Lewis Hamilton achieved his sixth pole position of the season with a dominant qualifying display at the Yas Marina circuit.
The McLaren driver was fastest in all three qualifying sessions to score his 25th career pole and in doing so, halted Red Bull Racing’s run of qualifying dominance.
It was a disappointing session for both Formula One’s title contenders, with Sebastian Vettel only third behind his team-mate Mark Webber, but at least it was better than his Ferrari rival Fernando Alonso, who could only manage seventh fastest.
Hamilton had been quickest in two of the three practice sessions at Abu Dhabi, led Q1 and Q2, then produced a time of one minute, 40.630 seconds early in Q3 to immediately put himself four tenths of a second clear of his opposition.
A second pole shot might have been faster still, but once it became clear that Hamilton’s rivals had no answer to his pace, the McLaren driver backed off and pitted.
Webber’s lap of one minute, 40.978 seconds pushed Vettel off the front row. The championship leader – hampered by a substantial loss of practice mileage with a brake issue – had pushed hard throughout qualifying. Including brushing a barrier in Q1, flying over the kerbs in Q2, and then stopping on track after his unsuccessful final flying lap in Q3.
Vettel was forced to stop his Red Bull due to low fuel and after nearly five hours since qualifying was decided, the race stewards have penalised the world championship leader due to a low fuel sample. He will start Sunday’s race at the back of the grid.
Pastor Maldonado delivered a strong qualifying result for Williams by grabbing fourth position on the grid.
Kimi Raikkonen improved to fifth for Lotus on his second Q3 run, with Jenson Button making similar gains to take sixth. Button had been as low as ninth at one point in qualifying, but a five-place and six tenths of a second margin to his McLaren team-mate will not please the 2009 world champion.
Alonso held fourth after the early Q3 runs, only to be shoved down to a potentially costly seventh as others improved. His Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa will start ninth, ahead of Romain Grosjean’s Lotus.
Nico Rosberg did just a single qualifying run in Q3 and initially held fifth, before falling to eighth when his rivals came out again. Rosberg’s performance was a boost for Mercedes on what had looked like being another disappointing weekend. His team-mate Michael Schumacher was only P14, amid mutual apologies from team to driver over the radio.
Force India and Sauber could not reach the top ten this time around with Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez filling row six. Paul di Resta qualified in P13 in his new chassis while Kamui Kobayashi was six tenths down on Perez in P16 after locking up on his last lap.
Bruno Senna’s run of tepid qualifying performances continued with P14, four tenths slower than his Williams team-mate Maldonado in Q2.
Having appeared to conquer his qualifying problems during the 2012 season, Jean-Eric Vergne notched up his second straight Q1 exit – his eighth of the year – in Abu Dhabi.
The recently re-signed Toro Rosso driver was on course to make the cut before spinning. Vergne pushed on for another lap, but his abused tyres had no more pace to offer. His team-mate Daniel Ricciardo brought up the rear of the Q2 field in P17.
Marussia pushed Caterham hard in the battle at the back of the field. Although Heikki Kovalainen emerged in front again, he was only a tenth ahead of Charles Pic.
Vitaly Petrov was right in the fight in the other Caterham, but Timo Glock was puzzled by a relative lack of speed from his Marussia as he beat only the back-row HRTs.
Qualifying positions for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix:
1. Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1m40.630s
2. Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 1m40.978s
3. Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault 1m41.226s
4. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus-Renault 1m41.260s
5. Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1m41.290s
6. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m41.582s
7. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m41.603s
8. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m41.723s
9. Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 1m41.778s
10. Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes 1m42.019s
11. Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari 1m42.084s
12. Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1m42.218s
13. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1m42.289s
14. Bruno Senna Williams-Renault 1m42.330s
15. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1m42.606s
16. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m42.765s
17. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m44.058s
18. Heikki Kovalainen Caterham-Renault 1m44.956s
19. Charles Pic Marussia-Cosworth 1m45.089s
20. Vitaly Petrov Caterham-Renault 1m45.151s
21. Timo Glock Marussia-Cosworth 1m45.426s
22. Pedro de la Rosa HRT-Cosworth 1m45.766s
23. Narain Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth 1m46.382s
24. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1m41.073s*
107 per cent time: 1m48.601s
*Grid penalty for low fuel sample