Sebastian Vettel in practice Saturday in Austin Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Red Bull Racing's Sebastian Vettel claimed pole position Saturday at the United States Grand Prix in Austin, Texas -- his 36th career pole in his 100th career grand prix.

Ferrari's Fernando Alonso, Vettel's only remaining rival in the drivers' championship, could manage no better than ninth in the third qualifying session (though he will move up to eighth after Lotus's Romain Grosjean is assessed a five grid-spot penalty for changing his gearbox between the final practice session and qualifying).

The pole is Vettel's sixth of the season. He came through the final lap of the third qualifying session with a blistering time of 1m 35.657s. McLaren's Lewis Hamilton came surprisingly close to displacing Vettel but lost precision time in the third sector of the track and finished second with 1m 35.766s. Mark Webber of Red Bull Racing was third with 1m 36.174s.

Alonso struggled all day -- all weekend, in fact -- with grip (as did many of the teams) and finished below his teammate Felipe Massa. Only 10 points separate Vettel and Alonso in the title hunt, but the Ferrari driver has his work cut out for him. Not only will he be starting in eighth position, he will be lined up on the left side of the track, which is considered to be far less grippy than the right.

The Ferrari driver, however, remained in fighting mode after the qualifying session.

"We knew it was going to be complicated. We started seventh in Abu Dhabi and eighth here, so more or less the positions have been the same," he told Autosport. "As always, the race is tomorrow. I still think that tomorrow we are going to reduce the gap to Sebastian, which is what counts."

Driver Team Q3 Time
Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Racing 1:35.657
Lewis Hamilton McLaren 1:35.766
Mark Webber Red Bull Racing 1:36.174
Romain Grosjean* Lotus 1:36.587
Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1:36.708
Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1:36.794
Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:36.937
Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1:37.141
Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:37.300
Pastor Maldonado Williams 1:37.842
Bruno Senna Williams  
Jenson Button McLaren  
Paul Di Resta Force India  
Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso  
Sergio Perez Sauber  
Kamui Kobayashi Sabuer  
Nico Rosberg Mercedes  
Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso  
Timo Glock Marussia  
Charles Pic Marussia  
Vitaly Petrov Caterham  
Heikki Kovalainen Caterham  
Pedro de la Rosa HRT  
Narain Karthikeyan HRT  

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