Mark Webber was edged out to second place and Sebastian Vettel third as Lewis Hamilton dominated the battle for pole position at Yas Marina.
Lewis Hamilton has been the pace-setter through most of the weekend, running quickest in the first and last free practice sessions, and the McLaren driver confirmed his pole position credentials in the opening segments of the qualifying hour by claiming top spot in both Q1 and Q2. He then took provisional pole early in Q3 with a lap of 1:40.630, four-tenths clear of his closest competitor. And as his rivals failed to significantly dent the gap, Hamilton has the luxury of backed-out of his final run.
“It’s the first time for a long time we’ve been ahead of the Red Bulls rather than seeing the tail of them at the start of the race. However, I know it’s going to be very tough in the race because they’ve got great race pace,” said Hamilton. “We are strong enough to fight them: the car’s felt beautiful all weekend. I don’t know why the car works so well here. We’ve not really made any improvements to the car since the last race, so I guess it just suits.”
Mark Webber came the closest to upsetting the Briton, for whom it is a sixth pole position of the season. After comfortably making his way through the opening segments, the Red Bull Racing driver found himself six-tenths adrift of Hamilton after his first run. Webber dug deep and found more pace on his final run, halving the deficit but unable to do any more.
“Credit to Lewis, he’s obviously got a quick car this weekend and he bumped us off the front row, that’s the first time in a while,” said Webber. “It was a pretty smooth qualifying session for both Seb and I, and we did what we could.”
Despite settling for second-best in qualifying, Webber expressed hope of beating Hamilton off the line tomorrow. “You never know. Lewis’ starts lately haven’t been phenomenal, so let’s see if he has a good one tomorrow,” he said. “Generally it’s down to how the clutch is and things like that – it’s not really down to Lewis. We’ll see how they go off the line but I’m looking to go forward, for sure. Then we’ll get settled into the race and see where everyone is after that.”
Having won the last four races, Sebastian Vettel struggled on Saturday when a brake problem heavily compromising his running in the final free practice session. His travails of the afternoon continued into the evening. He clipped a wall on his first run in Q1, and was fortunate to suffer no damage. Then, at the end of the session, after securing third spot on the grid, the German was told by his team to stop the car on track. “I don't know why I had to stop,” he said afterwards. “I was asked to stop, I guess there was some problem. It should not be something major.”
“It’s difficult to pass here, even though you’ve got long straights,” he added. “We’ve got the double DRS, so we’ll see if that helps. I’m sure it’s not impossible.
If Vettel had a mechanically-troubled day, title rival Fernando Alonso was simply troubled by rivals. The Ferrari driver looked strong in the early part of Q3 and slotted into fourth. However, he was eclipsed by William’s Pastor Maldonado (fourth), Lotus’ Kimi Raikkonen (fifth) and McLaren’s Jenson Button (sixth) in the final runs. The flurry of quick laps dropped him to seventh, his worst starting position since the Italian Grand Prix, when a broken anti-roll bar saw him trail around at the back of the Q3 order.
“I did almost the same time on three occasions between Q2 and Q3, which means there was nothing more to come,” said Alonso of his performance. “The updates we brought here have improved our performance but the others have not been relaxing on the sofa watching television while twiddling their thumbs...
“Usually, Saturday is the day we suffer the most, while on Sunday things always go better: let's hope that will also be the case this time. It's also true that with so little tyre degradation, the strategic choices are much more limited and so too the opportunities to make up places.”
Behind Alonso the top ten was completed by Nico Rosberg’s Mercedes in eighth, ahead of Felipe Massa and Romain Grosjean for Ferrari and Lotus respectively.