By Steve Keating
AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - Red Bull's quadruple world champion Sebastian Vettel seized pole position on Saturday for a U.S. Grand Prix that could see him celebrate a record eighth successive win of the Formula One season.
Sunday's race will be the eighth time this season that the 26-year-old German, who clinched his fourth successive driver's title in India last month, has started from pole and the second straight year in Texas.
If Vettel wins, he will become the first driver to win eight races in a single season. The all-time record of nine in a row was set by Italian Alberto Ascari over the course of two seasons in 1952/53.
He will also stay on course to equal Michael Schumacher's record of 13 wins in a season, with only Brazil to come after Austin and 11 victories already under his belt.
"I'm trying not to think much about these things," Vettel told reporters after Red Bull locked out the front row at the Circuit of the Americas, with Australian Mark Webber qualifying in second place.
"I think it is not the right mindset to go into a race thinking about a higher target than just the race. I've done well with that kind of approach so far so I don't see any reason to change."
Vettel's best lap of one minute 36.338 seconds was set under overcast skies, with Webber threatening to take his third pole in four races.
Frenchman Romain Grosjean, still chasing his first win, put Lotus third on the grid for Sunday's race with Germany's Nico Hulkenberg a fine fourth for Sauber.
Mercedes Lewis Hamilton, a winner in Texas last year for McLaren, will start fifth alongside Ferrari's Fernando Alonso, who hurt his back in Abu Dhabi and was only given the all-clear to race after a medical on Thursday.
Heikki Kovalainen, the Finn who is replacing compatriot Kimi Raikkonen at Lotus for the last two races after the departing 2007 champion pulled out to have back surgery, continued to impress.
Making his first appearance in the final phase of qualifying since he was at McLaren in 2009, he qualified eighth.
McLaren's season of suffering continued, with 2009 world champion Jenson Button missing the final cut.
Although the Briton qualified 13th, he will start even further back on the grid after being handed a three place penalty for passing under a red flag during Friday's opening practice session.
Mexico's Sergio Perez, who was told by McLaren only this week that he would not be driving for the team next season, gave the team a reminder of his talent with one of his best qualifying efforts of the season in seventh place.
Finnish rookie Valtteri Bottas brought smiles to struggling former champions Williams with ninth place on the grid while soon-to-depart Venezuelan team mate Pastor Maldonado qualified only 18th.
(Editing by Alan Baldwin)