Lewis Hamilton scored a vital pole position at Yas Marina in his quest to win his fourth world championship over his Mercedes rival Nico Rosberg.
The reigning world champion held provisional pole after the initial runs in Q3, just over three tenths quicker than Rosberg, and eventually completed two laps good enough for pole by breaking into the one minute, 38 seconds on his final run.
Championship leader Rosberg also improved on his second Q3 run, but ended up more than three tenths behind Hamilton.
If Hamilton wins Sunday’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Rosberg only needs to finish third to clinch his first Formula 1 world title.
Daniel Ricciardo qualified his Red Bull third fastest, ahead of Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari by just 0.015 seconds on his final Q3 run.
Ricciardo and his Red Bull Racing team-mate Max Verstappen, who qualified sixth fastest, will both start the race on the super-soft tyre, after progressing through Q2 without using the ultra-soft favoured by Mercedes and Ferrari.
Sebastian Vettel was fifth quickest for Ferrari, less than a tenth slower than Raikkonen.
Vettel suggested he lost time in Turns 16, 17 and 18, and that he went the wrong way on set-up for qualifying.
The Force Indias of Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez locked out row four, just 0.018 seconds apart, while Fernando Alonso qualified his McLaren a tenth faster than Felipe Massa’s Williams, which rounded out the top ten.
Massa’s team-mate Valtteri Bottas just missed out on making Q3, finding time on his final Q2 lap but narrowly losing out to Alonso, who was quicker than Bottas by just 0.040 seconds.
Jenson Button qualified P12 for McLaren, dropping two tenths to Alonso in the middle sector and suggesting his car picked up understeer.
Esteban Gutierrez beat Haas team-mate Romain Grosjean to P13 by just under a tenth of a second, while Jolyon Palmer was P15 in the best of the Renaults, 0.175 seconds clear of Pascal Wehrlein, who put his Manor into Q2 for the fifth time this season.
Both Toro Rosso drivers fell in Q1, after losing most of Friday’s second practice to FIA safety checks to its cars, following punctures suffered on Daniil Kvyat’s car.
Kvyat was only P17, a tenth slower than Wehrlein, while Kvyat’s team-mate Carlos Sainz qualified on the last row of the grid.
Renault apologised to Kevin Magnussen after he failed to go quicker on his final Q1 run and wound up P18, ahead of Sauber’s Felipe Nasr, who complained of an ERS problem exiting Turn 14.
Esteban Ocon was P20 for Manor, after a slow first sector, while Marcus Ericsson qualified last, the Sauber driver apologising to the team for locking up under braking for Turn 17 and ruining his final flying lap in Q1.
So an important qualifying session for the Mercedes drivers. Hamilton has been quickest in every session so far but the one that counts will decide the championship. Rosberg just need to bring the car home in the race to win the title.
Qualifying positions, Yas Marina:
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m38.755s
2 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m39.058s
3 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull-Renault 1m39.589s
4 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1m39.604s
5 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1m39.661s
6 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Renault 1m39.818s
7 Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes 1m40.501s
8 Sergio Perez Force India-Mercedes 1m40.519s
9 Fernando Alonso McLaren-Honda 1m41.106s
10 Felipe Massa Williams-Mercedes 1m41.213s
11 Valtteri Bottas Williams-Mercedes 1m41.084s
12 Jenson Button McLaren-Honda 1m41.272s
13 Esteban Gutierrez Haas-Ferrari 1m41.480s
14 Romain Grosjean Haas-Ferrari 1m41.564s
15 Jolyon Palmer Renault 1m41.820s
16 Pascal Wehrlein Manor-Mercedes 1m41.995s
17 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m42.003s
18 Kevin Magnussen Renault 1m42.142s
19 Felipe Nasr Sauber-Ferrari 1m42.247s
20 Esteban Ocon Manor-Mercedes 1m42.286s
21 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m42.393s
22 Marcus Ericsson Sauber-Ferrari 1m42.637s