Lewis Hamilton has a realistic chance of seizing his fourth world title today after achieving the 72nd pole position of his career with the fastest lap ever recorded here at Austin’s Circuit of the Americas.
To reinforce his reputation as the master of qualifying, Hamilton tore around this twisting, undulating Texan track in 1min 33.108sec, over two tenths quicker than Sebastian Vettel, the only man who could deny him.
Should he convert pole to victory this evening, Vettel, alongside him on the front row, would need to finish in the top five just to extend the championship duel to Mexico next weekend.
But Hamilton shows no sign of relenting. This was his 11th pole in 17 races so far this season, despite gusty conditions, laying a platform for a fifth win in six races since F1’s summer hiatus, a run of form that has turned the title battle on its head.
He has transformed a 25-point deficit after Monaco in May into a 59-point advantage and could yet wrap up his triumph at the same venue where he won his third title in 2015, at Nico Rosberg’s expense.
Hamilton did his best to douse the anticipation, mindful that the fearsome race pace that Ferrari have shown all year could yet delay his coronation.
“I’m going to work as hard as I can to get maximum points, but Sebastian is right there,” he said last night. “It was a very difficult session, with the wind picking up – it was shifting the whole way through. But that’s why I love this track. It’s an amazing place to drive.”
Only Vettel, Michael Schumacher, Alain Prost and Juan Manuel Fangio have ever enjoyed the distinction of calling themselves quadruple F1 world champions, but Hamilton, with the luxury of four grands prix to go, is moving inexorably towards joining them.
Almost 12 months after losing out to Rosberg by a fraction, he seems in no mood to let slip this latest opportunity to join the immortals.
Hamilton doesn't think it's all over
Can Vettel spoil his weekend?
His 11th pole position of the season
The 72nd pole of Hamilton's career and it has been a superb weekend for the mercedes driver, so far. He has led every session.
It will be interesting to see how he starts tomorrow with Vettel alongside him. His teammate Bottas will start in P3 and the championship leader will need him to be the perfect support act.
Those all important times
Your top ten (before penalties)
Hamilton leads Vettel, Bottas, Ricciardo, Raikkonen, Verstappen, Ocon, Sainz, Alonso and Perez.
Vettel gets himself in P2 as the chequered flag comes out. Ricciardo goes into P5, followed by Verstappen. Raikkonen moves ahead of the Red Bulls into P5.
Bottas is the last man and he can't go faster than his teammate or Vettel and he slots into P3.
One min left of Q3
Sainz is out on track for his only run in Q3. Alonso is the first to start his flying lap.
Hamilton currently on provisional pole.
Taking a moment
Everyone is taking a breather before rejoining the track for those final and crucial laps.
What can you say?
Six mins left of Q3
Hamilton sets the first time with a 1:33.108 and Bottas is 0.460 behind his teammate.
Vettel sets his time and can only move into P3.
Hamilton leads Bottas, Raikkonen, Vettel, Ricciardo. Ocon, Alonso and Perez.
Nine mins left of Q3
The cars are out on track, everyone bar Raikkonen and Sainz are on the move.
Another impressive lap from Sainz who is clearly enjoying that Renault car.
Lets see who comes out on top in Q3
Kevin Magnussen in responsibility and apology shocker!
Q2 belongs to Mercedes
Massa, Kvyat, Vandoorne, Grosjean and Hulkenberg are the driver's who are out.
Hamilton leads Bottas, Raikkonen, Vettel, Ricciardo, Verstappen, Perez, Sainz, Alonso and Ocon; and they will start their top ten shootout shortly.
Last runs of Q2
Everyone bar the Red Bulls are out on track. Hulkenberg has not left the garage this session.
Kvyat has only got himself as high as 12th so his day will end here. Grosjean can only stay in P14.
Alonso crosses the line in P7. Ocon is a place below him. Massa moves into the top ten - P9 - which pushes Sainz down to P11.
Sainz goes 8th and Perez leaps over him into 7th. Massa misses out at the very last minute.
Two mins left of Q2
Kvyat is the first one back out and he needs to improve on his current P14 position.
Hamilton, Bottas, Ocon, Massa, Alonso and Vandoorne are all out to join him.
A little break
Everyone is just chilling in the pits and getting ready for their second runs... Feel free to relax with them.
Six mins left of Q2
Sainz is up to ninth and Alonso, Vandoorne, Grosjean, Kvyat and Hulkenberg are all at risk. Hulk is not expected out with all the penalties he has - 20.
Eight mins left of Q2
Ricciardo, Kvyat and Verstappen are all out on track with Max on the supersofts. As he has a penalty they clearly want to start him on them for tomorrow.
Hamilton leads Bottas, Vettel, Ricciardo, Raikkonen, Verstappen, Ocon, Perez, Massa, ALonso and Kvyat.
11 mins left of Q2
Not a lot going on at the moment with Vettel joining the fray.
Hamilton sets a 1:33.560 with Bottas behind by 0.233.
Q2 has started
The Mercedes are the first guys out on track with both cars on ultrasofts.
It is always great to see Alonso and Massa in the top and what an impressive start, so far, from Sainz.
Hulkenberg will not take part in Q2.
End of Q1
Ericsson, Stroll, Hartley, Wehrlein and Magnussen can all go and get some lunch now.
Last runs of Q1
The top ten are all in the garage with their positions clear.
Grosjean crosses the line and goes into P14. Magnussen remains in the bottom five as his lap ends. Hartley makes it into P15 in his first F1 qualifying.
Wehrlein moves up a couple of places but only into P17. Kvyat moves up into P11 and Hartley is out after Vandoorne moves into P12 - but the McLaren driver has a grid pen.
Sainz goes fifth. He clearly likes that Renault.
Three mins left of Q1
Wehrlein, Grosjean, Ericsson, Hartley and Magnussen are currently the driver's at risk.
Stroll is now also being investigated.
Hamilton leads with a 1:34.822. He's followed by Verstappen, Bottas, Vettel, Massa, Raikkonen, Alonso, Hulkenberg, Ocon and Ricciardo.
Sainz is P11 and followed by Perez, Kvyat, Vandoorne and Stroll.
Five mins left of Q1
Typical Grosjean moaning of the day. He swings round the track and Stroll is ahead. The youngster slides right and the Frenchman does the same. Similar to when you do the dance with strangers on the street.
Magnussen is being investigated for impeding Perez. I feel like "We need to talk about Kevin".
Eight mins left of Q1
Verstappen is complaining about how busy the track it, but I'm not sure there is much the mechanics can do.
Hamilton has improved and has the fastest first sector, but Verstappen goes fastest with 1:34.899.
11 mins left
Hamilton is out on track and we know he is fond of COTA even though he has only got pole once.
He can only go into P4 with a 1:36.4 after a disappointing lap.
Bottas leads Ocon, Raikkonen, Vettel, Hamilton, Vandoorne, Stroll, Wehrlein, Grosjean and Kvyat.
14 mins left of Q1
Kvyat is the first driver to set a lap time with 1:37.865 on his third lap. Wehrlein goes 0.2s ahead of the Toro Rosso driver.
Hartley, Grosjean and Ericsson are also out on track.
And we're off
Kvyat is the first car on track and we expect everyone to be on the ultrasofts this evening.
It's our standard session ahead:
Q1: 18 mins and we lose the five slowest
Q2: 15 mins and we lose the five slowest
Q3: 12 mins and a top ten shoot-out
- Every COTA winner has started on the front row
- Vettel has two pole positions from five races here, while Hamilton has one
- Hamilton has won four races, with Vettel winning the other
Breast cancer care
It is not just the Force Indias who are 'pretty in pink' as the whole of F1 teams up with Breast Cancer Care. It's always good to see sport giving back.
Red Bull are still working on Daniel Ricciardo's car and Toro Rosso are doing the same with the car of the returning Daniil Kvyat.
We also have Brendon Hartley making his debut for Toro Rosso, after winning 24 HR Le Mans with Porsche earlier this year. He replaces Carlos Sainz who moved to Renault earlier than planned, ending Jolyon Palmer's two years in Formula One.
20 minutes until the start of qualifying
This could be a decisive weekend in the championship with Vettel looking to get his challenge back on track after failing to finish in Singapore and Japan.
Ferrari will need to be back to their best this weekend if they are to take the title race down to the wire.
A special guest to get them underway tomorrow
Legendary Boxing ring announcer Michael Buffer will ensure we all get a taste of how they do it Stateside, on Sunday.
Here are the drivers that will be moving further down the grid regardless of where they qualify:
Stoffel Vandoorne 5 places
Max Verstappen 15
Nico Hulkenberg 20
Dylan Hartley 25
Some pre-qualy reading
- United States Grand Prix 2017: Predict the podium – who will come out on top?
- Max Verstappen extends Red Bull contract to 2020 as they plan for Formula One titles
- Lewis Hamilton's record-breaking season and the targets that are next on his list...
- America dreaming of a home-grown F1 champion to make US Grand Prix a national institution
Those final practice times
Who will be your winner this weekend?
How they stand
That title race
Lewis Hamilton goes into the race with a 59 point lead over rival Sebastian Vettel, who has failed to finish two of the last three races. Hamilton has led all three practice sessions but as we know, it will all come down to pulls out the perfect lap in Q3.
Good evening race fans.
It’s the 17th race of the season and we are in Austin, Texas for the US Grand Prix.
Lewis Hamilton maintains lead over Sebastian Vettel in final practice session for United States Grand Prix
Hamilton, who will secure his fourth world championship here this weekend if he wins and Sebastian Vettel fails to finish inside the top five, dominated both sessions on Friday.
His best time of one minute and 34.668 seconds saw him finish comfortably clear of Red Bull's Max Verstappen, who earlier announced he was staying at Red Bull for a further three years, while Vettel was third in the order, half a second down on his championship rival.
Vettel looked on course to take Hamilton down to the wire this year following a string of impressive performances in the first half of the season, but his challenge has imploded since the summer break and he has failed to finish two of the last three grands prix.
The Ferrari driver, now 59 points behind Hamilton with only four rounds remaining, crashed out in Singapore before technical gremlins forced him to retire last time in Japan.
And while the four-time champion avoided any mechanical glitches here on Friday, he completed only 11 laps - 15 fewer than Hamilton - in the day's second session following a high-speed spin.
Vettel lost control of his Ferrari at the penultimate corner before ending up in the gravel. The German avoided any contact with the barriers, but following the detour, he complained his car felt like jelly.
His best lap was well adrift of Hamilton's super-quick effort, and his lack of track time will be of concern to both Vettel and his Ferrari team.