Lewis Hamilton, a six-time champion ended his nine-race pole drought to ensure he will start from the head of grid for Sunday’s 2019 Abu Dhabi GP finale.
Hamilton’s four-month wait for just the fifth pole position of his dominant title-winning year is over after a brilliant performance saw him outpace Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas by 0.2 seconds with a Yas Marina track record 1:34.779.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was third but is promoted to the front row next to Hamilton, with Bottas to drop to 20th and last owing to a double engine change.
It sets up a possible repeat of Hamilton and Verstappen’s gripping duel from Brazil, which the Dutchman won.
Charles Leclerc out-qualified Sebastian Vettel to take what becomes third, despite being timed out for the final lap as cars slowed up to create gaps ahead of him. The sister Ferrari was immediately ahead.
Team boss Mattia Binotto admitted the Scuderia “screwed up” as they attempted to maximise the ever-improving track conditions. “It was a risk we knew we had taken, but it didn’t work today,” added Binotto to Sky F1.
In the one team-mate qualifying head-to-head which remained undecided for 2019, Lando Norris claimed the season’s Saturday bragging rights over Carlos Sainz at McLaren at the end of the Briton’s breakthrough rookie season.
Norris headed the midfield battle in seventh, two places ahead of Sainz with Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo in between, and he will now line up sixth on Sunday’s grid owing to Bottas’ demotion.
Sunday’s race – the 21st and final round of the season – starts at 1.10pm live only on Sky Sports F1. Build-up from Abu Dhabi begins at 11.30am.
Abu Dhabi GP Qualifying Top 10
1. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes
2. Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes (penalty)
3. Max Verstappen, Red Bull
4. Charles Leclerc, Ferrari
5. Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari
6. Alexander Albon, Red Bull
7. Lando Norris, McLaren
8. Daniel Ricciardo, Renualt
9. Carlos Sainz, McLaren
10. Nico Hulkenberg, Renault
Four poles had been the fewest for a title-winning driver in a season since Jenson Button back in a 17-round 2009 campaign, but Hamilton always looked favourite through Saturday to add a fifth to his 2019 tally at the last.
Mercedes’ long-held qualifying supremacy has been challenged in recent months, with Ferrari claiming six and Red Bull two of the previous nine poles, but Yas Marina has proved a stronghold in the hybrid turbo era.
Hamilton topped Q1, and although Leclerc moved ahead in Q2 on a second lap, Mercedes’ world champion immediately claimed provisional pole at the start of Q3 before increasing his advantage on the final laps.
“It’s been a while,” admitted Hamilton afterwards as he celebrated career pole 88.
“It’s been a special car and it’s the last time I get to qualify in it so I’m glad to do it proud today.”
Mercedes maintained their record of finishing first and second in every Abu Dhabi qualifying since the current engines were introduced, but Bottas’ back-of-the-grid demotion means their unblemished front-row record was always going to be broken.
By qualifying third ahead of the Ferraris, Verstappen is the chief beneficiary and the 22-year-old will start alongside Hamilton at the head of the field for just the third time in F1.
“This is the best we can do,” said the Red Bull driver. “We all know that Mercedes is quite dominant here.”