Hamilton on US pole, doubts title will be wrapped up
Austin, Oct 22 (AFP) World championship leader Lewis Hamilton scorched to pole position for Sunday's United States Grand Prix with a record-breaking performance as he dominated qualifying on Saturday.
The 32-year-old Briton, who can clinch his fourth world championship if he wins the race and title rival Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari fails to finish in the top five, claimed his 11th pole of the season to give himself the prime starting position.
Four-time champion Vettel qualified in second place and will start alongside Hamilton on the front row of the grid with Valtteri Bottas third in the second Mercedes.
Hamilton was at his best in near-perfect conditions at the Circuit of the Americas, where he has won four of the five races run at the track, as he increased his record haul of pole positions to 72.
He clocked a best lap time of one minute and 33.108 seconds, outpacing Vettel by two-tenths after a supreme effort by the German on his final lap.
He also set a new record by claiming his 117th career front row start, beating the old mark of 116 set by seven-time champion Michael Schumacher.
"I have done all I can and feel I am well prepared," said Hamilton. "I think it is highly unlikely that I will take the title here tomorrow - that is not likely to be the case.
"Sebastian did a great job to get his car back up there and unless he makes a silly mistake -- which is unlikely as he is a four-time world champion -- we will see it going on from here."
Vettel said : "I was happy in the end with the car, but we lacked some rhythm. We came good when it mattered and I believe our race pace is good. Well done to Lewis today.. We are taking each day as it comes now."
Australian Daniel Ricciardo qualified fourth for Red Bull ahead of Finn Kimi Raikkonen in the second Ferrari and Max Verstappen in the second Red Bull, but the Dutchman will start close to the back of the grid after being given a 15- place penalty for taking new power unit parts.
Frenchman Esteban Ocon qualified seventh for Force India ahead of an impressive Carlos Sainz, the Spaniard making his debut with Renault after moving from Toro Rosso.
- Familiar sight -
Fellow-Spaniard two-time champion Fernando Alonso of McLaren Honda was ninth and Mexican Sergio Perez 10th in the second Force India.
In very warm and dry conditions, with a track temperature of 38 degrees Celsius, the session began with strong winds and the familiar sight of Hamilton setting the pace once he had settled in and outpaced Verstappen.
Frenchman Romain Grosjean of Haas almost collided with Canadian rookie Lance Stroll, who was investigated by the stewards for impeding the Frenchman, before in an even more dramatic incident Perez was baulked by Dane Kevin Magnussen.
The session ended with Magnussen of Haas eliminated along with German Pascal Wehrlein of Sauber, New Zealander Brendon Hartley, making his debut with Toro Rosso, Stroll of Williams and Swede Marcus Ericsson in the second Sauber.
Hamilton carried his record-breaking speed from practice, which he had dominated through all three sessions, into Q2 when he clocked a new best time of one minute and 33.560 seconds on the ultra-soft tyres.
This was two-tenths faster than Bottas and eight- tenths quicker than Vettel in third after their first hot laps.
On their second runs, both Hamilton and Bottas improved as Mercedes showed their authority at the front ahead of Raikkonen and Vettel.
Relishing his chance to shine, Alonso gave his lap all he had. "Woah, I can't do more than this," said the Spaniard. It was enough to land him a place in the top-ten shootout.
Out this time went Brazilian Felipe Massa of Williams, in 11th, Russian Daniil Kvyat of Toro Rosso, Belgian Stoffel Vandoorne in the second McLaren Honda, Grosjean and German Nico Hulkenberg of Renault.
Hamilton's blistering pace continued in Q3 when he opened with a 1:33.108, four-tenths quicker than second-placed Bottas with Raikkonen third and seven-tenths adrift of the Briton.
Vettel was fourth after his first run with a similar time and Verstappen fifth, but the German found more pace on his second run to secure a front row spot alongside Hamilton