AUSTIN: World championship leader Lewis Hamilton roared to the 72nd pole position of his record-breaking career on Saturday and then forecast that he is unlikely to clinch his fourth world title in Sunday’s United States Grand Prix.
The 32-year-old Briton, who can take the championship if he wins for Mercedes and title rival Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari fails to finish in the top five, claimed his 11th pole of the season with a crushing display of pure speed.
But, he said, it is not likely to be enough for him to join Vettel as a four-time champion unless the German, who starts alongside him at the front of the grid, "makes a silly mistake".
"I think it's highly unlikely it's going to be the case here," said Hamilton. "Sebastian did a great job today to bring the Ferrari back up. I think, ultimately, all I can do is do the best I can with my abilities and try to get maximum points.
"Sebastian is right there so, unless he makes a silly mistake, which is unlikely, it will go to the next races..."
Hamilton, who clocked a circuit record time with his lap in one minute and 33.108 seconds, added that he expected a tough contest in Sunday's race with Vettel fighting to keep alive his title challenge.
"It's going to be a great race out there tomorrow," he said. "It’s going be a tough one because looking after the tyres in these conditions is still tough, I’m but looking forward to it.
"The track was very difficult today, with the wind picking up you've got a head-wind into turn one, a tailwind out of turn one, the whole of sector one is tail-wind and then a head-wind into turn 9, so it's shifting the whole way through the lap.
"You're kind of gauging how hard you can push, how much you must lay off, but that's why I love it her. It's such a fantastic track to drive and especially when you've got a car you can rely on."
As Hamilton purred with pleasure after securing a record 117th front row start, passing seven-time champion German Michael Schumacher’s record of 116, Vettel said he and Ferrari are working day to day in pursuit.
"I was happy in the end with the car, but we lacked some rhythm. We came good, when it mattered, and I believe our race pace is good. Well done to Lewis today ... We are taking each day as it comes now."
Hamilton's Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas qualified third despite struggling with his braking.
"There have been things I have been struggling with - brake modulation and locking, transferring weight," said the Finn. "I have struggled to get it together and many times at 13 and 15 I lost a bit of time - those are the longest corners."
Back of the grid
Australian Daniel Ricciardo qualified fourth for Red Bull ahead of Finn Kimi Raikkonen in the second Ferrari and Max Verstappen in the second Red Bull, but the Dutchman will start from the back of the grid after being given a 15-place penalty for taking new power unit parts.
"It's easy to say now that I should have been up there, but if you make two reasonably big mistakes, it's not what you want," said Verstappen, disappointed with his performance 24 hours after the team had confirmed he had signed a new contract.
"I'm not happy with myself -- and it's one of the worst qualifyings of the year for me."
Frenchman Esteban Ocon qualified seventh for Force India ahead of an impressive Carlos Sainz, the Spaniard making his debut with Renault after moving from Toro Rosso.
Fellow-Spaniard two-time champion Fernando Alonso of McLaren Honda was ninth and Mexican Sergio Perez 10th in the second Force India.