Austin - A supreme Sebastian Vettel produced a dramatic last-gasp surge in the dying seconds to snatch pole position as Red Bull swept the front row of the grid for Sunday's United States Grand Prix.
In a tense qualifying session run in windy conditions on Saturday, the 26-year-old German clocked a best lap of one minute and 36.338 seconds to outpace nearest rival and team-mate, Australian Mark Webber by 0.103 seconds.
It was the eighth pole of the season for the newly crowned four-times world champion and the 44th of his career as he seeks to deliver a record eighth consecutive victory in Sunday's race at the Circuit of the Americas.
It was the fifth time this year that Red Bull had locked out the front row of the grid and a perfect 40th birthday present for team boss Christian Horner.
"It was a tricky session as the wind picked up quite a lot from this morning," said Vettel. "It's not that easy round the high-speed corners.
"I was not happy with my first run, but I think I had a solid run at the end which was enough to put the car on pole.
"It was a good battle with Mark, he has got closer and closer as the weekend has gone on."
Webber, who retires from Formula One at the end of the season, said:"Sometimes you're happy, but today I let pole slip through my fingers. Well done to Seb. He put three sectors together and I put two-and-a-half together. It's not satisfying when you do that."
Romain Grosjean was third fastest for the Lotus team ahead of Nico Hulkenberg of Sauber and last year's winner, Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes.
Fernando Alonso was sixth for Ferrari and Mexican Sergio Perez seventh for McLaren ahead of two Finns, Heikki Kovalainen for Lotus and Valtteri Bottas of Williams with another Mexican Esteban Gutierrez taking 10th in the second Sauber.
Kovalainen shone again as he did on Friday after stepping in as a late replacement for fellow-Finn Ferrari-bound Kimi Raikkonen, who has undergone back surgery and will not race again this season.
On a warm afternoon with track temperatures hovering around 30 degrees Celsius, Bottas topped the times in Q1, proving that Williams have found some late season pace, but team-mate Pastor Maldonado was one of the men eliminated.
Also out went the two Marussia drivers, Max Chilton and Jules Bianchi in 22nd and 20th positions, sandwiching Charles Pic of Caterham.
His team-mate Giedo van der Garde was 19th one place down from Venezuelan Maldonado with Adrian Sutil also eliminated in his Force India after winding up 17th.
Sutil's impatience was revealed in a stream of frustration, but he was not alone as both Ferrari drivers only just escaped the first cut with Alonso 15th and Massa 16th in the unpredictable and blustery conditions.
An angry Maldonado, in acrimonious mood, said he had no idea why his performance was so different to his team-mate's.
"I don't know and I don't care to be honest," said the departing Williams man. "I am focusing on next season. It's over."
The conditions caused more problems in Q2 with Daniel Ricciardo failing to make the cut in his Toro Rosso, in 11th place, ahead of Paul Di Resta of Force India and disappointed compatriot Jenson Button of McLaren.
Nico Rosberg, out of sorts in the changed conditions, was down in 14th for Mercedes and he was eliminated along with Massa and Jean-Eric Vergne in the second Toro Rosso.
Vettel, as expected, topped Q2 and continued his imperious form, but it was the response and speed of Alonso, Bottas and Kovalainen that caught the eye as they made it into the top ten shootout.
Perez also went through, his progress demonstrating the difference in attitude between his more cavalier approach and Button's need for balance and precision.
Starting grid for Sunday's United States Grand Prix following the final qualifying sessions on Saturday:
Sebastian Vettel (GER) Red Bull
Mark Webber (AUS) Red Bull
Romain Grosjean (FRA) Lotus
Nico Hulkenberg (GER) Sauber
Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes
Fernando Alonso (ESP) Ferrari
Sergio Perez (MEX) McLaren
Heikki Kovalainen (FIN) Lotus
Valtteri Bottas (FIN) Williams
Esteban Gutierrez (MEX) Sauber
Daniel Ricciardo (AUS) Toro Rosso
Paul di Resta (GBR) Force India
Jenson Button (GBR) McLaren
Nico Rosberg (GER) Mercedes
Felipe Massa (BRA) Ferrari
Jean-Eric Vergne (FRA) Toro Rosso
Adrian Sutil (GER) Force India
Pastor Maldonado (VEN) Williams
Giedo van der Garde (NED) Caterham
Jules Bianchi (FRA) Marussia
Charles Pic (FRA) Caterham
Max Chilton (GBR) Marussia