Sebastian Vettel stands on the verge of his third successive title after claiming pole position at the United States Grand Prix in Austin, Texas. The Red Bull driver qualified a surprisingly slender 0.109 seconds ahead of McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton, with title rival Fernando Alonso qualifying back in ninth although he will start a place higher due to a grid penalty handed out to Lotus’ Romain Grosjean.

If Vettel scores 15 more points than Alonso on Sunday, then the German can celebrate becoming the youngest man to claim three consecutive world championships.

“The car feels great,” said Vettel afterward, according to “In terms of the Championship, we need to focus on ourselves and try to get the best result that we can. If you’re thinking about where the others are, then you don’t get the optimum from yourself, and that’s what we need to focus on. Our job is done today, but so far no one has scored any points.”

Vettel has been the class of the field all weekend having led the timing charts in all three practice sessions before taking pole. If Vettel completes a clean sweep by taking the checkered flag then Alonso will need to finish fourth or better to take the championship to the final race at Interlagos in Brazil next weekend.

If Vettel takes second then Alonso will require an eight place position and will need to come in the top 10 if his rival finishes third.

Despite his precarious predicament, Alonso was in defiant mood about his chances.

“The accounts are always done at the end of the race: also in Abu Dhabi we were slower than our main rivals and then we got back three points in the classification,” he said. “Our aim remains unchanged and it’s still possible: on Sunday all sorts of things can happen.”

With Vettel having been so dominant in practice throughout the weekend, Hamilton deserves plenty of credit for getting so close to pole as well as splitting the Red Bulls and leaving Mark Webber to start in third.

“I came here this weekend to push almost beyond the limit—and that approach seemed to work in qualifying,” Hamilton said. “I gave it everything.”

Lotus’ Kimi Raikkonen will start from fourth, ahead of Michael Schumacher’s Mercedes and Alonso’s Ferrari teammate Felipe Massa.

Nico Hulkenberg in his Force India, followed by Alonso, Grosjean and Williams’ Pastor Maldonado round out the top 10. McLaren’s Jenson Button failed to make it into Q3 after his car lost power.

Where to watch: The 2012 Formula One United States Grand Prix is scheduled to get underway at 2 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by Speed. A live stream, which you view at your own discretion, will be available here.