The numbers keep stacking up for Sebastian Vettel. On Sunday he will start on pole position for the 36th time in the 100th race of his Formula One career, with the opportunity to become the sport's youngest triple world champion.
The 25-year-old will clinch his third successive title if he wins his sixth race this season and main rival Fernando Alonso finishes lower than fourth at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.
The Spaniard, who has a 10-point deficit to make up with two races to go, will start the U.S. Grand Prix in eighth place -- having been bumped up the grid after Lotus' Romain Grosjean was dropped five spots for an illegal gearbox change during Saturday's qualifying.
if Vettel is second or third, then his Ferrari adversary needs to finish at least eighth or 10th to take the title race to the finale in Brazil.
"I still think we are going to reduce the gap to Sebastian, which is what counts," said Alonso, himself a two-time world champion.
"He starts from pole and he has very strong pace, but the race will be long and let's see if we can seize our opportunities.
"We'll see how the start goes. If he wins the race and then wins again in Brazil he will be champion, and deservedly so."
Vettel was fastest in Friday's practice sessions and his Red Bull's speed was improved further by the arrival of a new front wing that night.
"We just need to look after ourselves, so we are very happy as we had no issues today," the German said.
"The best strategy is to keep your head down, which was the target in qualifying. But we saw at the last race how quickly things can change, so we'll focus on our race."
Vettel finished third in Abu Dhabi despite starting from the pit lane, but Red Bull could not clinch a third successive manufacturers' title as Mark Webber failed to finish after being caught up in several scrapes.
The Australian will start the season's penultimate race third on the grid behind McLaren's Lewis Hamilton.
"We have an eye on the constructors' title, which we aim to put to bed," Webber said.
"It will be a huge result for everyone at the factory in Milton Keynes and (engine supplier) Renault."
Hamilton, who has no hope of adding to his 2008 world title before next year's move to Mercedes, is worried about starting on the dirty side of the new track.
"We'll ask the authorities to clean that side so people get an equal start into turn one, where it's so wide I don't think much can go wrong," he said.
"Obviously I don't want to get in the way of Sebastian's race, but I want to win so I will try my best to get through cleanly."
Hamilton's teammate Jenson Button was down in 12th after a power failure, while his future colleague Nico Rosberg was 17th and the man the Englishman is replacing -- seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher -- will start fifth.
Grosjean's demotion from fourth meant his teammate Kimi Raikkonen will take that position on the grid as he seeks to follow up his Abu Dhabi win, while Alonso's Ferrari teammate Felipe Massa will be sixth ahead of Force India's Sauber-bound Nico Hulkenberg.
Williams' Pastor Maldonado rounded out the top 10 ahead of teammate Bruno Senna.