Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton has secured his 81st career pole position and taken a major step toward his fifth career Formula One championship. Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel will start Sunday’s US Grand Prix in fifth.Lewis Hamilton set a blistering track record at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, on Saturday, putting him in pole position for what could be a championship-deciding US Grand Prix on Sunday.
The 33-year-old Mercedes driver recorded a lap time of 1 minute, 32.237 seconds, a new track record. His championship rival Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari finished just .061 second behind.
However, the German will only start Sunday's race in fifth position after he was issued a three-spot grid penalty on Friday for driving too fast under a red flag during a practice session.
Ferrari had been setting the pace during the second qualifying phase, with Kimi Raikkonen top of the timesheets and Vettel second, before Hamilton and Mercedes set a record lap time.
"That was close and I didn't know how close it was going to be when we got down to it," said Hamilton. "I knew it was edgy between us on my last run, but my second lap was just that little bit better and that enabled me to pull it out."
Starting between Hamilton and Vettel on Sunday will be Raikkonen, Mercedes' Vallteri Bottas and Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo.
Max Verstappen of Red Bull, who has secured a podium finish in three of the last five races, will start in 13th after he damaged his car in the first round of qualifying.
Hamilton on course for fifth championship
The gap from the front row could prove too great for Vettel. Hamilton has made the US Grand Prix his own in recent years, winning five races since 2012. Hamilton is also on a roll, with six wins in the last seven races.
The Brit leads Vettel by 67 points going into Sunday's race. If Hamilton wins and Vettel finishes lower than second place, the Brit will secure his fifth F1 championship.
Nevertheless, Hamilton refused to get ahead of himself following Saturday's qualifying round. "We've not been getting ahead of ourselves," he said. "We have to do the same work as before."
Vettel's lap time also proved that the Ferrari driver was ready to "punch back" in Indianapolis after a string of poor results, Hamilton added.
If Hamilton does clinch this year's championship, he would become only the third driver ever to win five career titles. Argentina's Juan Manuel Fangio won five championships in the 1950s, while Germany's Michael Schumacher holds the F1 record with seven.
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dm/cmk (AP, AFP, Reuters)