Sebastian Vettel secured pole position for the US Grand Prix, putting the German in the perfect spot to chase his third consecutive Formula One championship.
Vettel is on the brink of history with two races left on the calendar. He would be just the third driver — and youngest — to win three consecutive championships, joining Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher.
Dubbed the “Boy Wonder,” Vettel made his F1 debut at the US Grand Prix in 2007 as a 19-year-old. At the ripe old age of 25, the Red Bull driver appears ready to join the series’ elite. Vettel leads Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso of Spain, a savvy veteran and two-time world champion himself, by 10 points.
Vettel avoided saying anything that would sound overconfident about winning another title. Two weeks ago, a penalty forced him to start in last place at Abu Dhabi before he finished third in the crash-filled race.
“I’m very happy with the [qualifying] result, but nobody has scored any points yet,” Vettel said. “We saw in the last race how quickly things can change. It’s the best strategy to keep your head down and try to get the best.”
However, the smiling Vettel clearly feels at ease in the US and had no trouble navigating the new Circuit of the Americas built specifically for F1’s return to the US after a five-year absence.
Vettel posted the fastest times in the three practice sessions before his qualifying time of 1 minute, 35.657 seconds edged McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton for pole position. Vettel’s Red Bull teammate Mark Webber was third.
His ability to start up front puts more pressure on Alonso, who was 1.643 seconds slower. Alonso finished ninth in qualifying, but will start No. 8 after Lotus’ Romain Grosjean was penalized for changing his gearbox after the third practice session.
If Vettel wins, Alonso must finish no worse than fourth to force the title race to the series finale next week in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Yesterday was to be Vettel’s 100th career grand prix start. Along the way, he has picked up 26 career victories and learned how to close out a tight championship race.
Vettel won the 2010 title with a victory from the pole in the final race at Abu Dhabi, making him the youngest F1 world champion in history. He came back to dominate the circuit last year with 11 victories and won the championship by 122 points.
This season has been much tighter, but a surge of four consecutive victories and a third-place finish two weeks ago put Vettel in position to claim another title.
Alonso has acknowledged Vettel has the faster car, but insists he can push the championship to Brazil. Alonso started in a similar position in Abu Dhabi before finishing second.
“It’s still possible,” Alonso said. “Tomorrow, I will try to do better and recover some places. We will push to the limit, as we have done since the start of every year and every race weekend.”