Lewis Hamilton completed one half of the job to secure a historic fifth World Championship by putting his Mercedes on pole position for the US Grand Prix.
Hamilton will seal the title in Austin, Texas on Sunday if he takes the chequered flag and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel fails to finish second.
The German was slower only than Hamilton in a nail-biting qualifying session, but he will be demoted to fifth after incurring a grid penalty for his failure to slow sufficiently under red flags in Friday’s practice.
Kimi Raikkonen will subsequently join Hamilton on the front row with the Briton’s team-mate Valtteri Bottas third.
Mercedes did not appear to have the pace to beat Ferrari following the early phases at a cold and blustery Circuit of the Americas.
But as he so often does, Hamilton saved his very best for last, edging out Vettel by just 0.061 seconds for the 81st pole of his career.
“That was very important, and that was close,” Hamilton said. “I knew it was edgy between us and it was going to require solid laps.
“The second lap was better and it enabled me to pull it out of the bag. I was very adamant that I was going to do a better second lap so I am very happy with that.”
Vettel, who swore over the radio in frustration after discovering he had lost to Hamilton, added: “It was a bit of a shame that we missed out by that little time.
“Given the last couple of weeks we have had I am happy we are in range.”
Max Verstappen damaged his Red Bull on the kerbs at the exit of Turn 15 in the first qualifying session and played no further part.
His rear suspension was broken and the Dutchman’s crew were unable to complete the repairs before the start of Q2.
That was good news for Daniel Ricciardo, who has been out-performed by Verstappen in all of the 11 qualifying rounds since the Monaco Grand Prix. The Australian will start fourth following Vettel’s penalty.
But there was bad news again for McLaren with both of their drivers falling at the first hurdle.
The Woking team will be desperate for the season to end and so, too, will Fernando Alonso as his wonderful career fizzles out with a whimper.
The two-time world champion, who has just four races remaining before he retires at the end of the year, qualified 16th with his team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne slowest of all.
They will both rise two places, though, due to engine-change penalties dropping Toro Rosso pair Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley to the back of the grid.