Lewis Hamilton secured pole position for the 2012 FIA Formula One Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi in the dusty twilight of Yas Marina Circuit while championship challengers Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso struggled in comparison.
"Our car works incredibly well around here," Hamilton said cheerfully post-session. "Our aero package really suits this track; the set-up was perfect, and everything came together perfectly for qualifying."
Hamilton, last year’s race winner, topped each of the day’s sessions from Free Practice 3 in the afternoon to Qualifying 3 as night fell over the Arabian Peninsula. The track was bright as ever, though, and the McLaren driver’s 1:40.630 lap exceeded his nearest competitor Mark Webber’s fastest by .34 seconds.
I don’t why I was asked to stop; I think probably some problem.
Vettel, though he set a time just behind his teammate’s, stopped on track after the checkered flag, raising concerns about the legitimacy of his qualifying session which will be addressed by the stewards later.
"I don’t why I was asked to stop; I think probably some problem," Vettel said. "I’m not entirely happy with my qualifying, the last part of qualifying was quite tricky for me. I think I should have been a little bit quicker, whether it would have been enough to beat Mark… obviously he’s on a different sheet of paper."
He can take hope, however, in title rival Alonso’s poor form back in seventh on the grid. Despite hard overnight work by the entire Ferrari team to prep his car, the pace was gone all day. Alonso claims he had resigned himself to such a result after apparent slowness in the Free Practices.
"It would have been too optimistic to hope for more in Q3: a place between fifth and eighth was within our expectations going into the session and that’s where we are," he said. And yet, the goal is as clear as ever: "We know that in the three remaining races, we must score fourteen points more than Vettel and that is our one and only objective."
"The car hasn’t felt fantastic all weekend but we decided we weren’t going to change the car’s set-up from where it was for the last race," he said. "It was the right choice because in the end the circuit came to us in qualifying." An ironic testament to the mundane similarities of all new Hermann Tilke-designed tracks. Is there even any reason to attend practice?
For Jenson Button there was today, as he set the second-fastest time behind Hamilton in FP3. That speed did not materialize into qualifying, however, as he dropped four spots by the evening, eventually lining up sixth.
Nico Rosberg made it to eighth while the other Mercedes made it only to Q2. On his final flying lap, Michael Schumacher asked over the radio if he would have another opportunity in the remaining seconds. "Negative, negative," came the reply, leaving him stranded with a fourteenth-best time.
"We changed our approach a little for the last run in Q2," Schumacher told reporters. "And then I did not properly make use of it in the first sector and particular in turn one. So we are not quite where we would want to have qualified."
Sahara Force Indias Nico Hulkenberg and Paul di Resta held eleventh and thirteenth, respectively, split by Sauber's Sergio Perez. As Perez winds down his career with the team (McLaren-bound for next year) Hulkenberg will by eyeing the vacancy at Sauber he's slated for. Kamui Kobayashi, having finished a dismal 16th, may also be on his way out of the white and gray car, freeing a second seat on the grid for an enterprising young driver at next week's test in Yas Marina.
For Vettel, the spot in third must have come as a shock. He's won two of three Abu Dhabi Grands Prix and only missed out last year due to a first-corner flat tire, though he started from pole. It's also where he took the points lead in 2010 for the first time and in the last race, sealing World Championship number one. But although he starts third, the Ferrari starts seventh, and a finish in that formation at least could bank some points towards World Championship number three.