The equation is simple. Lewis Hamilton needs to win all of the final four races, and hope some bad-luck befalls Nico Rosberg, in his bid to claw back the 33 points he is behind. The first step to do this would be to claim a morale boosting Pole in Austin.
Hamilton did exactly that, with the fastest ever lap of the Circuit of the America's, a 1:34.999 on final runs in Q3, to secure his maiden Austin pole. ninth of the season, and 58th overall, to leave him just 10 behind Michael Schumacher's all-time record.
Rosberg's best effort fell 0.216 short to leave him on the dirty side of the grid, which could leave the W07 vulnerable at the start, espically as Daniel Ricciardo's Red Bull will be starting on the gripier SuperSoft tyre from third, as opposed to the Softs on both cars on the front-row.
Max Verstappen made it a Red Bull second row, whilst Kimi Raikkonen once again out-performed Sebastian Vettel, with the Finn out-qualifiying his team-mate, fifth vs sixth.
Elsewhere, in the race for best of the rest pole, commonly known as P7 on the grid, Nico Hulkenberg claimed the honours with an assured, confident drive to secure the position, ahead of the Williams pair of Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa.
Carlos Sainz made a rare appearance in the top 10, with his Toro Rosso team opting for just one run in the final 12 minutes that left him 10th.
Brit costs Brit in Q1
After an uneventful majority of Q1, with the order as would be expected, Jenson Button was trying to get his McLaren out of the drop-zone, as his opening lap was on the Soft tyre.
Going for a SuperSoft run at the end, Button was slightly up on a time he would need to make it through, until he hit Sector 3, when he hit traffic. A Manor, team-mate Fernando Alonso and a Williams all jumped out of the way, but approaching the final turn, Jolyon Palmer's Renault was parked on the racing line, meaning Button was forced to take the slower inside line and evantually dropped to P19. Palmer summed his feelings up, calling it a "f***ing disaster", before his engineer replied "Sorry about Button, I didn't see". Palmer made it through to Q2.
There was mass dissapointment at Haas, as Romain Grosjean failed to make it thorugh at the team's home race, dropping out in P17, although in the dying stages of the first 18 minutes, Esteban Gutierrez did make it through to Q2, Renault's Kevin Magnussen the unlucky victim.
Elsewhere, the two Manor's both dropped out, whilst Marcus Ericsson was the benefactor of Button's demise getting his Sauber through, whilst up front, it was a Mercedes one-two, Hamilton in front with Verstappen slotting into third.
Two drivers with the most support this weekend, and next time out in Mexico are Gutierrez and Sergio Perez. Both failed to get into Q3, which came as dissapointment to the thousands of Mexicans visiting Austin for the chance to see their heroes. Given Hulkenberg's fine effort for seventh on the grid, P11 for Perez will be gutting, although he does get a free choice of tyres to start the race.
Earlier in the day, Alonso made his feelings known about where he was losing 1.1s, "on the straights", not quite "GP2 engine" but still a less than optimal review of the Honda Power Unit, he dropped out, and will start P12, from where he will be hoping for good points after McLaren's struggles in Japan.
In a last ditch lap, Massa was the final driver to set a good enough lap for the top 10, pushing Perez out by 0.15. The Toro Rosso of Danill Kvyat, Palmer's Renault and Marcus Ericsson's Sauber joined the two Mexicans and Alonso in dropping out.
Up front, as expected the Mercedes duo went on Softs, and were a comfortable second and third, with Ricciardo taking the honours, but on SuperSofts. Verstappen also went for the Mercedes strategy, to allow Red Bull to have both bases covered, but was less comfortable in P6. No-one else went for the Soft tyre in Q2.
Austin powers for Hamilton
The previous all-time lap record in Austin, was Vettel's Q3 time for Red Bull in 2012, a 1:35.657. Both the Mercedes quickly beat that on their opening Q3 runs, with Rosberg clawing back a 0.2 deficit after a mistake at T1 to end up just 0.072 off of the 1:35.370 set by the reiging Formula One World Champion.
Behind them, Ricciardo was ahead of Verstappen, whilst Vettel was quicker than Raikkonen by the fine margin of 0.02.
These were the only six times set in the first half of Q3, as Hulkenberg, the Williams duo and Sainz would do just a single timed lap.
When it came to it, Rosberg made another mistake at T1, and his 1:35.215 was only good enough for pole for a few seconds, until Hamilton became the first man to ever lap COTA in under 95 seconds, doing so by 0.001.
Hulkenberg slotted in seventh, whilst the final three positions went to form, Bottas, Massa, Sainz. With the final timed lap of the session, Raikkonen did just enough to secure P5, demoting team-mate Vettel, whose season keeps on going from bad to near on crisis.
Tomorrow's race gets underway at 20:00pm UK time.
|3.||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull|
|4.||Max Verstappen||Red Bull|
|7.||Nico Hulkenberg||Force India|
|10.||Carlos Sainz Jr||Toro Rosso|
|11.||Sergio Perez||Force India|
|13.||Danill Kvyat||Toro Rosso|