Nico Rosberg denied his championship rival and Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamitlon with a crucial pole position at the Yas Marina circuit, the location of the final round of this season’s Formula 1 World Championship.
Title contender Rosberg outpaced his rival by just over three tenths on the first runs in the top ten shootout.
The Mercedes driver improved on his second run, avoiding the lock-up later in the lap that cost him time on the first.
Although Hamilton also improved, he ended up 0.386 seconds off Rosberg to line up second on the grid.
But even if Rosberg wins Sunday’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Hamilton just needs to finish second to be take the title.
Yet again Williams looked like a potential threat in qualifying but when it came to the fastest runs in Q3, the pace advantage of the Silver Arrows was revealed.
Valtteri Bottas ended up in third place, just over half a second off Rosberg, with team-mate Felipe Massa just behind.
Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel locked out row three, ahead of Daniil Kvyat’s in the Toro Rosso.
Jenson Button beat the Ferraris to eighth postiton, with Kimi Raikkonen ninth after only completing a single run in Q3 no thanks to having run out of fresh super-softs.
Fernando Alonso, on his final race for Ferrari, was tenth having failed to improve on his second run thanks to locking up and running off the circuit.
McLaren’s Kevin Magnussen had just one opportunity in Q2, likely because of the same underfuelling problem that also forced Button to abandon his first run before setting a laptime.
Magnussen had looked set to make the top ten, only for Raikkonen and Kvyat to knock him down to P11 on their final laps.
Jean-Eric Vergne was also knocked down the order in the final seconds, ending up P12, with the Force Indias of Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg behind.
Sauber driver Adrian Sutil was slowest in Q2, falling three tenths short of his Q1 speed.
Romain Grosjean missed out on reaching Q2 by just over two hundredths of a second during a frenetic battle in the final seconds of the first segment of qualifying.
His fellow Lotus team-mate Pastor Maldonado moved into a Q2 position before being bumped by Esteban Gutierrez, who was then relegated by Sutil.
Grosjean’s final lap was not quite enough to beat Sutil, leaving him in P16, although he will drop to the rear of the field thanks to 20-place penalty for changing power unit components.
Gutierrez ended up P17, ahead of Maldonado and the Caterhams.
Kamui Kobayashi’s was the quickest in the Caterham, although Formula 1 debutant Will Stevens put on a good show by lapping just over half a second slower despite limited running in the car.
So the championship is almost at a climix, with Mercedes locking out the front row for the twelvth time this season. Only one of the Silver Arrows can become champion but will it be Nico Rosberg or Lewis Hamilton?
Double points come into play in Sunday’s race and if Hamilton finishes second behind pole sitter Rosberg, he will win the championship. But like legenadry motor racing commentator Murray Walker has said many times: “Anything can happen in Formula 1 and it usually does”.
Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, qualifying positions:
1 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m40.480s
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m40.866s
3 Valtteri Bottas Williams-Mercedes 1m41.025s
4 Felipe Massa Williams-Mercedes 1m41.119s
5 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull-Renault 1m41.267s
6 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1m41.893s
7 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso-Renault 1m41.908s
8 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1m41.964s
9 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1m42.236s
10 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m42.866s
11 Kevin Magnussen McLaren-Mercedes 1m42.198s
12 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso-Renault 1m42.207s
13 Sergio Perez Force India-Mercedes 1m42.239s
14 Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes 1m42.384s
15 Adrian Sutil Sauber-Ferrari 1m43.074s
16 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber-Ferrari 1m42.819s
17 Pastor Maldonado Lotus-Renault 1m42.860s
18 Kamui Kobayashi Caterham-Renault 1m44.540s
19 Will Stevens Caterham-Renault 1m45.095s
20 Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 1m42.768s*
*20-place grid penalty for changing power unit