Sebastian Vettel led a predictable Red Bull sweep of the front row in qualifying for the United States Grand Prix, although the usual order looked in doubt much of the session.
The four-time world champion looked as though he would have to give best to teammate Mark Webber for most of the final segment of qualifying. Webber was a tenth clear of Vettel after their respective first runs and improved further on his second set of new tires to sit on provisional pole.
But Vettel dug deep on his final lap, going fastest of all in the final sector to edge Webber to pole by just over a tenth of a second.
The Red Bulls were more than three quarters of a second quicker than Roman Grosjean, who put his Lotus best-of-the-rest in third, narrowly ahead of Nico Hulkenberg’s Sauber, Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes, Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari and Sergio Perez’s McLaren.
Kimi Raikkonen Lotus substitute Heikki Kovalainen qualified eighth, ahead of Valtteri Bottas (Williams) and Esteban Gutierrez in the second Sauber.
Bottas was a star in the early part of qualifying, going fastest of all in Q1 and fourth in Q2, but he made a mistake on his crucial lap in Q3. Last-gasp improvements in Q2 from Gutierrez and Kovalainen knocked Daniel Ricciardo’s Toro Rosso out of the top-10 shootout. The Australian will start 11th for the race, ahead of Paul di Resta’s Force India.
McLaren’s Jenson Button missed the cut by less than two tenths of a second with his final lap in Q2 and wound up 13th fastest. He will drop to 16th on the grid thanks to a three-place grid penalty for overtaking under red flags in practice.
Nico Rosberg wrestled an ill-handling Mercedes to 14th-fastest time, ahead of the similarly subdued Ferrari of Felipe Massa and Jean-Eric Vergne in the other Toro Rosso.
Adrian Sutil’s poor qualifying run continued as he dropped out in Q1, along with Maldonado’s Williams, the Marussias and the Caterhams. The German complained vehemently on team radio about traffic and his car ground to halt shortly after the chequered flag fell.
Caterham’s Giedo van de Garde just edged the battle of the backmarker teams to qualify 19th, ahead of Marussia’s Jules Bianchi and teammate Charles Pic. These three were separated by just over a tenth of a second, while Marussia’s Max Chilton qualified last, just under a second further adrift.
Pos Driver Team Time Gap 1. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1m36.338s 2. Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 1m36.441s +0.103s 3. Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 1m37.155s +0.817s 4. Nico Hulkenberg Sauber-Ferrari 1m37.296s +0.958s 5. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m37.345s +1.007s 6. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m37.376s +1.038s 7. Sergio Perez McLaren-Mercedes 1m37.452s +1.114s 8. Heikki Kovalainen Lotus-Renault 1m37.715s +1.377s 9. Valtteri Bottas Williams-Renault 1m37.836s +1.498s10. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber-Ferrari 1m38.034s +1.696sQ2 cut-off time: 1m38.078s Gap **11. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m38.131s +1.066s12. Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1m38.139s +1.074s13. Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1m38.217s +1.152s14. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m38.364s +1.299s15. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m38.592s +1.527s16. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m38.696s +1.631sQ1 cut-off time: 1m39.094s Gap *17. Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1m39.250s +1.429s18. Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault 1m39.351s +1.530s19. Giedo van der Garde Caterham-Renault 1m40.491s +2.670s20. Jules Bianchi Marussia-Cosworth 1m40.528s +2.707s21. Charles Pic Caterham-Renault 1m40.596s +2.775s22. Max Chilton Marussia-Cosworth 1m41.401s +3.580s107% time: 1m44.668s
* Gap to quickest in Q1
** Gap to quickest in Q2