Vettel takes pole for USGP, Alonso starts eighth

Sebastian Vettel from Red Bull has figured out the brand new 3.4-mile Circuit of the Americas quite well.

After posting the quickest laps in all three practice sessions at COTA, Vettel won the pole position for the United States Grand Prix after topping McLaren's Lewis Hamilton in Saturday's qualifying session. Vettel, the two-time defending Formula One world champion and current points leader, turned a lap in 1 minute, 35.657 seconds for his sixth pole of the season. It's also the young German's 36th career pole, which places him third on F1's all-time pole winners list.

"I'm very pleased with the result," Vettel said. "We started off on the right foot in the first practice (on Friday). It was extremely slippery to start with. The circuit is brand new, and the asphalt is brand new. It takes a while for the track to come in. It's also quite fun to slide around in a couple of the corners. But (the track surface) just got better throughout, as you could see the lap times getting quicker."

Vettel is scheduled to make his 100th career F1 grand prix start. He made his debut in the 2007 USGP, which was held on Indianapolis Motor Speedway's road course. It was also the last time F1 competed in the United States. Vettel finished eighth at Indy to become the sport's youngest point scorer. He was 19 years old at the time.

If Vettel can leave Austin -- the penultimate round on the 2012 F1 calendar -- with a lead of 25 points or more, he will clinch his third consecutive championship. He presently holds a 10-point advantage over Fernando Alonso from Ferrari. Alonso qualified ninth but moved up to eighth on the grid after fourth-place qualifier Romain Grosjean received a five-spot grid penalty for an unapproved gearbox change on his Lotus.

Two weeks ago in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Vettel made an amazing comeback to finish third after he had to start from the rear of the field. He had qualified third but was later disqualified when race stewards determined there wasn't enough fuel in his car to provide a one-liter sample in post-qualifying inspection. Alonso finished second at Abu Dhabi to trim three points off of Vettel's lead.

"I think we saw from the last race how things can quickly change, and even starting from the back, it does give you opportunities, so we'll wait and see."

Hamilton's lap time in 1:35.766 was just 0.109 seconds behind Vettel. Hamilton started on the pole and won the USGP at Indy in '07.

"Hopefully, tomorrow we'll get a good start," Hamilton said. "It's so wide in turn one that I don't think that much can really go wrong. I don't want to get in the way of Sebastian's race; however, I do want to win. I will try my best to get through cleanly."

Vettel's teammate, Mark Webber, will start third, followed by Lotus' Kimi Raikkonen, who won the Abu Dhabi GP. Michael Schumacher from Mercedes will roll off fifth.

"I'm pretty happy with qualifying," Webber said. "It's a very tricky venue in terms of tires. I was happy with the last part of Q3. We had to manage a little bit of a problem with the car, but the two guys ahead of me (Vettel and Hamilton) were pretty quick."

Felipe Massa will start sixth on the grid in his Ferrari, followed by Force India' Nico Hulkenberg.

Sunday's 56-lap USGP is scheduled to start at 2 p.m. (ET).