Daniil Kvyat was the first of the drivers out on track, looking to impress after two races on the sidelines in favour of Pierre Gasly. He was soon followed by the Ferraris and Mercedes, the only teams not on the ultrasoft tyre. Valtteri Bottas was comfortably quickest after the first laps, but times soon tumbled as the track rapidly evolved and drivers found their feet.
Elsewhere, traffic was proving a problem for some. Kevin Magnussen was caught out for not moving aside to let Sergio Perez through on his flying lap, and Lance Stroll bizarrely dived off the track in a panicked attempt to let Romain Grosjean by after going extremely slowly on the racing line. Stroll and Magnussen will be lucky to avoid penalties for their actions, but any grid demotion will hardly affect either driver since they both failed to make it into Q2.
In typical fashion, many drivers fought to secure their place in the next round of qualifying in the last minute of the session. For a moment, it seemed as if Brendon Hartley was going to reach Q2 on his F1 debut, but he was denied by a resurgent Stoffel Vandoorne. Despite their noble efforts, both Sauber's characteristically failed to escape the drop zone.
The Silver Arrows emerged from the pits to get the second part of qualifying underway, and immediately sent a big statement to their challengers for pole as Hamilton set the quickest lap of the weekend, and a new track record (1.33.560), to go almost a full second quicker than Vettel.
With three minutes of the session left, all but the Red Bulls opted for a second run, with Max Verstappen the only driver to set a lap on the red-marked supersoft tyre, clearly a tactical move for Sunday's race given his 15-place grid penalty.
It was a frantic end to the session where Fernando Alonso, Carlos Sainz, and Sergio Perez were all able to elevate themselves out of the drop zone, pushing Massa narrowly out of the top ten. They were joined by the usual front six, and Esteban Ocon, with the Mercs way out in front and looking strong favourites to take pole.
Lewis Hamilton would have been supremely confident leaving the garage as Q3 began, and as expected he comfortably topped the time sheets after his first run, 0.460 quicker than his teammate in second.
Where things weren't so close on the front row, it was more so behind, with Raikkonen, Vettel, and Verstappen separated by less than half-a-tenth of a second.
Lap times tumbled at the end of qualifying, with all drivers apart from the Mercedes improving on their first run. Vettel was able to secure a front-row start and split the Silver Arrows after putting in a great final lap. Unbelievably, Ricciardo and Raikkonen set identical lap times, both out-qualifying Verstappen.
However, no one could topple Lewis Hamilton, who claimed the 72nd pole position of his career, and will aim to secure victory and his fourth world title, in the US this weekend.
P1. Lewis HAMILTON – Mercedes – 1:33.108
P2. Sebastain VETTEL – Ferrari – 1:33.347
P3. Valterri BOTTAS – Mercedes – 1:33.568
P4. Daniel RICCIARDO – Red Bull – 1:33.577
P5. Kimi RAIKKONEN – Ferrari – 1:33.577
P6. Max VERSTAPPEN– Red Bull – 1:33.658
P7. Esteban OCON – Force India – 1:34.647
P8. Carlos SAINZ – Renault – 1:34.852
P9. Fernando ALONSO – McLaren – 1:35.007
P10. Sergio PEREZ – Force India – 1:35.148