Sebastian Vettel today equalled Nigel Mansell‘s record of 14 pole positions in a season after coming out on top during a hard-fought qualifying session in Abu Dhabi.
Despite topping the timesheets in FP2, FP3, Q1 and Q2, Lewis Hamilton just missed out on pole position, and will start alongside the double world champion on the front row tomorrow. Hamilton and Vettel remain the only two drivers to ever start the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on the front row of the grid.
Jenson Button was just 0.009 seconds slower than his team-mate in Q3, and will start from third, alongside Mark Webber. Fernando Alonso leads an all-Ferrari third row.
Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher make up an all-Mercedes fourth row, and Adrian Sutil and Paul di Resta rounded off the top ten.
Most of the field were keen to get out of the pits at the start of qualifying, with darkness falling on the Yas Marina circuit.
The first part of qualifying was fairly straightforward for the top drivers – the medium Pirelli tyres seemed to be going on for ever, and they just continued to put in flying laps, exchanging fastest time. Lewis Hamilton was fastest from Webber at the end of Q1, with Button third and Vettel fourth.
It was bad news for Rubens Barrichello though. The Brazilian, who may be competing in his penultimate race here in Abu Dhabi, was stranded in the pits with an engine problem. He will start the race from the back row of the grid.
Heikki Kovalainen was once again the best driver from the new teams, ahead of team-mate Jarno Trulli. Daniel Ricciardo did another good job, out-qualifying Jerome D'Ambrosio and team-mate Vitantonio Liuzzi.
Michael Schumacher seemed to hold up Paul di Resta whilst the Force India driver was on a flying lap – stewards, who include Johnny Herbert in their number this weekend, will decide whether the seven-time world champion receives a penalty. Schumacher finished Q1 down in seventeenth.
Hamilton was running fastest in Q2 when the red flag came out to allow marshals a chance to recover bits of a bollard that had been thrown out on track. The session restarted with 9:15 of Q2 remaining with Nico Rosberg, Pastor Maldonado and the two Force India drivers yet to set a time.
The 2008 champion remaining at the top of the timesheets for the rest of Q2, with the top five not bothering to go out again once the session resumed. Five teams made it through to Q3: McLaren, Red Bull, Ferrari, Mercedes and Force India, and Sergio Perez in eleventh was over three tenths of a second off the top ten.
Pastor Maldonado qualified in seventeenth, but takes a ten-place grid penalty for using his ninth engine of the season here in Abu Dhabi. The Venezuelan driver will, therefore, start from the back row of the grid tomorrow, alongside his team-mate.
Button was first man out on track in Q3, followed closely by team-mate Hamilton. A time of 1:39.013 for Button was promptly beaten by a 1:38.704 from Hamilton. Alonso and Massa could not beat either McLaren, and Mark Webber's first attempt of 1:38.858 was only good enough to beat Button. Not even Sebastian Vettel could beat Hamilton during this first set of laps – his time of 1:38.746 was 0.042 seconds of the provisional pole time.
All six contenders then recovered to the pits, whilst the Mercedes and Force India drivers had still not set a Q3 time.
Button was first out of the pits for the final showdown, and Vettel was the last of the potential pole-challengers out of the garage. Mercedes and Force India sent their drivers out afterwards, meaning that all cars were out on track.
Just as the checkered flag fell, Button had set his second time, the fastest of anybody so far. He came over the line with a time of 1:38.631 – enough to give him provisional pole. However, Hamilton then pipped his team-mate by just 0.009 seconds, with a time of 1:38.622. Webber, Alonso and Massa were nowhere near these times, and it just left Vettel to cross the line.
And cross the line he did, with a time of 1:38.481, taking his fourteenth pole position of the season. Hamilton’s Q2 time of 1:38.434 would have been enough to snatch pole position, had he set it during Q3 instead.