Vettel stands just 56 laps away from becoming the youngest triple world champion in Formula One history.
It means the 25-year-old will start his 100th grand prix from his sixth pole position this year, and 36th of a career which threatens to scale new heights on Sunday.
Leading title rival Fernando Alonso by 10 points going into the race at the £250million Circuit of The Americas on the outskirts of Texan capital Austin, the duo are separated by seven places on the grid.
Alonso could only qualify ninth in his Ferrari, but will move up a position to eighth as Lotus' Romain Grosjean will drop five places from fourth after being penalised for a gearbox change.
Alonso has to finish within 15 points of Vettel to ensure the title fight goes down to the wire in Brazil next weekend, but clearly faces an uphill battle to achieve that on the evidence so far.
It was only just from Vettel, however, as McLaren's Lewis Hamilton produced a stunning performance to finish just a tenth of a second adrift down.
However, he will start on the dirty side of the grid which is a distinct disadvantage on this track.
Check local listings for coverage of this weekend's race.
A look at the Austin Circuit.
Esteemed Formula 1 commentator Steve Slater previews the action.
The conditions - a combination of Pirelli opting for the harder two of the four dry compounds available and the glasslike nature of the new track - resulted in all three sessions proving hectic.
It allowed the drivers to stay out on track, putting in lap after lap with the aim of allowing the circuit and the rubber to come together, at least giving the American fans their money's worth.
It is why the inside line down the home straight will prove tough for anybody in their bid to get away, meaning Hamilton will come under pressure from third-on-the-grid Mark Webber in his Red Bull.
With Grosjean penalised, Lotus team-mate Kimi Raikkonen moves up to fourth, followed by Mercedes' Michael Schumacher, the Ferrari of Felipe Massa and Force India's Nico Hulkenberg.
On the fifth row of the grid, Grosjean will be joined by Williams' Pastor Maldonado just behind him in 10th.
McLaren's current fallibility struck again in Q2, with Jenson Button on the receiving end on this occasion as he complained of a loss of power with three minutes remaining of the 15.
At that stage he was eighth, and it was inevitable he would drop out of the top 10, the Briton eventually falling to 12th behind Williams' Bruno Senna.
Force India's Paul di Resta found himself out-qualified by Hulkenberg for the fourth consecutive race, finishing 0.6secs adrift and will start 13th.
Toro Rosso's Jean-Eric Vergne starts from his best grid slot of 14th since the fifth race of the year in Spain, lining up ahead of Sauber duo Sergio Perez and Kamui Kobayashi.
For Mercedes' Nico Rosberg, the German starts a dismal 17th as he found himself comfortably out-paced by Schumacher for once this year.
For only the second time this season Daniel Ricciardo failed to make it out of Q1 in his Toro Rosso and will start 18th.
Behind him, however, there was a triumph for Marussia as both Timo Glock and Charles Pic out-qualified the Caterhams of Vitaly Petrov and Heikki Kovalainen.
On the final row, the HRTs will start the race as there were fears they would be outside the 107% time.
With fears they will fold following next weekend's race in Brazil due to financial woes, Pedro de la Rosa and Narain Karthikeyan made the cut, despite the latter stopping on track towards the end.
Here are some of the major stories leading up to Sunday's United States Grand Prix:
Jenson Button fears he could become caught up in the first-corner chaos he predicted earlier this week might unfold in the United States Grand Prix.
Fernando Alonso heads into the United States Grand Prix trusting his intuition that his Formula One world title hopes are far from over.
Romain Grosjean will serve a five-place grid penalty for Sunday's United States Grand Prix at the Circuit of The Americas.
Formula One's team principals have all hailed the importance of the American market to the sport.
Jenson Button is hoping the forthcoming winter break will help him find a cure for his ills following his worst season with McLaren.
Pedro de la Rosa has dismissed claims that his HRT car could be unsafe to drive at this weekend United States Grand Prix.
Pastor Maldonado has called on Williams to provide him with a long-term contract to ensure he has a more stable working environment.
McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh sees no problem with FIA race director Charlie Whiting's plan to introduce a penalty points system.
Sebastian Vettel has played down his dominance in practice ahead of the United States Grand Prix, but he was not fooling Fernando Alonso.
The Circuit of the Americas has been praised by drivers and team principals, although Lewis Hamilton fears a potential lack of overtaking in Austin.
Mark Webber believes any driver on the podium is treading a fine line between keeping their comments clean and turning the air blue.
Formula 1 race director Charlie Whiting believes that the free use of DRS in practice and qualifying has led to too many crashes.