ABU DHABI, UAE, November 12 – Newly-crowned double world champion Sebastian Vettel drew level with Nigel Mansell in the Formula One record books on Saturday when he delivered a stunning fastest lap to secure pole position for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
The 26-year-old German steered his Red Bull car round the Yas Marina circuit in dazzling fashion to create a dramatic finale and steal pole from Lewis Hamilton, who will start second on the grid alongside him for Sunday’s 55-laps day-night race.
It was Vettel’s 14th pole this year and the 29th of his career, in his 80th Grand Prix. Briton Mansell reeled off his record 14 poles in a single season with the Williams team in his drivers’ title winning year of 1992.
“I wasn’t very happy with the car on Friday,” said Vettel.
“We thought there was more (performance) in the car, but we couldn’t really get to it. This afternoon was quite a bit better, but this place is tricky in many ways.
“You practice in day conditions when the sun is up and the track is hot. Then in qualifying, it’s getting dark and cool, so the car behaves differently.
“In this qualifying, I had a much better feeling, especially on the soft tyres. It is difficult getting everything into one lap – it’s a long lap and there’s plenty of opportunities to gain time, but a little mistake and it’s easy to lose time.
“I wasn’t so happy with my first run in Q3, but I was happy with my second.”
Hamilton said he was happy with the overall performance over the two days.
“It’s a big improvement for me from the last race. We were quick in qualifying. The car is feeling good.
“Just at the end, that was as fast as I was able to go on that lap. It was not particularly great.
“That’s the way it is. Well done to Sebastian – he did a great lap, but the race is tomorrow and that’s most important day…”
Hamilton was second quickest ahead of his English compatriot and McLaren team-mate Jenson Button with Australian Mark Webber fourth in the second Red Bull.
Two-time champion Spaniard Fernando Alonso qualified fifth ahead of his Ferrari team-mate Brazilian Felipe Massa.
The two Mercedes of Germans Nico Rosberg and seven-time champion Michael Schumacher were seventh and eighth ahead of the two Force Indias of German Adrian Sutil and British rookie Paul Di Resta.
The first part of qualifying began with track temperatures falling with the sun, from over 40 degrees Celsius to around 32 degrees, a change in conditions that improved tyre durability and performance.
As in the final free session, when he was fastest, Hamilton also continued cutting time as he topped the times ahead of Webber and Button, with Vettel fourth.
Unfortunately, it was not such a happy session for veteran Brazilian Rubens Barrichello who was unable to clock a lap in his Williams and will start from the back end of the grid.
Schumacher scraped through after struggling until he switched to soft tyres for his final faster laps when Massa also took a set of softer tyres to ensure he made progress.
The second mini-session Q2 saw Hamilton continuing his coruscating form, clocking a lap of 1:38.434 before a red flag curtailed the action when the base of a plastic bollard landed on the circuit.
This left him clear of Vettel in second place with Alonso third as dusk ushered in darkness and the dazzling glare of the track’s floodlighting system. It also left several teams without a spare set of soft tyres for the remaining qualifying laps.
Schumacher, using soft tyres again, squeezed into the top ten shoot-out, behind the two Mercedes-powered Force India drivers, but it soon boiled down to a fight between McLaren and Red Bull at the front.
On their first hot laps, Hamilton was again fastest in 1:38.704, just four-hundredths of a second quicker than Vettel with Webber third ahead of Button and Alonso, but it was all so close that nobody could feel sure of a prime starting spot.
Another blur of activity in the pits preceded a flurry of final fastest laps in the battle for pole with McLaren taking charge, Button clocking a 1:38.631 before being outpaced by Hamilton and then, in the final seconds, by the astonishing Vettel.