Nico Rosberg has taken pole position this evening at Abu Dhabi, outperforming team mate and championship rival Lewis Hamilton. Williams' Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa qualified third and fourth and will start from the second row on the grid.
The temperature is a mild 24 degrees in the most important qualy of the year for the implications it could have for the championship, starting just at sunset, in a championship final not seen since 2010, last year in which the last race could have made a difference in the final standings.
As qualifying kicked off, Caterham's Kovayashi and Stevens are among the first out on track. “Checo” Pérez also goes out early in a Q1 that will eliminate five drivers, as many as will be eliminated in Q2, as the field has seen the reincorporation of Caterham.
Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton were out early as well, immediately on the supersofts. These tyres aren't lasting too long, and are certainly not the preferred racing tyre, so teams are likely happy to use up all of their super softs.
Hamilton set the early pace, a tenth quicker than Rosberg and nearly a second ahead of Magnussen. The battle for third is likely to be close as well with gaps amongst the contenders very very small.
Fernando Alonso, whose future seems to be around McLaren and Honda, if you take gossip in account is in a poor 15th place and we expect him to improve quickly with four minutes. Button bumps Alonso into 16th, with Perez and Raikkonen's improvements pushing the Spaniard further down. Both Ferrari drivers though improved moments later, with Raikkonen in particularly good shape, just 1.232s behind Hamilton's pace setting lap.
Jenson Button gets an excellent third position time 0.930 seconds behind the leader seconds before Magnussen bumps his team partner into the fourth position.
With one minute left in the session, lacking the presence of Mercedes and William drivers, everybody is trying to post better times. Maldonado, Gutiérrez, Sutil, Kobayashi and Stevens are the ones watching Damocles' sword on top.
Maldonado enters in 15th place with one tenth of margin but is overtaken by Pérez, who comes in three tenths ahead of the limit while Alonso comes in hard toward the finish line in a dangerous 14 th position. Alonso ends in 10th place while Gutiérrez kills Maldonado time by 8 tenths, right before Sutil displaces Gutiérrez in a very competitive final.
Button finally was 5th fastest, ahead of Ricciardo, Kvyat, Bottas, Vergne and Raikkonen. Grosjean though fastest a 20-place grid penalty due to an engine change, but seeing he will only be able to drop 4 places, he'll have to sit out a stop and go penalty ahead of his first pitstop.
In 17th is Gutierrez, followed by Maldonado, Kobayashi and Stevens, the latter half a second off of Kobayashi's best.
As teams were preparing themselves for Q2 there was the usual activity around pits. Pastor Maldonado said to reporters that "we thought we could fight for Sauber but the slow curves and long straights made us lose time that we could not recuperate in fast and intermediate curves... we will try to get positions back during the race. We could not heat tyres enough to reach optimum temperature, although we think that's good during race laps because it means less tyre wear".
In Q2, while the sun was setting, the Mercedes were yet again out quickly to get a lap in, with Hamilton comfortably topping the times with his first flying lap. Rosberg completed 3 flyers and only managed to get a good lap in on his third lap. Still, it was half a second down on his team mate, but he may have been saving the tyres a bit, as these will be the set he'll start the race on.
Bottas and Massa slotted into third and fourth while Ricciardo set the 5th fastest time. Button on the other hand had to make an additional stop before being able to set a lap as his team noted they needed to put more fuel in the car first. Button replied "are you serious?".
In the closing seconds, Raikkonen secured himself of a top 10 spot while Massa slotted into second place, 2 tenths down on Hamilton. Eliminated are Magnussen in 11th, particularly terrible news for him in relation to McLaren's upcoming driver decision for 2015. In 12th is Vergne, followed by Perez, Hulkenberg and Sutil.
At the start of Q3, Hamilton reported a vibration on his new supersoft tyres, resulting in a less impressive lap and a few lockups. Rosberg ended up fastest in these first runs, recording a 1:40.697, three tenths ahead of Hamilton. Massa went third quickest, ahead of Bottas, Ricciardo, Vettel, Button, Alonso and Kvyat.
On the second attempts, Rosberg probably impressed himself and improved further to secure a brilliant pole position. Lewis Hamilton recorded a marginal improvement on his flying lap, but insufficient to take pole.
Behind the Mercedes drivers, Valtteri Bottas secured third, ahead of Massa. Ricciardo one again qualified ahead of Vettel while Fernando Alonso didn't get further than 10th, outperformed by Kimi Raikkonen who is 9th.
|1||6||Nico Rosberg||Mercedes AMG||1:41.308||1:41.459||1:40.480||13|
|2||44||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes AMG||1:41.207||1:40.920||1:40.866||12|
|5||3||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull Racing-Renault||1:42.204||1:41.692||1:41.267||12|
|6||1||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull Racing-Renault||1:42.495||1:42.147||1:41.893||17|
|13||11||Sergio Perez||Force India-Mercedes||1:42.654||1:42.239||-||15|
|14||27||Nico Hulkenberg||Force India-Mercedes||1:42.444||1:42.384||-||12|