Abu Dhabi: 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.
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.
A delighted Vettel screamed with joy as he took pole.
"Yes, that’s it, thank you boys," he shouted while back in the paddock former Beatle Paul McCartney admitted he had become hooked by the thrill of the moment. "Now I know why George (Harrison) loved it so much."
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.