F1: Round 17 – Yas Marina, Abu Dhabi – Qualification

Lewis Hamilton was in peerless form and dominated the first-ever qualification session in Abu Dhabi to take pole position, while the fortunes of his rivals ebbed and flowed as the sun set on the virgin circuit.

In Q1, it was Jenson Button who skipped up to join Hamilton on the front row of the grid proving that the new world champion’s form was much improved now he had secured the title. But while his team mate topped the timesheets, Heikki Kovalainen struggled to get the second McLaren into the next stage, a late running finally boosting him to safety.

It was Force India and Renault who had the worst Q1, the teams losing both cars in the first round of qualifying – the most shocking being Fernando Alonso who missed out on Q2 by one spot, blaming a total lack of grip and professing himself unsurprised not to get through.

Giancarlo Fisichella will also not have been surprised to be eliminated, although starting the race dead last can’t be anything other than an embarrassing disappointment. And to make matters worse for Ferrari (Luca di Montezemolo , Michael Schumacher and Felipe Massa were all watching on with pained expressions on the pit wall) Kimi Raikkonen was among the fallers in the second round of qualifying.

Kovalainen was also eliminated in Q2, but this time it was transmission failure that did for his hopes of progressing – he stopped out on track during the session. Meanwhile Lewis was on top of the timesheets again – and once more was the only driver to break the 100s lap time. But in Q2 it was the Red Bull duo of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber who were suddenly in form, shooting up to 2nd and fourth sandwiching a still-strong Button in 3rd.

With fuel loaded on and the skies now completely dark, Q3 seemed to cause some variation in form, with Jenson Button in particular falling back and reporting a nasty vibration on the steering wheel under braking which meant that he never competed for the front row and was probably lucky to secure 5th on the grid.

The Red Bulls both seemed to be coming to their peak and threatened a lock out of the front row over the two Brawns on the second, as Lewis Hamilton faltered – making a mistake on his first flying lap and running wide, and then struggling to find the same sort of pace he’d enjoyed for the entire day up till then. But then a final flying lap shattered the times of his rivals and put him on pole by an astonishing 0.7s, suggesting that he might be running very light: but if he can use pole position, KERS and his inherent pace to good effect in the early laps then he’ll have a country mile in which to get in and pit early in the race and still come up in the lead.

In fact the worrying prospect we’re left with it: will Lewis Hamilton disappear into the literal sunset tomorrow and never be seen again?

Qualification times

Pos  Driver       Team                       Q1        Q2       Q3
 1.  Hamilton     McLaren-Mercedes        1:39.873  1:39.695 1:40.948
 2.  Vettel       Red Bull-Renault        1:40.666  1:39.984 1:41.615
 3.  Webber       Red Bull-Renault        1:40.667  1:40.272 1:41.726
 4.  Barrichello  Brawn-Mercedes          1:40.574  1:40.421 1:41.786
 5.  Button       Brawn-Mercedes          1:40.378  1:40.148 1:41.892
 6.  Trulli       Toyota                  1:40.517  1:40.373 1:41.897
 7.  Kubica       BMW-Sauber              1:40.520  1:40.545 1:41.992
 8.  Heidfeld     BMW-Sauber              1:40.558  1:40.635 1:42.343
 9.  Rosberg      Williams-Toyota         1:40.842  1:40.661 1:42.583
10.  Buemi        Toro Rosso-Ferrari      1:40.908  1:40.430 1:42.713
11.  Raikkonen    Ferrari                 1:41.100  1:40.726 
12.  Kobayashi    Toyota                  1:41.035  1:40.777 
13.  Kovalainen   McLaren-Mercedes        1:40.808  1:40.983 
14.  Nakajima     Williams-Toyota         1:41.096  1:41.148 
15.  Alguersuari  Toro Rosso-Ferrari      1:41.503  1:41.689
16.  Alonso       Renault                 1:41.667
17.  Liuzzi       Force India-Mercedes    1:41.701
18.  Sutil        Force India-Mercedes    1:41.863
19.  Grosjean     Renault                 1:41.950
20.  Fisichella   Ferrari                 1:42.184
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