The scene of qualifying was set to be a rather processional affair given the absence of Caterham and Marussia
, which meant that the bottom four of 18 drivers would be eliminated from Q1 and positions 10 to 14 would be decided during Q2, with Q3 remaining as a top-ten shoot-out.
and Hamilton had dominated all three Free Practice sessions, with the Briton easily asserting and also continuing his dominance around the Austin-based circuit where he won the debut race in 2012.
The weather was picturesque, with barely a cloud in the sky and the sun expected to shine on throughout the hour-long session.
The likes of Force India
and Mercedes were all out on track first, with the former two expected to be amongst those potentially eliminated in the first session along with Lotus
set the first flying lap on the softer compound tyres, with a 1.39.8 being the time completed. Kyvat and Hulkenberg were next over the line, setting slower times than that of the Mexican.
Rosberg quickly bettered the pace after a troubled third Free Practice session with a 1.38.8, however he remained fastest for a matter of seconds as Bottas and Hamilton set quicker laps.
Around eight minutes into the session, all drivers were on the circuit, with the best time still courtesy of Hamilton, although a few minutes later Rosberg crossed the line to post a 1.38.5.
Surprisingly, it was Pastor Maldonado
who was the surprise of the session, setting the 4th quickest time, albeit on the Soft tyres as opposed to the Mediums of the Mercedes. His fellow Renault
-engine partner, Daniel Ricciardo
then set his first timed-lap of the session with a 1.38.9, which was adequate for 5th in the session.
It appeared that Nico Hulkenberg was struggling in the early stages of the session but as the track rubbered in, he climbed out of the drop-zone and up into a respectable position, as did Jenson Button
Coming towards the end of the session it was Romain Grosjean
for Lotus who was under pressure to get into Q2, but the Frenchman out-braked himself in the middle sector and was unable to improve on his lap-time. He was joined by Jean-Eric Vergne
, Esteban Gutierrez
and Sebastian Vettel
, who elected to start from the pit-lane for the race tomorrow due to a technical fault with his RB10.
The second qualifying session saw the surviving Toro Rosso of Daniil Kvyat
out on track first with a 1.38.7 being his banker lap on the ever-evolving circuit.
All-but three drivers then went out for their first of a suspected two runs, with the two Mercedes' setting the quickest laps as expected with Rosberg leading Hamilton. Alonso was 3rd and the two McLaren's of Button and Magnussen behind him.
It was Force India who were on the back-foot in the second session, with Hulkenberg and Perez struggling with grip and balance throughout. Sutil and Maldonado were sandwiched between the two in the drop-zone, with Kvyat also looking to improve from 10th.
The final two minutes became an all-out duel between the bottom four drivers, with Perez going 10th fastest, meaning that Hulkenberg and Kvyat would need to improve their times to threaten for a place in the final session. Sutil posted the 9th fastest time but was bumped to 10th following an improvement from Raikkonen whom he had knocked out just seconds earlier. Maldonado was unable to improve after a series of moments on his last lap.
This meant that Maldonado, Perez, Hulkenberg and Kvyat would not go any further in qualifying and would line up in that order on the grid for tomorrow.
Daniel Ricciardo was the first driver to emerge in the top-ten Q3 session, with a number of drivers exiting the pits minutes later.
The track was at its prime for the final session of Saturday, and with Rosberg having set a time almost a second quicker than Hamilton in Q2, it became apparent that it would be a close-knit session.
Ricciardo was the first to post a timed-lap with a 1.38.1, with Bottas, Massa and Button bettering his time. The Mercedes crossed the line shortly afterwards, with Rosberg leading Hamilton by just 0.1 second, though the pair were over 0.5 of a second quicker than Bottas in 3rd.
Following the first laps, it appeared as if the Ferrari
's were struggling in the intense Texas heat as Alonso and Raikkonen were only 7th and 9th after their first run. Button was struggling with understeer in his McLaren too, but was 5th fastest, ahead of team-mate Magnussen.
All drivers then pulled into the pits before a final run in the last few minutes of the session. With around 3 minutes remaining, the field exited the pits almost in tandem and set about bettering their times.
Rosberg was the first to start his lap and was 0.1 seconds up on his own personal best time in the first sector and bettered it still in the second and third, to set a 1.35.0, over 0.4 of a second ahead of team-mate Hamilton.
Hamilton was unable to better his lap-time and would line up 2nd on the grid, followed by the two Williams
' of Bottas and Massa. Daniel Ricciardo rounded out the Top 5 and was joined on the third row by Alonso, with Button and Magnussen for McLaren over 1.5 seconds back of Rosberg, lining up 7th and 8th. Raikkonen and Sutil rounded out the Top 10 in Austin.