Sebastian Vettel will start the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix from his tenth pole position of the season.
But team mate Mark Webber suffered a serious setback, only able to qualify fifth behind all his championship rivals.
The drivers found the track surface improving rapidly at the start of qualifying, with Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel going fastest seemingly with every lap they did.
Alonso stayed out later than his rivals and set the fastest time. Nico Rosberg also did a late lap to go second.
Jenson Button, meanwhile, ran into trouble with a brake vibration, and had to do a second run to improve his time.
As usual the three new teams were eliminated, with Jarno Trulli once again the fastest of the six.
The two Toro Rosso drivers found themselves in a battle to get into Q2. Jaime Alguersuari scraped through with his final lap, as team mate Sebastien Buemi failed to beat him by one tenth of a second.Driver eliminated in Q1
|18||Sebastien Buemi||Toro Rosso-Ferrari||1’41.824|
|22||Lucas di Grassi||Virgin-Cosworth||1’44.510|
It was an eventful Q2 for Lewis Hamilton who who had two off-track moments and a controversial encounter with Felipe Massa.
Hamilton took to the kerbs and demolished a corner marker as Massa went around the outside of him. Both drivers made it into the top ten – Hamilton making it in with just a minute to spare.
Sebastian Vettel was the only driver to lap the Yas Marina track in less than a minute and 40 seconds and none of the others could match that.
Button improved to second with his last effort but just a few hundredths covered Rosberg behind him in third and Mark Webber.
A late improvement by Vitaly Petrov surprisingly eliminated his team mate Robert Kubica.
He was knocked out in Q2 along with Kamui Kobayashi, Adrian Sutil, Nick Heidfeld, Nico Hülkenberg, Vitantonio Liuzzi and Jaime Alguersuari.Driver eliminated in Q2
|13||Adrian Sutil||Force India-Mercedes||1’40.914|
|16||Vitantonio Liuzzi||Force India-Mercedes||1’41.642|
|17||Jaime Alguersuari||Toro Rosso-Ferrari||1’41.738|
The Red Bulls held back at the start of Q3 while the McLarens and Ferraris went first. And their first times were set in that order – Hamilton doing a 1’39.582, leading Button, Alonso and Massa.
While those four did two separate runs Vettel and Webber did just a single run at the end of the session. While that worked like a dream for Vettel, who who improved his time progressively to a 1’39.394, Webber ended up over half a second off his team mate.
The other drivers were all getting in each others’ way as the final laps begin, Rosberg threading his way through the Ferraris to ensure he didn’t miss the cut-off. Massa started his final lap the instant the clock ticked to zero.
Hamilton improved his time but fell short of beating Vettel by a few hundredths. But Alonso was the big winner, pulling together a lap good enough to salvage third place, splitting the McLarens.
The grid tees up a fascinating battle for the championship tomorrow with Alonso surrounded by McLarens, and Webber facing a mountain to climb to keep the Ferrari driver from the title.Top ten in Q3
|1||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull-Renault||1’39.394|
|5||Mark Webber||Red Bull-Renault||1’39.925|
Alonso may only be ahead of one of his championship rivals on the grid, but it’s the one that matters most – Mark Webber, who’s eight points behind him in the constructors’ championship.
That means that were the top five drivers to finish in the order they qualified, Alonso would be world champion.
The most realistic threat to Alonso’s title hopes heading into the race is likely to come from Vettel. If he wins the race, Alonso has to make sure he finishes in the top four.
Were he to fall to fifth – behind, say, Button and Webber – he would end the race level on points with Vettel, and lose the championship due to Vettel having more fourth place finishes.
In that case his new best friend could come into play – Lewis Hamilton, who may pose the biggest threat to Vettel on race day.
Of course Alonso only needs to gain one place on his starting position to be guaranteed the championship regardless of what happens to his rivals.How do you think the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will unfold – and how will the championship be decided? We will see tonight.