Lewis Hamilton struck the first major blow of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend, by claiming Pole Position for the 12th time in 2016, comfortably 0.3 ahead of title rival and Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg.
Going into final Q3 runs, Hamilton held the advantage, but on the final laps, Rosberg was marginally up in S1, before the Brit was slightly quicker in S2. Through the final, twisty sector was where Hamilton made his bid for pole, and eased to his 61st, in a time of 1:38.755.
Behind the two Mercedes, Daniel Ricciardo pipped Kimi Raikkonen to P3, in the dying stages. Row three will be Sebastian Vettel and Max Verstappen. Both Red Bull's will start the race on the more durable SuperSoft tyre.
Nico Hulkenberg took 'Best-of-the-rest' pole in P7, ahead of Force India team-mate Sergio Perez.
The fifth row of the grid will be comprised of old-rivals Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa in his final Formula One race. Jenson Button will start his 305th and final Grand Prix in P12.
Fifth Q2 appearance for Wehrlein
After a torrid practice programme, Toro Rosso's weekend went from worse to catastrophic, as both Danill Kvyat and Carlos Sainz Jr failed to make it through the opening 18 minutes of qualifying, starting P17 and P21 respectively.
Fresh from scoring points for Sauber in Brazil, Felipe Nasr's confidence bubble was burst, as he was knocked out by Jolyon Palmer in the dying embers of the session. Nasr's team-mate Marcus Ericsson was slowest, and will start P22 and last.
Kevin Magnussen thought he had done enough to get into Q2 in his farewell race for Renault, although Pascal Wehrlein took the final spot in Q2, with a last-ditch effort. It was the fifth time in 2016 that Manor have been in Q2 on merit, and raises Wehrlein's stock as his future is still uncertain. Team-mate Esteban Ocon was only P20.
Meanwhile, up front, Hamilton was on fire in Q1. His 1:39.487s was the first time the 100 second barrier had been beaten over the weekend, and was 0.851s clear of Raikkonen in P2. Rosberg was P5, having made a two mistakes over the course of his single flying lap.
Red Bull try alternate strategy as Button knocked out
Christian Horner has often said that the only way for Red Bull to try and beat Mercedes is to try a different strategy and hope for the best. His Red Bull team tried their now customary Q2 trick of trying to get through on the Prime tyre, in this case, the Red-marked SuperSoft. Despite having reservations near the end of the session, both Ricciardo and Verstappen made it through and will start on that tyre, as opposed to the more brittle UltraSoft of the Mercedes duo.
As always, attention was on the squabble to get into Q3, with Alonso being the star of the session, getting into the Pole Position shootout at the expense of Valtteri Bottas. Button complained of a little understeer after he completed his final qualifying lap, but as he gets to start on fresh tyres for the race, he wasn't too upset with a P12 starting position.
The Haas duo will make up the seventh row, with Esteban Gutierrez out-qualifying Romain Grosjean in their final race as team-mates.
Jolyon Palmer was P15, ahead of Wehrlein's Manor.
Up front, Hamilton was once again quickest, atlhough the gap to Rosberg was much closer. Raikkonen was third quickest, just 0.2s down the benchmark of the W07 Hybrid.
Hamilton held a 0.346s advantage after the first runs, a 1:39.013s - 1:39.359s over Rosberg, with Raikkonen, Ricciardo, Verstappen and Vettel following behind, but not even within half-a-second of the Mercedes' pace.
Next time around on the second runs, Rosberg went purple in S1, before Hamilton clawed it back in S2. Being kinder on the out-lap ot his tyres paid off for Hamilton in the final sector and his 1:38.755 was enough to secure a 61st career pole. Ayrton Senna is now just four ahead, Michael Schumacher seven, in the all-time pole list.
Ricciardo's 1:39.589s was good enough to secure himself P3 and best seat on the grid for the fireworks into T1 at lights out, just pipping Raikkonen at the death.
There was some good news for the Finn however, as he out-qualified Vettel 11-10 across the season, owing to rich vein of form since he was resigned by the team. A mistake at T11 forced Verstappen to abort his final lap.
Hulkenberg, in his 78th and final Force India race was 0.02s quicker than Perez, whilst Williams were forced to tell the retiring Massa that 'Fernando was faster than you', with the McLaren taking P9 at the death.
Tomorrow's race is underway at 13:00pm UK time on both Sky Sports F1 and Channel 4.
|3rd||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull|
|6th||Max Verstappen||Red Bull|
|7th||Nico Hulkenberg||Force India|
|8th||Sergio Perez||Force India|
|17th||Danill Kvyat||Toro Rosso|
|21st||Carlos Sainz Jr||Toro Rosso|