Sebastian Vettel put Red Bull at the front of the pack once again, turning the fastest lap around the new Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, site of the latest version of the Formula One U.S. Grand Prix.
The 25-year-old German driver, who will be starting his 100th Grand Prix Sunday afternoon, is poised to become the youngest three-time World Drivers’ Champion, and one of only three people in history to win the title three times in a row.
Vettel, who joined F1’s ranks in 2006, has scored 26 wins since 2008 and 45 podium finishes. More important, he has won four of the last five Grands Prix, and his Red Bull RB8, while nearly ten mph slower in top speed, is by far the fastest car through the corners.
CotA’s twenty turns should give him ample opportunity to show both his skills and his car’s abilities. Given the Red Bull driver’s propensity for pulling away at the start and leaving the field far behind, he could well win his third title tomorrow.
Vettel lapped the5.5-km, 20-turn track in 1:35.657, just beating McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton who turned in a time of 1:35.766. Red Bull’s Mark Webber qualified third, four-tenths of a second slower than Hamilton.
Vettel’s only remaining rival for the championship, Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, qualified ninth with a disappointing lap of 1:37.300.
Alonso trails by ten points with two races, or fifty points, left to capture. He has to finish close to his Red Bull rival to take the championship fight into the season’s final round at Brazil next weekend.
The Spanish two-time champ will start eighth, as Lotus driver Romain Grosjean, who qualified fourth, earned a five-place penalty for swapping a faulty gearbox. Grosjean qualified just ahead of teammate (and former world champion) Kimi Raikkönen, who won the preceding race at Abu Dhabi.
Seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher of Mercedes qualified seventh and will start sixth, one spot ahead Ferrari’s second driver, Felipe Massa.
McLaren’s second driver, Jenson Button (also a former world champion,) didn’t make it out of the second qualifying session as a throttle problem stranded him on track.
TV coverage of the race starts at 1:30 on Speed-TV.