Sebastian Vettel emerged the winner of a private battle for pole position with team-mate Mark Webber, as the Red Bull pair out-qualified their rivals by a considerable margin at the Circuit of the Americas. Romain Grosjean took third place for Lotus, seven tenths of a second behind Webber.
Both Vettel and Webber cruised through the opening two segments of the hour. In Q1 the pair eased through with minimum fuss with the Australian in fourth place and the German eighth. And then in the second phase, they upped the pace to effortlessly slot into the top two positions on the timesheet, with Vettel the clear leader by three tenths of a second.
Webber responded to that in fine style. With his first run in Q3 the Australian set a time of 1:36.699, the quickest time of the whole weekend up to that point. Vettel took second place with his first run and the pair retired to their garage to plot a final assault on the COTA track.
And when they emerged it looked like Webber would have the upper hand. He shaved two tenths oFf his first run to set a benchmark of 1:36.441, setting session-best times in the first two sectors.
Vettel, though, wasn’t to be denied a 44th career pole position. Marginally slower than his team-mate in the first two sectors, he found pace in the final third of the lap. Vettel crossed the line just a tenth ahead of the Australian.
“It’s obviously great for the team to have both cars on the front row for tomorrow,” said Vettel. “It was very close with Mark, he seemed to get closer and closer as the weekend went on, so fortunately I was just able to stay ahead. I think he might have had a mistake on his final run. I’m very happy with pole position today. It’s important to start on the clean side.”
Webber, meanwhile, admitted he had made an error in his final run.
“The first part of my final lap was very good, I was happy with that, but I didn’t quite get Turns 19 and 20; if I’d done what I did there initially in Q3, it would probably have been enough, but I tried to squeeze a bit more out and it’s easy to unload the car a bit too much in these conditions.
“Sometimes you’re happy and think you’ve given your best, but today it slipped through the fingers. I just dropped it in the last sector. It’s not satisfying when you do that, but I’m still pretty happy with second.”
While the margin from the Red Bulls back to third-placed Grosjean was large, the battle for the rest of the top 10 positions was much closer.
Williams’ Valtteri Bottas, enjoying a superb outing in a much improved Williams staked a claim for best-of the-rest status with his single run but he was quickly eclipsed. Nico Hulkenberg, again looking strong for Sauber was the first past the Finn, but then Grosjean set his lap to claim the front of row two.
Hulkenberg held on to fourth place, finishing ahead of Lewis Hamilton and sixth-placed Fernando Alonso.
It was a good day too for Sergio Perez. Ousted from McLaren’s 2014 line-up earlier this week, the Mexican responded with a good performance that saw him qualify in P7, six places ahead of team-mate Jenson Button, who will also take a three-place grid drop following a sanction for overtaking under red flags on Friday.
Heikki Kovalainen returned to the sharp end of qualifying action with a fine drive to eighth place for Lotus, the first time the Finn has qualified in the top ten since the Singapore Grand Prix of 2009, when he qualified eighth in his final year with McLaren.
Fellow Finn Bottas, meanwhile, qualified ninth, ahead of the second Sauber of Esteban Gutierrez, though the Mexican was due to report to the stewards’ office over an incident involving Williams’ Pastor Maldonado in Q1.
2013 United Stated Grand Prix – Qualifying Result
1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Racing 1:36.338
2 Mark Webber Red Bull Racing 1:36.441
3 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:37.155
4 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 1:37.296
5 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:37.345
6 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:37.376
7 Sergio Perez McLaren 1:37.452
8 Heikki Kovalainen Lotus 1:37.715
9 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:37.836
10 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1:38.034
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 Jules Bianchi Marussia 1:40.528
21 Charles Pic Caterham 1:40.596
22 Max Chilton Marussia 1:41.401