Sebastian Vettel achieved his fourteenth pole position of the season, equalling the qualifying record set by Nigel Mansell, by snatching the important grid slot from the McLarens of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button.
After setting the pace in all three practice sessions in Abu Dhabi, Hamilton and Button had to settle for second and third behind the world champion’s flying Red Bull.
Mark Webber lines up fourth ahead of the Ferraris of Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa.
Hamilton looked the favourite for pole following an impressive practice form and being the quickest in Q1 and Q2. The 2008 world champion held provisional pole on his first flying lap in Q3 with one minute, 38.704 seconds – which was 0.042 seconds quicker than the current world champion could manage at that stage.
Button was only fourth fastest after the first runs, but went straight to the top with his second attempt.
Immediately, the 2009 world champion’s pole time was beaten by his McLaren team-mate with a margin of 0.009 seconds to reclaim the top spot.
And yet Vettel was still on his final flying lap and as he crossed the finishing line – the double world champion not only beat Hamilton by 0.141 seconds with a lap time of one minute, 38.481 seconds – he equalled Nigel Mansell’s 1992 record of fourteen poles in a season. A superb achievement for the 24-year-old German.
Behind Button and Webber, the Scuderias filled row three, having never looked likely to threaten for the leading positions. Fernando Alonso was 0.6 seconds off pole and a similar margin ahead of team-mate Felipe Massa, who caused a brief delay to the session when he demolishing a chicane marker post in Q2 and left debris on the track.
Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher were seventh and eighth for Mercedes, with Adrian Sutil and Paul di Resta completing the top ten for Force India. This time di Resta was the only driver who did not attempt a run in Q3.
As for Williams, this was the worst qualifying result in a truly awful season of racing. Both Pastor Maldonado and Rubens Barrichello will start on the back row of the grid, with the former receiving a ten-place grid penalty for exceeding the eight-engine limit, while the latter had further engine issues meant he did not set a time at all.
As practice had hinted, Force India had a comfortable margin over its usual rivals Toro Rosso and Sauber, with Sebastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari only P13 and P15, with Sergio Perez and Kamui Kobayashi P11 and P16 for Sauber. Renault’s suspicion that it would struggle at the Yas Marina circuit proved true as Vitaly Petrov and Bruno Senna took P12 and P14.
Heikki Kovalainen beat his tail-end rivals by a comfortable 0.9 seconds, with his Lotus team-mate Jarno Trulli next up.
Hispania’s Daniel Ricciardo produced a sensational first qualifying lap, which put him close to Kovalainen, and ahead of the rest of the backmarker pack, but he would ultimately slip behind Trulli and Virgin Racing’s Timo Glock.
So an exciting qualifying session with Vettel setting a new record. Can the McLarens fight back in the race? And will we see overtaking thanks to the two DRS zones on the Yas Marina circuit? All this and more will be answered on Sunday.
Qualifying positions from Yas Marina:
1. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1m38.481s
2. Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1m38.622s
3. Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1m38.631s
4. Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 1m38.858s
5. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m39.058s
6. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m39.695s
7. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m39.773s
8. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1m40.662s
9. Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1m40.768s
10. Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes No time
11. Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari 1m40.874s
12. Vitaly Petrov Renault 1m40.919s
13. Sebastien Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m41.009s
14. Bruno Senna Renault 1m41.079s
15. Jaime Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m41.162s
16. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1m41.240s
17. Heikki Kovalainen Lotus-Renault 1m42.979s
18. Jarno Trulli Lotus-Renault 1m43.884s
19. Timo Glock Virgin-Cosworth 1m44.515s
20. Daniel Ricciardo HRT-Cosworth 1m44.641s
21. Jerome D’Ambrosio Virgin-Cosworth 1m44.699s
22. Tonio Liuzzi HRT-Cosworth 1m45.159s
23. Rubens Barrichello Williams-Cosoworth No time
24. Pastor Maldonado Williams-Cosworth 1m41.760s*
*Ten-place grid penalty for exceeding engine limit
107 per cent time: 1m46.766s