Lewis Hamilton left the Red Bulls trailing in qualifying for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, taking pole position by a comfortable margin while the session ended with a worrying sight for championship leader Sebastian Vettel. Having being knocked off the front row by teammate Mark Webber, Vettel was ordered over the radio to stop his RB8 on track, with no explanation as to what the problem was.
Saturday had already been problematic for Vettel after a brake pressure problem limited him to seven laps in final practice. The knockout sessions also featured occasional driving errors but along with the other pre-session favourites, he easily made it into Q3.
The writing was on the wall straight away as far as pole position was concerned as Hamilton clocked a 1:40.630, almost a second quicker than Fernando Alonso who’d set the pace up to then. The Red Bulls of Vettel and Webber slotted in behind but Jenson Button was way off the pace in the second McLaren.
With a minute to go, Pastor Maldonado sprung a surprise by going third but Mark Webber responded for Red Bull with a 1:40.978, quicker not just than the Williams, but Vettel as well. The German held on to third but his grid position may be in doubt depending on the reason for his stoppage after qualifying.
Maldonado completes the second row ahead of Kimi Raikkonen in fifth while Jenson Button salvaged sixth after a tough evening which almost cost him a top ten place altogether. The Briton’s late effort demoted Fernando Alonso to a disappointing seventh with Nico Rosberg, Felipe Massa and Romain Grosjean starting close behind.
Unusually, Q3 didn’t feature a Force India as Nico Hulkenberg and Paul Di Resta both missed the cut. The pair finished in eleventh and thirteenth respectively with Sergio Perez’s Sauber between them. Michael Schumacher and Bruno Senna were both comprehensively beaten by their teammates in fourteenth and fifteenth while Kamui Kobayashi and Daniel Ricciardo were unable to make an impression on the top ten either.
Jean-Eric Vergne joined the tailenders in the Q1 drop zone although the Frenchman will perhaps feel he should have sneaked through. However, a spin at the penultimate corner let seventeenth-placed Kobayashi of the hook. Heikki Kovalainen took nineteenth for Caterham but only by a tenth of a second from the impressive Charles Pic. The Marussia driver outqualified Vitaly Petrov and his teammate Timo Glock while the HRT teammates brought up the rear.