AUSTIN, TEXAS (AP) - Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel maintained his early domination of the new Circuit of the Americas by winning pole position for the U.S. Grand Prix on Saturday, putting the German in the perfect spot to chase his third consecutive world 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 world championships, joining Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher.
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.”
But the smiling Vettel clearly feels at ease in America and had no trouble navigating the new $400 million Circuit of the Americas built specifically for Formula One’s return to the U.S. 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.
“The asphalt is brand new and it takes a while for the track to come in, but it’s also quite a lot of fun to slide around a couple of corners, and it just got better throughout,” Vettel said.
Vettel’s 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.
“I was giving it everything. I had nothing really to lose. The car seemed to handle it quite well,” said Hamilton, who will be racing one of his last grand prix for McLaren before moving to Mercedes in 2013.
Sunday will be Vettel’s 100th career grand prix start. Along the way, he’s picked up 26 career victories and learned how to close out a tight championship race.