By Alan Baldwin
Nico Rosberg stormed to his sixth pole position in a row and denied Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton a landmark 50th in Formula One’s season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Saturday.
The German, who races with number six on his car, left the best to last with a flying lap under the Yas Marina floodlights that knocked the triple world champion off the top slot right at the finish.
“I am quicker at the moment and I am very pleased about that and enjoying the moment and happy to be on pole again,” said Rosberg, who had voiced fears after Friday practice that his car’s high-mileage engine would slow him down.
Hamilton had gone top only seconds before but Rosberg, winner of the last two races, raised his game to cross the line 0.377 quicker and repeat his 2014 pole achievement.
With both championships long decided, for Hamilton and Mercedes, Sunday’s race looks like being a duel between two team-mates determined to go into the European winter break on a winning high.
Their 15th front row lockout was a record for a single season and another could fall on Sunday, with Mercedes aiming to end another dominant season with a 12th one-two finish.
“I genuinely struggled with the car a little bit,” said Hamilton, who was fastest in the first two phases of qualifying for the day-to-night race.
“We’ve been working really hard to make some changes, we’ve had to take something off the car but Nico was just really quick today,” added the Briton, who can take comfort in the fact that only once in six years has the race been won from pole.
Hamilton won last year and will be chasing his 44th career victory – in car number 44 on the 44th anniversary of the founding of the United Arab Emirates.
Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen and Force India’s Sergio Perez filled the second row behind the two Mercedes drivers.
Raikkonen’s four-time world champion team-mate Sebastian Vettel, winner of three races this year, could qualify only 16th after the team wrongly believed the lap time was good enough for him to go through.
“The car’s been handling pretty well all weekend,” said Raikkonen, who will have a set of new supersoft tyres for the race unlike the two ahead of him. “I knew there was room to improve. It was still a bit off what the other guys can do.”
Australian Daniel Ricciardo starts fifth for Red Bull with Williams’ Valtteri Bottas alongside on the third row.
Lotus’s Romain Grosjean, who is moving to Haas next season, qualified 15th after pulling over during the second phase with gear change problems.
There was better news for struggling Honda-powered McLaren, who had Jenson Button qualifying a giddy 12th at the end of their worst ever season.