For the first part of Saturday, Lewis Hamilton was looking at the back of a pair of Ferraris. But when the moment was at its most intense, the four-time World Champion was at his best.
Sebastian Vettel suggested that the reason he and Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen spent most of the day ahead of Hamilton came down to a few bad laps by the Englishman.
"I don't really do bad laps too often," Hamilton joked.
Hamilton set a new track record Saturday at Circuit of The Americas and will sit on the pole of Sunday's United States Grand Prix. Vettel qualified second but will start fifth after being handed a three-place grid penalty in practice on Friday.
Raikkonen - who will begin the race on ultrasoft tires - will begin in second place. Mercedes' Valtteri Bottas will start in third place and Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo will line up in fourth place on the starting grid.
Hamilton was quickest in the first and second practice sessions on Friday, setting the fastest lap of 1:47.502 during the first session.
Ferrari had the two fastest cars in the final practice session, which was dry and virtually drama free. Vettel set the fastest lap with a time of 1:33.797 while Raikkonen went around COTA in 1:33.843. Hamilton finished third, just 0.073s behind Vettel.
"I knew it was going to take perfection and very neat laps to outpace (the Ferraris)," Hamilton said. "Once we got to Q3, it was just about maximizing being on the track at the right time and not leaving any second on the track."
Red Bull driver Max Verstappen advanced through Q1 despite damaging the back of his car. He was unable to make it back to the track for Q2 and will start Sunday's Grand Prix in 15th position.
Hamilton can win the World Championship if he outscores Vettel by eight points and would be the third man in the history of the sport to accomplish the feat.
The Brit has a storied history in Austin as he's won the F1 race at COTA four years in a row and five of six races since the track opened and first welcomed some of the best racers in the world in 2012.
"This track is incredible this year, it's taken another step for us," Hamilton said. "From Turn 2... all the way into Turn 6, you're pretty much flat all the way into (Turn) 6, so the G-Force that you're pulling through there is incredible."
Vettel was assessed a three-place grid penalty following the first practice session on Friday when race stewards determined he didn't slow down for a red flag following a spin from Charles Leclerc in Turn 9.
"I think I saw the red flag, I slowed down, had a look around (to see) where was the car potentially stuck in the wall," Vettel said on Friday. "If there was one around Turn 9 and 10 and then slowed down significantly to comply with the rules. They found it took too long."
With the World Championship slipping away, the German used some strong language when he finished just .061 behind Hamilton for the pole. And his posture in the post-qualifying press conference reflected that sentiment.
Vettel has hit a rough stretch in the F1 calendar with a pair of third-place finishes in between a sixth-place finish in Japan on Oct. 7 and a fifth-place finish at his manufacturer's home track in Monza at the Italian Grand Prix on Sept. 2.
"I think if it's less than a tenth, you always think there was a little bit left but I was pretty happy with the laps I had," Vettel said. "I think overall it's been a positive surprise to see how competitive we've been today given ho far we've been behind the last events. If you're that close, you want to be ahead, not behind."