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Sebastian Vettel has clinched an expected pole position for the United States Grand Prix, but was pushed hard by Lewis Hamilton. Fernando Alonso qualified ninth but will start eighth as Romain Grosjean receives a five-place penalty. If he and Alonso finish where they start on Sunday, Vettel will be crowned 2012 World Champion.
Saturday marked Formula 1’s first qualifying session in America for five years and the first in Texas for close to three decades. The only new venue of the season could be the scene of Vettel’s third consecutive title-clinching moment on what is the German’s 100th Grand Prix weekend, with Red Bull almost certain to pick up another Constructors’ Championship.
The HRT cars were first on-track in Q1 on a day when many expected a non-qualification for both Pedro de la Rosa and Narain Karthikeyan. Although the latter broke down, both men did enough to scrape through as the Marussia duo out-qualified Caterham. Following a tight battle with Nico Rosberg, Daniel Ricciardo was knocked out of Q1 for only the second time this season. Charles Pic was pleased to be the leading representative of the three newest teams, carrying a new floor following a collision in practice with Sergio Pérez.
Alonso’s troublesome weekend continued in Q2, where he was blatantly delayed by the Mercedes of Michael Schumacher; the stewards will look into the moment. The biggest story at this stage was the early bath of Jenson Button, who sunk down the order to 12th position as he crawled into the pit lane with a sudden loss of power. The 2009 title winner will be joined on the sixth row by Bruno Senna, with British compatriot Paul di Resta just behind.
Heading into the top ten shootout, the burning question was how many positions Alonso would finish behind Vettel? The answer was a somewhat shocking eight. The Spaniard’s elevation to eighth on the grid, as Grosjean takes a five-place drop for a gearbox change, could actually come as bad news because those starting off the racing line are expected to struggle for grip. With only Pastor Maldonado behind him in Q3, the title contender is out-qualified by team-mate Felipe Massa for the second time this year.
Having topped every single session so far, Vettel’s 36th career pole came in the form of 1:35.657 - which matches Hamilton for six pole positions in 2012. The latter delivered a sterling effort and had been only half a tenth slower than his adversary on their penultimate Q3 laps. The eventual margin was just over one tenth, as Mark Webber’s third place means that Red Bull is very likely to seal the teams’ honours tomorrow.
Lotus’ pace for fourth and fifth places could be viewed as remarkable in comparison with their speed in practice, as Abu Dhabi winner Kimi Räikkönen inherits a spot because of his team-mate’s demotion. That means Michael Schumacher will start inside the top five for his second to last F1 race, following his best qualifying session since Monza.
Massa and Nico Hülkenberg’s Force India will set off ahead of Alonso, who must attack immediately at the start but will find himself in a hazardous position on the uphill run to Turn 1.
If he clinches the world title on Sunday, Vettel will become only the ninth man since 1950 to win the F1 World Championship for the third time. The most recent was Michael Schumacher, with the first having been Argentina’s Juan Manuel Fangio in 1955.
Webber reprimanded, no action on Schumacher/Alonso
Sunday’s inaugural race at Circuit of the Americas starts at 1pm local time and can also be followed via the interactive GPUpdate.net Live Report
|1.||S. Vettel||Red Bull||01:35.657||20|
|3.||M. Webber||Red Bull||01:36.174||20|
|8.||N. Hulkenberg||Force India||01:37.141||20|
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