Sebastian Vettel did not let a new circuit distract him as he claimed his sixth pole of the season at the United States Grand Prix on Saturday.
Austin, which hosts its first race, is the venue of the German’s 100th grand prix, where he is looking to secure his third world championship title.
Things are looking good for the current leader after his closest rival, Fernando Alonso, struggled during qualifying.
On Sunday, Vettel needs to out-score Alonso by 15 points to become the youngest triple champion in F1 history.
The steely resolve on his face over the past few weeks suggests he is not about to let his lead, or mojo, slip away.
The ever-improving Red Bull clocked a final best lap time of one minute and 35.657 seconds in the final seconds of a closely-fought hour of speed to leave nearest rival Lewis Hamilton adrift by a tenth of a second in his McLaren.
Vettel’s Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber was third fastest ahead of Romain Grosjean of Lotus, but the latter will have to drop five places because his team fitted a new gearbox to his car before the session.
This all meant Spaniard Alonso, who qualified ninth, moved up to eighth on the grid for the penultimate race of the season.
It was Vettel’s 36th pole of his remarkable career, and to mark the occasion, he added a Texan lone star to his helmet design.
“We’re very pleased,” said Vettel.
“It was extremely slippery to start with. The circuit is brand new and it takes a while to come in, but it was quite a lot of fun to slide a couple of corners”
F1 leader Sebastian Vettel
“We started on the right foot in first practice. It was extremely slippery to start with. The circuit is brand new and it takes a while to come in, but it was quite a lot of fun to slide a couple of corners.
“In the final section, I would have loved to have gone a bit quicker. It was a bit closer than I wanted, but it is fantastic for me to start on the front and on the clean side.”
Hamilton said: “I’m not really concerned about the first corner, I’m more concerned about being on the dirty side of the grid.
“I did a launch there earlier and it was quite slippery. My aim is to get a good getaway. I don’t want to get in the way of Sebastian’s race, but I do want to win. I will try my best to get through the first turn cleanly.”
Webber, who starts third and may play an important role in defending Vettel’s position, said: “I’m happy with qualifying. I was pretty happy with the last part of Q3.
“I had to manage a little problem with the car, but the two guys ahead of me were pretty quick and did very strong lap times.
“Overall, I’m happy to be third on the grid. We can have a strong grand prix from there. It’s a great job by the team. We’ve got our eye on the constructors’ championship and trying to put that to bed.”