Lewis Hamilton put himself in pole position to wrap up his fifth world title in Sunday’s US Grand Prix.
The Briton was just six-hundredths of a second faster than Vettel on a windy Austin track as spots of rain started to fall. ‘Oh, for f**** sake,’ lamented the German.
If Hamilton converts his 81st career pole into his 10th victory of a remarkable season, Vettel must finish runner-up to extend his championship interest into the Mexican race next weekend.
It is stacked Hamilton’s way because Vettel will start fifth, rather than in the second place he qualified, after incurring a three-place grid penalty for failing to slow down adequately under red flags during practice on Friday.
It leaves the German facing a stiff task with both Mercedes cars now in front of him at the start of the 56-lap race.
The weather forecast is for sunny, dry conditions so there is little chance of an upset prompted by the elements.
‘That was very tense,’ said Hamilton. ‘I knew it was edgy between us and would take neat laps. My second lap was just enough.’
US GRAND PRIX QUALIFYING RESULT
1 Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes 1:32.237
2 *Vettel (GER) Ferrari 1:32.298
3 Raikkonen (FIN) Ferrari 1:32.307
4 Bottas (FIN) Mercedes 1:32.616
5 Ricciardo (AUS) Red Bull 1:33.494
6 Ocon (FRA) Force India 1:34.145
7 Hulkenberg (GER) Renault 1:34.215
8 Grosjean (FRA) Haas 1:34.250
9 Leclerc (MON) Sauber 1:34.420
10 Perez (MEX) Force India 1:34.594
11 Sainz (SPA) Renault 1:34.566
12 Magnussen (DEN) Haas 1:34.732
13 Gasly (FRA) Toro Rosso 1:34.850
14 Hartley (NZL) Toro Rosso 1:35.206
15 Verstappen (NED) Red Bull 1:34.766
16 Alonso (SPA) McLaren 1:35.294
17 Sirotkin (RUS) Williams 1:35.362
18 Stroll (CAN) Williams 1:35.480
19 Ericsson (SWE) Sauber 1:35.536
20 Vandoorne (BEL) McLaren 1:35.735
*Vettel will start in fifth after picking up a three-place grid penalty in second practice on Friday
Kimi Raikkonen, in the other Ferrari, was third quickest and Valtteri Bottas, in the second Mercedes, fourth, with Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo fifth – prior to the rejigging for Vettel’s misdemeanour.
Max Verstappen damaged his Red Bull car on the kerbs at Turn 15 and limped back to the pits for the rear suspension problem to be repaired.
But the work could not be completed in time and he did not re-emerge for the second session and qualified 15th.
It will at least be fun watching the gung-ho Dutchman trying to surge up the field. This was the first time Ricciardo has outqualified his team-mate since Monaco at the end of May.