Sebastian Vettel has kept his championship prospects alive in the best possible way, with the German securing his tenth pole position of the season in qualifying for the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
More importantly for Vettel, his chief championship rivals Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber will start from third and fifth respectively. The title’s other contender – albeit a rank outsider – Lewis Hamilton will start alongside Vettel on the front row.
The Red Bulls took the risky strategy of a single qualifying run in the final phase of qualifying, which was a great gamble for Vettel, but a rather big backfire for Webber, who simply could not keep pace on his sole run against the stopwatch.
The final phase of the session saw Hamilton move up to second, and just seconds later, Alonso pipped Button to take third and the all-important cleaner side of the starting grid.
Hamilton didn’t go about helping his cause with a rather clumsy scare in Q2. Having outbraked himself at the end of the back straight, the McLaren driver was searching for a gap in the traffic when he inadvertently got in the way of Felipe Massa under braking into a chicane. With Massa turning in for the apex, Hamilton took avoiding action over the kerbs, clobbering the bollard (and the camera mounted within it!) in his efforts to get out of Massa’s way.
Rubens Barrichello was the fastest driver who was not in a Red Bull, McLaren or Ferrari and went seventh-fastest, while Michael Schumacher outqualified team-mate Nico Rosberg to go eighth-quickest.
And in one of the big upsets of qualifying, Vitaly Petrov outpaced Renault team-mate Robert Kubica for just the second time all season to snatch a berth in the top-ten shoot-out, while the Pole failed to make the Q3 cut for the first time all season.
Kamui Kobayashi shares the sixth row of the grid with Kubica, while Adrian Sutil and Nick Heidfeld will start on the row behind. Nico Hülkenberg – the qulalifying hero at Brazil – managed no better than 15th in qualifying just a week later, and Vitantonio Liuzzi and Jaime Alguersuari completed the Q2 reckoning.
The battle for the honour of not joining the six ‘rookie team’ drivers in being eliminated during Q1 was always between the Toro Rosso pairing of Alguersuari and Sébastien Buemi, and much to his disgust, the Swiss driver found himself outpaced by the Spanish youngster for the fifth race weekend in succession, and having the indignity of not progressing beyond Q1.
With the Toro Rossos starting line astern for tomorrow’s race, the final three rows of the grid represent a Noah’s Ark in the rookie team rankings as well, with Jarno Trulli going quickest of the sextet, ahead of Lotus team-mate Heikki Kovalainen.
Next up is the Virgin pairing of Timo Glock and Lucas di Grassi, while the Hispania pairing line up on the back row. No doubt to Bruno Senna’s relief, the Brazilian finally managed to outpace Christian Klien this time around, having been summarily thumped in qualifying during their previous two outings as team-mates.
But all eyes will be on the front of the grid for tomorrow’s race. Just who will take the championship crown?
2010 Abu Dhabi GP Qualifying Times: