Nico Rosberg edged out title rival Lewis Hamilton on Saturday to take pole position for the season-ending Abu Dhabi, where the two will fight for the Formula One world championship.
Hamilton was quicker than Rosberg in the first two qualifying sessions but the German driver set the pace in Q3. Hamilton almost went off track as his brakes locked heading into the final corner.
Like the F1 season itself, this weekend has been close between the Mercedes teammates, and Hamilton could not quite find enough speed on his last run to prevent Rosberg clinching his 15th career pole.
Rosberg set a leading time of 1 minute, 40.48 seconds, with Hamilton clocking 1:40.866 and Finnish driver Valtteri Bottas third, ahead of his Williams teammate Felipe Massa. Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo finished fifth ahead of teammate Sebastian Vettel.
“It’s all worked out well. But of course it’s only one small step. This weekend is about the championship, not pole position,” Rosberg said. “It would have been great if there had been a Williams between us, but that could always happen tomorrow.”
Hamilton leads Rosberg by 17 points overall with double points on offer in Sunday’s race, meaning a win is worth 50. Victory will be enough for Rosberg if Hamilton finishes third at the Yas Marina circuit.
Although Hamilton leads Rosberg 10-5 in race wins, Rosberg is up 11-7 in pole positions this season, including four of the past five races.
His third straight pole should give him further confidence, especially after ending Hamilton’s five-race winning run by beating him two weeks ago in Brazil.
“(The) mind set is that I need to get the job done and continue the form I had in Brazil,” Rosberg said. “I’m sure it’s going to be a great battle between the two of us.”
Hamilton, the 2008 F1 champion, said on Thursday that he is not feeling under any pressure here, but he made a couple of mistakes in both Q1 – where he went wide on turn 14 – and Q3. Rosberg, his childhood friend and teenage go-karting rival, showed no signs of nerves.
“I didn’t have the best of laps. But tomorrow’s the crucial day,” Hamilton said. “Of course you want to be top. That’s what you work for. Q1, Q2 was good, but (in) Q3 (I) couldn’t put a comfortable lap together. Nico did a great job.”
Toto Wolff, head of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport, was surprised by Hamilton’s sloppy run in Q3.
“It was a messy lap from Lewis, which was not expected because he had a very good lap in the second qualifying session,” Wolff said. “I won’t tell them anything anymore, they are in their own little bubble and concentrating on the race. I think we should leave them in peace.”