x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

'Fantastic' Vettel primed to take title in United States GP

More woe for Ferrari's Alonso, who can only manage ninth on the grid in qualifying.

Sebastian Vettel, left, grabbed a sixth pole of the season ahead of Lewis Hamilton, in Austin for what will be his 100th career race.
Sebastian Vettel, left, grabbed a sixth pole of the season ahead of Lewis Hamilton, in Austin for what will be his 100th career race.

Today is already guaranteed to be a historic day for Sebastian Vettel as the United States Grand Prix will mark the 100th race of his Formula One career.

But it could be an even more significant day for the Red Bull Racing driver as he has the chance to win a third successive drivers' world title, and he boosted his prospects of achieving that by taking pole position in yesterday's qualifying session at the Circuit of Americas as his championship rival Fernando Alonso could only qualify in ninth.

The German's sixth pole of the season, with a lap time of 1minute, 35.657 seconds, capped a dominating weekend as he topped each part of qualifying, having earlier been quickest in each of the three practice sessions.

He was pushed hardest in the final part of qualifying by Lewis Hamilton, with the McLaren-Mercedes man getting to within a tenth of a second of the Red Bull man as he took second place.

Vettel was delighted with his result, but believed he could have gone even quicker. "Through qualifying we were very happy," he said. "In the last section I would loved to have gone a bit quicker. I think I lost a little bit in the first and last section. It was probably bit closer then I wanted with Lewis but all in all it is fantastic."

Alonso's qualifying woes are nothing new, with the Ferrari driver having not finished in the top three in dry qualifying since June.

But this was a new low as the double world champion struggled to warm up his tyres and was 1.6 seconds slower than Vettel. The only solace is he will start one place further up today, in eighth, after Romain Grosjean, the Lotus driver who was fourth, will drop five places due to a gearbox change.

But the consequence of that is the Spaniard will start on the dirty left-hand side of the grid, which carries significantly less grip than on the right - the racing line.

Alonso must finish at least fourth today if Vettel wins the race to take the championship fight to the final round in Brazil next weekend.

With passing expected to be difficult and most teams anticipating a one-stop race due to the Pirelli tyres not degrading quickly, Alonso, faces a tall order to make progress up the order despite the fact that the Ferrari usually has strong race pace.

He will hope for incidents during the races to bring out safety car periods, which helped Vettel when he started last in Abu Dhabi earlier this month, to help him make gains up the order.

Red Bull need four points to take their third successive title today, and Mark Webber took third place behind Vettel to boost the team's hopes of achieving that in the United States. Kimi Raikkonen, the winner of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Michael Schumacher, and Felipe Massa complete the top six.

gcaygill@thenational.ae

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