Nico Robserg took his sixth consecutive pole position and his seventh of the season as he beat team-mate Lewis Hamilton by almost four tenths of a second in qualifying for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Kimi Raikkonen was third for Ferrari as team-mate Sebastian Vettel was sensationally eliminated in Q1.
The opening segment began with both Mercedes driver taking to the circuit on option tyres. Hamilton and Rosberg immediately vaulted to the top of the order, with the champion elect putting in a lap of 1:40.974 that remained as the segment’s best, 0.137 ahead of Rosberg.
Perez finished the session third ahead of team-mate Nico Hulkenberg and Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo but as the session came to an end there was drama in the drop zone.
Fernando Alonso was on the cusp in P15 as the seconds ticked away but on his final flying lap he sustained a puncture and was forced back to the pits.
That gave team-mate Jenson Button an opportunity to claim a Q2 spot and the Briton seized it with both hand. He put in a superb lap of 1:42.570 to claim an eventual ninth in the segment.
Also preparing for a final attack was Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel. The German was down in 11th but with times improving all around he required a final run. However, midway through his lap he lost power in the second sector and as a result he plummeted to P16 in the final order and was eliminated in Q1 for the first time since this year’s Canadian Grand Prix when a power unit sidelined him.
With Vettel in P16 ahead of the unfortunate Alonso, the three other drivers eliminated, in order, were Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson and Manor’s Will Stevens and Roberto Merhi.
There were problems for other at the start of Q2. Lotus’ Romain Grosjean, who had finished Q1 in P10 was told to bring the car back to the garage. He managed to get back out for a last-ditch flying lap but as he made his way through his out lap he lost all power and was forced to pull over. He qualified in 15th place.
Joining Grosjean In the drop zone as the session came to an end were Toro Rosso’s Max Verstappen, Button, Lotus’ Pastor Maldonado and Sauber’s Felipe Nasr.
Verstappen was chasing down 10th place team-mate Sainz but the Spaniard was not for dislodging. He improved in the final corners of his final flyer and beat Verstappen to Q3 by just four hundredths of a second. It also handed Sainz the upper hand in the tight qualifying battle between the two, with the Spaniard ending the season 10-9 up against his rival. Button was 12th ahead of Maldonado and Nasr.
At the top, Hamilton was again quickest, his time of 1:40.758 was two tenths clear of Rosberg in second. Perez was again third, this time ahead of Raikkonen, with Daniel Ricciardo fifth.
Perez set the first time of Q3 with a lap of 1:41.184s but he was quickly dislodged by the Mercedes and it was Rosberg who again seized the advantage, with the German setting a time of 1:40.738, 0.278 ahead of Hamilton. Perez was an excellent third, 0.446 down on Rosberg after the first flying lap. Raikkonen was fourth ahead of Ricciardo, Williams’ Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa, Hulkenberg, Red Bull Racing’s Kvyat and Sainz, who did not set a time.
On the final flying lap it looked like Hamilton had found enough pace to claim his first pole position since the Italian Grand Prix as he set a time of 1:40.614 to marginally better his team-mate’s opener. Rosberg, though, was still on track and flying. The German made significant gains through his third sector and crossed the line almost four tenths clear of Hamilton to take his sixth pole position in a row and his seventh of the season.
Perez’s hopes of taking his first top three place in qualifying were dashed in the final seconds as he was outpaced by Raikkonen, while Ricciardo was fifth ahead of Bottas. Hulkenberg qualified in seventh position ahead of Massa and the final row of the top 10 is set to be filled by Kvyat and Sainz.