Alonso hopes hanging on a hunch

Fernando Alonso heads into the United States Grand Prix trusting his intuition that his Formula One world title hopes are far from over.

Fernando Alonso, Ferrari

Struggling for pace and grip in his Ferrari around the purpose-built £250million Circuit of The Americas, Alonso could only qualify ninth on the sport's return to America after a five-year absence.

With Romain Grosjean serving a five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change, the Spaniard will find himself elevated to eighth, but even from there title rival Sebastian Vettel must seem light years away.

On the occasion of his 100th grand prix, Vettel is now 56 laps away from becoming the youngest triple world champion in F1 history, and only the third to win three in a row.

The 25-year-old has so far conjured the perfect weekend as he followed up his clean sweep of practice by finishing quickest in all three qualifying sessions to claim his sixth pole of the year and the 36th of his career.

Leading Alonso by 10 points, it means if Red Bull star Vettel goes on to win the race, the former must finish at least fourth to take the title fight to the final grand prix in Brazil next weekend.

Alonso, however, has a funny feeling about Sunday as he said: "I still think we are going to reduce the gap to Sebastian, which is what counts.

"He starts from pole and he has very strong pace, but the race will be long and let's see if we can seize our opportunities.

"We'll see how the start goes. If he wins the race and then wins again in Brazil he will be champion, and deservedly so.

"We are fighting to make it into Q3, so we have got here miraculously and we are going to try to hang on to hope.

"But as I said, for whatever reason, I have the strange feeling that tomorrow [Sunday] we will reduce the gap."

Vettel has so far been unstoppable, taming a tricky circuit given the freshness of the asphalt which has resembled a skating rink according to some drivers, especially as Pirelli opted for the harder two of their four dry compound tyres.

Come the conclusion it was a close-run thing as Lewis Hamilton took the fight to the Red Bulls, finishing a tenth of a second adrift of Vettel as he managed to split the German and team-mate Mark Webber.

Vettel declared himself "very pleased with the result", and rightly so given Alonso's woes, although he claimed he is unconcerned as to how his closest championship foe fared.

"There's not much to feel," said Vettel, when asked for his thoughts.

"We just need to look after ourselves, so we are very happy as we had no issues today [Saturday], although we lost a little time [on Friday with a water leak], but these things can happen.

"The best strategy is to keep your head down, which was the target in qualifying.

"But we saw at the last race (in Abu Dhabi) how quickly things can change, so we'll focus on our race."

Aside from personal title ambitions, Vettel and Webber are in an ideal position to secure Red Bull's third successive constructors' crown.

Vettel added: "It is what Mark and I will be looking out for."

Webber said: "We'll do what we can to put that one to bed.

"If we can it will be a huge result for everyone at the factory in Milton Keynes and for (engine supplier) Renault."

The start should be an interesting one given the uphill drive into turn one which is a blind left-hander, with Jenson Button predicting earlier this week there could be pandemonium.

Hamilton's over-riding issue, however, is the start from the dirty side of the grid which Felipe Massa has stated - after a practice attempt - is "like starting in the wet".

Following his own practice at the end of FP3, Hamilton described it as "very slippery".

Hamilton said: "I hope I can get away well.

"We'll ask (race director) Charlie (Whiting) to clean that side so people get an equal start into turn one where it's so wide I don't think much can go wrong.

"Obviously I don't want to get in the way of Sebastian's race, but I want to win so I will try my best to get through cleanly."

McLaren's current fallibility struck again in Q2, with Button on the receiving end as he suffered a loss of power and will start 12th, one place ahead of Paul di Resta in his Force India.



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