Lewis Hamilton takes pole in Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

The outgoing world champion Lewis Hamilton claimed the 17th pole position of his career when he came in first place in a floodlit qualifying session for Sunday's inaugural Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.


Reuters - McLaren's Lewis Hamilton left his rivals reeling on Saturday with pole position for the floodlit first Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

The outgoing world champion grabbed the 17th pole of his 52-race Formula One career to push Red Bull's German Sebastian Vettel into second place at the glittering new Yas Marina circuit that hosts Sunday's season-ender.

The 24-year-old Briton was nearly 0.7 seconds quicker than Vettel in qualifying and, despite unknown fuel loads, should run away with the sport's first day-to-night race.

While both titles have been decided already in favour of compatriot Jenson Button and Brawn GP, Hamilton's McLaren team are only a point ahead of Ferrari in third place in the constructors' standings with significant prize money at stake.

Hamilton can count on the KERS energy recovery system that he said offers an advantage of three to four tenths of a second a lap at such a circuit and that the Red Bulls and Brawns lack.

"The car's been probably the best it has been all year," the Briton, winner of two races after a slow start to the season, told a news conference. "It seems to really feel quite
comfortable on this circuit.

"What they've done here is just incredible and it's just a real pleasure to drive here. When you've definitely got the car beneath you, it's just a great drive."

Red Bull's Australian Mark Webber, winner in Brazil, starts in third place with Brazilian veteran Rubens Barrichello alongside for Brawn.

Button fifth

Button, who clinched the drivers' championship in Brazil with a race to spare, qualified fifth for Brawn after failing to live up to the hope of a first all-British front row since 1995.

"I think both of us were a little surprised by the gap," said Vettel, who can consolidate his second place overall on Sunday.

"Lewis has been strong all weekend... it just seems that our KERS button which we have on the steering wheel is not working," he joked, knowing that the team have not had the system installed all year.

"Dancing for rain will be pretty useless here," added the 22-year-old German.

Webber agreed: "The grid this afternoon is the story of the second part of the championship. Lewis has been here and there at a lot of venues, clearly they are very strong here."

Neither Ferrari made it to the final session of qualifying, with 2007 world champion Kimi Raikkonen pegged back in 11th place on the starting grid for his last race with the Italian team.

Italian stand-in Giancarlo Fisichella, with injured Brazilian Felipe Massa looking on, qualified last for what will also be his last Formula One appearance before he becomes Ferrari's test driver.

"I was only a tenth slower than Kimi up until the last sector, but then there was a lot of understeer and the car wouldn't work so unfortunately I didn't get through," the Roman told the BBC.

Renault's double world champion Fernando Alonso, who replaces Raikkonen at Ferrari, also had a demoralising afternoon and qualified 16th.

McLaren's Heikki Kovalainen, who had been quickest in Friday free practice, was 13th after suffering a gearbox problem that will demote him five places if the team have to change it.


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