for Williams!
So out went. 17.Sutil, 18.Maldonado, 19.Van der Garde, 20.Bianchi, 21.Pic, 22.Chilton.
The blustery conditions looked like throwing a curve ball at the field - Ferraris had been in P15 and P16. Stewards would investigate an incident where the Sauber of Gutierrez was weaving in front of Maldonado as he tried to finish a lap - it ultimately didn't stop Maldonado's progress, and looked like a real rookie mistake.
Jean-Eric Vergne set P1 at 1:38.696, followed by Lewis Hamilton with a 1:38.104 - Bottas slipped into P2, followed by DiResta in P2 and then Sergio Perez (who had a point to prove this weekend) took P2.
Romain Grosjean reduced the P1 time to 1:37.523 as we approached the four minute to go mark.At this stage the dropzone looked like: 7.Alonso, 8.Kovalainen, 9.Button, 10.Vergne, 11.Ricciardo, 12.Rosberg, 13.Massa, 14.Hulkenberg, 15.Vettel (no time), 16.Webber (no time.
Mark Webber duly took P1 with a 1:37.312, before the four times World Champion reduced it to a 1:37.065.
Cars went out for a second time - Ricciardo stayed P9, Gutierrez jumped to P8, Button stayed P12, Kovalainen broke back into the top ten with a P9, then Rosberg failed to improve and Felipe Massa struggled as well.
When the dust settled it was: 11.Ricciardo, 12.DiResta, 13.Button, 14.Rosberg, 15.Massa, 16.Vergne
The biggest shock was Rosberg's failure to perform but he, Button and Massa all had team-mates safely inside the top ten such was the disrupting influence of the wind. It was a case of Viva Mexico with Gutierrez through in P8 and Perez proving a point in P9. Button's three-place grid penalty would move him back further to a P16 start.
Sergio Perez was back out on his medium tyres but his provisional pole lap was a 1:38.074, a long way short of Mark Webber's 1:36.699. Interestingly Sebastian Vettel could only make P2 behind the Aussie.
So after the first runs it was: Webber, Vettel, Grosjean, Perez, Kovalainen - the other five drivers didn't go out.
Lewis Hamilton looked to be going slow on his first lap, on what turned out to be a two-lap dash for pole, but Bottas continued his remarkable qualifying with P3. Nico Hulkenberg took P7, Hamilton P8 - but both drivers were about to speed up.
Mark Webber set two purple (fastest) sectors, S1 and S2 on his way to lowering provisional pole to a 1:31.441. That was surely job done...?
Gutierrez went P5, Hulkenberg improved to P3 (despite some unexpected brake materials), Grosjean took P3 off him, Alonso jumped to P5, Hamilton grabbed P5 off him, Perez jumped to P7 and then Sebastian Vettel only needed one purple sector, S3, to claim pole and his 10th consecutive front row start.
It had been a gripping pole battle but with a familiar ending. The 40,000 or so Mexicans arriving tomorrow will be able to cheer Checo on from P7 and Esteban Gutierrez is currently P10 but may find himself going backwards if the stewards rule he drove questionably in Q1.
With the hard tyre holding up well on track it looks like a one-stop race, with only reliability stopping the Red Bull train. But can Nico Hulkenberg hang onto his great qualifying position after some poor Sauber races of late and can Kovalainen help deliver Lotus some Ferrari-beating points?
01 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:36.338
02 Mark Webber Red Bull 1:36.441 +0.103
03 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:37.155 +0.817
04 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 1:37.296 +0.958
05 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:37.345 +1.007
06 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:37.376 +1.038
07 Sergio Perez McLaren 1:37.452 +1.114 21
08 Heikki Kovalainen Lotus 1:37.715 +1.377
09 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:37.836 +1.498
10 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1:38.034 +1.696
11 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1:38.131
12 Paul di Resta Force India 1:38.139
13 Jenson Button McLaren 1:38.217
14 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:38.364
15 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:38.592
16 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:38.696
17 Adrian Sutil Force India 1:39.250
18 Pastor Maldonado Williams 1:39.351
19 Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1:40.491
20 Charles Pic Caterham 1:40.760
21 Jules Bianchi Marussia 1:41.071
22 Max Chilton Marussia 1:41.401
Saturday's Gallery From Austin
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