Lewis Hamilton will start the United States Grand Prix from pole position after blitzing his rivals in Austin on Saturday.
Hamilton, who could be crowned champion here on Sunday, has been in scintillating form this weekend topping every practice session before storming to the top of the timings in qualifying, too.
The 32-year-old British driver will be joined on the the front row by his championship rival Sebastian Vettel with Valtteri Bottas, in the sister Mercedes, third on the grid.
Hamilton will win the title at the Circuit of the Americas if he triumphs in Sunday’s race and Vettel fails to finish in the top five.
Hamilton has won four of the five grands prix staged in Austin, and he is on course to better his tally after claiming the 72nd pole of his incredible career – the result of which never appeared in doubt.
Qualifying here was pushed back by two hours after the Formula One’s owners took the unprecedented step of adapting the schedule in order to accommodate a Justin Timberlake pop concert.
And despite the four-hour wait between final practice on Saturday morning and qualifying, Hamilton, cheered on by his mother Carmen and brother Nicolas, did not disappoint.
His fastest lap of one minute and 33.108 seconds – the fastest ever recorded at the Circuit of the Americas – saw him finish a quarter of a second clear of Vettel.
Vettel looked set to start only fourth, but produced his best lap in the closing moments to join Hamilton on the front row.
Hamilton must outscore the Ferrari driver by 16 points to surpass Sir Jackie Stewart and become the first Briton to win more than three championships.
But unless Vettel hits problems – either in the form of a mechanical issue or an incident with another driver – the smart money would be on Hamilton sealing his fourth title in Mexico a week on Sunday.
Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo will start fourth ahead of Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen. Ricciardo’s team-mate Max Verstappen posted the sixth best time, but the Dutchman will be thrown to the back of the grid after he was hit with a 15-place penalty following an engine change.
Force India driver Esteban Ocon will be bumped up to sixth ahead of Spaniard Carlos Sainz on his Renault debut.
Fernando Alonso, who earlier this week confirmed he will remain at McLaren next year, finished ninth in the order, while New Zealander Brendon Hartley qualified 18th on his first F1 outing.
“Yee-haw,” yelled Hamilton as he celebrated his pole in front of the Texas crowd. “I love this track – it is such a fantastic circuit to drive. It is going to be a tough race tomorrow, but I am the best prepared that I can be.”
Quizzed on whether he expected to seal the title here on Sunday, Hamilton replied: “I think it is highly unlikely that that is going to be the case. Sebastian did a great job to bring the Ferrari up there. Ultimately all I can do is the best I can with my abilities, and we will work as hard as we can to get maximum points.
“Sebastian is right there so unless he makes a silly mistake, which is unlikely as he’s a four-time world champion, it’s going to continue to the other races.”
Vettel added: “I was very happy at the end but I was lacking a little bit in the first and middles sectors. I believe that our race pace is really good. In qualifying all year we have been just a little bit behind, but well done to Lewis.”