Once again, Sebastian Vettel got the better of Red Bull teammate and rival Mark Webber.
Vettel’s late surge in qualifying allowed him to take the pole position from Webber for Sunday’s U.S. Grand Prix. That puts the four-time world champion in the prime spot to go after a record eighth consecutive victory this season and a title that escaped him last year.
"Shake and bake!" the German and his crew shouted to each other, a humorous and quite American nod to the fictional NASCAR movie "Talladega Nights."
Webber appeared set to earn his third pole position in the last four races until Vettel lapped the Circuit of the Americas in 1 minute, 36.338 seconds, pushing the Australian into second.
Webber, who is leaving Formula One after this season to drive in the world endurance championship, was clearly frustrated by his late slip in the No. 2 spot.
"At some point you’re happy to be in the front row," Webber said. "It slipped through the fingers. It’s not satisfying when you do that."
Webber has nine victories in his career but none this year, with Vettel dominating the season in winning his fourth consecutive world championship.
He’s had his chances.
Webber started on the pole in Japan and Abu Dhabi only to finish second to Vettel both times. But no race created more animosity between the teammates than the Malaysian Grand Prix back in March that all but shattered an already tense relationship.
Webber was cruising toward a victory in the closing stages in Malaysia when Vettel ignored team orders and passed him to win. Vettel got him again Saturday.
"Both of us would like to have the upper hand," Vettel said. "I’m happy we did the job today. Now we focus on the start."
The start at the Circuit of the Americas can be treacherous with its 100-foot climb to a blind left turn that sends the cars straight back down. The traffic jam at the apex can be calamitous for cars stuck in the middle.
Charging up the hill from the pole position last year, Vettel stayed in front of the potential danger and looked to be cruising toward a victory until Lewis Hamilton, then driving for McLaren, passed him with about 14 laps to go and won.
"It was a tight battle with Lewis. He was a bit quicker," Vettel said.
Romain Grosjean of Lotus will start third Sunday and Sauber’s Nico Hulkenberg will be fourth. Grosjean will have a chance to earn his fourth top-three finish of the season and third in two months. Hamilton, now with Mercedes, qualified fifth.
"We’ll see what we can do. It’s good to be here and show we are still in the front row," Grosjean said.
Grosjean’s temporary Lotus teammate, Heikki Kovalainen, qualified eighth despite having just three days to learn his new car. Kovalainen is driving the last two races of the season for Kimi Raikkonnen, who had back surgery.
A Vettel victory would be his 12th of the season, keeping him on target to tie Michael Schumacher’s season record of 13 next week in the season finale in Brazil.
On Saturday, Vettel shrugged off pursuit of records.
"It’s not the right mind set to go into the race," he said. "We’ve done pretty well with that kind of approach."