Championship leader Sebastian Vettel is edging closer to his third drivers’ title after taking pole position at the Circuit of the Americans.
The Red Bull driver was quickest in all three practice sessions at Austin and he underlined the superior performance in the Renault-powered RB8 to take his 35th career pole at Austin, Texas.
His title rival Fernando Alonso could only managed ninth in the Ferrari.
In a Q3 battle that saw everyone driving around on long runs trying to bring their tyres to life, Vettel put in a lap of one minute, 35.877 seconds.
There was two minutes to the chequered flag and he nearly got upstaged by Lewis Hamilton. The margin between the Red Bull and McLaren was only 0.051 seconds.
Vettel started another flying lap and went quick still, crossing the start/finish line at one minute, 35.657 seconds.
Hamilton was still setting very competitive sector times on his final attempt, but in the end, fell up a tenth short.
However, the McLaren driver still prevented an all-Red Bull front row, forcing Mark Webber down to third.
Lotus showed very strong form in fourth and fifth with Romain Grosjean and Kimi Raikkonen, although the former will drop back five positions due to a gearbox change penalty.
That will elevate Michael Schumacher into the top five. Just as his Formula One career appeared to be limping to a depressing end, the seven-time champion showed great form throughout Austin qualifying to go sixth quickest.
Alonso struggled to make his Ferrari’s tyres work in Q3, weaving frantically between flying laps.
His Scuderia team-mate Felipe Massa managed better and took seventh position, with Alonso back in ninth between the Force India of Nico Hulkenberg and the Williams of Pastor Maldonado.
This was not the ideal scenario for Alonso. Starting on the dirty side of the grid while his main championship rival starts from the front.
Hamilton was the only McLaren in the top ten shoot-out. An apparent throttle problem left Jenson Button crawling back to the pits in Q2, and he was pushed down to P12.
Jean-Eric Vergne’s P14 marked his best qualifying result since the Spanish Grand Prix. The Frenchman has been eliminated in Q1 eight times this year, but at Austin it was his Toro Rosso team-mate Daniel Ricciardo who dropped out.
Q3 remained elusive for Bruno Senna and Paul di Resta, who were P11 and P13 as their respective team-mates Maldonado and Hulkenberg made it to the final segment.
Sauber had been among the teams most concerned about tyre warm-up issues following practice and in qualifying, those problems became a big issue. Sergio Perez – racing in front of a large Mexican spectator contingent – and Kamui Kobayashi were a long way off the pace in P15 and P16.
Nico Rosberg was a full 1.4 seconds slower compared to his Mercedes team-mate Schumacher in Q2, and that resulted in a disappointing P17.
Marussia ended Q1 in a positive mood after beating Caterham. Both Timo Glock and Charles Pic were quicker than the leading Caterham of Vitaly Petrov. In fact, the margin was 0.8 seconds based on Glock’s lap time.
Despite its troubled start to the United States Grand Prix weekend, and Narain Karthikeyan parking at Turn 2 with a mechanical problem, HRT got both cars within the 107 per cent qualifying margin with several tenths to spare.
Qualifying positions for the United States Grand Prix:
1. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1m35.657s
2. Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1m35.766s
3. Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 1m36.174s
4. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus-Renault 1m36.708s
5. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1m36.794s
6. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m36.937s
7. Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes 1m37.141s
8. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m37.300s
9. Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 1m36.587s*
10. Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault 1m37.842s
11. Bruno Senna Williams-Renault 1m37.604s
12. Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1m37.616s
13. Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1m37.665s
14. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m37.879s
15. Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari 1m38.206s
16. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1m38.437s
17. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m38.501s
18. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m39.114s
19. Timo Glock Marussia-Cosworth 1m40.056s
20. Charles Pic Marussia-Cosworth 1m40.664s
21. Vitaly Petrov Caterham-Renault 1m40.809s
22. Heikki Kovalainen Caterham-Renault 1m41.166s
23. Pedro de la Rosa HRT-Cosworth 1m42.011s
24. Narain Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth 1m42.740s
107 per cent time: 1m43.317s
*Five-place penalty for gearbox change