Lewis Hamilton gave his chances of claiming a fourth Formula 1 world championship on Sunday a boost by capturing pole position for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Hamilton enters the final race of the season trailing Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg by 12 points in the drivers’ standings, the latter requiring a top-three finish to clinch a maiden world title.
Hamilton enjoyed the early edge on Rosberg in Q1, going over a second faster than his title rival with his first flying lap after the German got a snap of oversteer coming out of Turn 9 to leave him P5 ahead of Q2.
Rosberg looked set to beat Hamilton’s time in Q2 after outpacing the Briton through the opening two sectors, only to run slightly wide heading under the Viceroy Hotel, costing him a tenth to Hamilton.
Hamilton continued to enjoy his advantage through their first runs in Q3, recording the fastest lap of the weekend to go three-tenths of a second clear of Rosberg and leave the German in need of a mighty final effort if he were to take pole.
Although Rosberg was able to find the time and beat Hamilton’s existing benchmark, Hamilton went faster still to record a lap of 1:38.755 and score his 12th pole position of the season.
Rosberg was left to settle for second, meaning the two title rivals will be side-by-side for the start of the showdown at Yas Marina.
Red Bull, meanwhile, laid the early foundations to play championship spoiler on Sunday by getting both Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo through to Q3 on super-soft tires, giving the team more strategy options for Sunday’s race.
Ricciardo was able to qualify third in Q3, finishing half a second off Rosberg, but an error from Verstappen on his final lap left him sixth on the grid.
Kimi Raikkonen qualified fourth for Ferrari ahead of teammate Sebastian Vettel in P5, giving the Finn a season victory in head-to-head qualifying, the score finishing at 11-10. Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez qualified seventh and eighth for Force India ahead of Fernando Alonso in ninth.
Felipe Massa secured a top-10 grid slot for his final grand prix, ending Q3 in 10th place, while Williams teammate Valtteri Bottas narrowly lost out at the end of Q2, leaving the Finn 11th on the grid for Sunday.
Jenson Button will start what looks set to be his last F1 race from 12th on the grid, with a late improvement in Q2 not enough to get him a top-10 position.
Haas’ final qualifying session of its rookie year ended with a failure routine result as Esteban Gutierrez and Romain Grosjean qualified P13 and P14 respectively, the latter having struggled with his tires throughout Q2.
Jolyon Palmer continued his impressive recent form by qualifying 15th for Renault, with Pascal Wehrlein also providing an upset in P16 as he took Manor through to Q2 for the fifth time in 2016.
Toro Rosso’s troublesome weekend continued in Q1 as both Daniil Kvyat and Carlos Sainz Jr. fell at the first hurdle. Kvyat will start 17th on Sunday, while Sainz ailed to a lowly P21, 2.9 seconds off Hamilton at the front.
Kevin Magnussen was another surprise drop-out in Q1, finishing 18th after late laps from teammate Palmer and Wehrlein shuffled him back. Felipe Nasr opted an early final run, leaving him 19th ahead of Manor’s Esteban Ocon, while Sauber teammate Marcus Ericsson qualified last.
The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 7am ET on Sunday.