Nico Rosberg claimed the upper hand in qualifying for the United States Grand Prix, defeating Mercedes team-mate and rival Lewis Hamilton by over three tenths of a second to claim pole position.
Hamilton had followed up his pace-setting form from all three free practice sessions by leading Q1, but Rosberg then signalled his intentions by topping Q2 by almost a second.
In the decisive Q3 showdown, Rosberg led after the pair’s first runs, 0.161 seconds ahead. Then, at the end of the session, Rosberg found more than two tenths to secure pole, while Hamilton failed to improve.
Valtteri Bottas took third for Williams with the first of his two efforts in Q3, within ninth tenths of pole position and three tenths ahead of his team-mate Felipe Massa.
Daniel Ricciardo was narrowly forced to settle for fifth for Red Bull, while Fernando Alonso beat the McLaren duo of Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen to sixth. Button will start 12th due to a five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change.
Kimi Raikkonen was ninth, while Adrian Sutil and Sauber were tenth after making Q3 for the first time this season.
The reduced grid of 18 cars led to a revision to the knockout format for this weekend, with four drivers departing after Q1 and four after Q2.
Pastor Maldonado put in an impressive qualifying performance for Lotus, with the eighth best time in Q1 and then just missing out on Q3, taking P11. The Force Indias of Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg had to make do with 12th and 13th respectively, while Daniil Kvyat was 14th, but will serve a ten-place grid penalty for using another power unit component.
Kvyat’s Toro Rosso team-mate was one of the casualties of Q1 in 15th, ahead of Esteban Gutierrez. Sebastian Vettel completed a single run in Q1 ahead of his pit-lane start on Sunday due to a complete power unit change, and was 17th.
Propping up the times was Romain Grosjean after the Lotus man ran deep at turn 12 on his final lap, leaving over a second slower than his team-mate.