Nico Rosberg beat title favourite Lewis Hamilton to pole position for the decisive Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix on Saturday as the dominant Mercedes teammates locked out the front row in qualifying. Williams drivers Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa failed to split the leading two but could still play a big part in Sunday’s season-ending ‘duel in the desert’ with their cars right behind on the second row.
Hamilton, hoping to become Britain’s first multiple champion since Jackie Stewart in 1971, leads Rosberg by 17 points but the double points on offer means Sunday’s winner will take an unprecedented 50. The Briton, world champion with McLaren in 2008, was fastest in the first two phases of qualifying but a messy lap in the tense final shootout left him unable to deny Rosberg his 11th pole of the 19-race season.
The pole was the team’s 18th of the campaign, with Brazilian Massa taking the one that got away, and ensured Mercedes became the first engine manufacturer to take every pole in a season since Ford in 1969. “It’s only one step, a very small step,” commented Rosberg, who needs someone to get between him and Hamilton in the race to have a chance of winning the title if neither Mercedes has mechanical trouble. “This weekend is about the championship, not about pole position. It would have been great if there was a Williams in between us, but that can always happen tomorrow. All I can do is try to go for the win and keep the pressure on,” added Rosberg.
Hamilton, winner of 10 races this year to Rosberg’s five but under increasing pressure, has said he wants to take the title with a win and looked unhappy at the outcome. “I generally didn’t have the best of laps but I enjoyed the qualifying session,” said the 29-year-old. “Tomorrow is going to be a special day.”
Red bull at back of grid
Red Bull drivers Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel will start Sunday’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix from the back of the grid after race stewards nullified their qualifying results because of an illegal aerodynamic influence on both cars.
Ricciardo and Vettel finished fifth and sixth respectively in Saturday’s qualifying session, but were then disqualified after the race’s technical delegate found that there was excessive flex in the front wing flaps. Red Bull said in a statement that although “disappointed that we have been singled out” it nevertheless accepts the decision. Vettel will start his final race for Red Bull from last spot after helping secure four straight drivers’ and constructors’ titles. The German driver will race for Ferrari next season, replacing Spaniard Fernando Alonso.
Formula One’s smaller teams felt at least a penny had dropped on Saturday after meeting the sport’s commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone and rights holders CVC to discuss demands for more money. Sauber, Force India and Lotus bosses told reporters that Ecclestone had apologised for calling them ‘beggars’ and recognised they had a point in seeking a re-distribution of revenues.
“It’s one of the first times, I wouldn’t be arrogant to say it’s the only time, where you really feel somehow that with some key people the coin has dropped,” declared Lotus principal Gerard Lopez. “When CVC took over, the sport was generating $245 million for the teams, it’s now generating close to $900 million, but it’s almost in a worse state than it has ever been.”