Nico Rosberg produced one of the best laps of his career when he snatched his sixth straight pole position with a dramatic late effort in Saturday’s qualifying for the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
The 30-year-old German, who was trailing, outpaced his Mercedes team-mate and newly-crowned three-time world champion Lewis Hamilton by 0.377 seconds with his final effort in a closely-fought twilight session under floodlights at the Yas Marina circuit.
Hamilton had been fastest in the two earlier sessions and led Rosberg before he reacted to take pole again, as he did before last year’s showdown race, with a stunning show of speed.
“Primarily, I would just like to win this race because it’s a great feeling,” said Rosberg, who lost last year’s championship in Abu Dhabi when he suffered a mechanical failure after starting from pole.
“I am not thinking about momentum for next year … Before, it was close in the other direction and now it’s close in this direction.
“I am quicker at the moment and I am pleased about that and happy to be on pole again.”
Hamilton, still stuck on 49 pole positions as he has been since the Italian Grand Prix in early September, said: “I’ve been struggling with the car a little all weekend.”
“We’ve been working hard to make some changes, but Nico was just quick today and did a really good job in Q3,” Hamilton added.
Finn Kimi Raikkonen of Ferrari qualified third on the grid for Sunday’s race behind the two Mercedes, as they achieved another front-row lockout, after his teammate, the German four-time champion Sebastian Vettel, had failed to progress from Q1.
“The car has been handling pretty well all weekend,” said Raikkonen, who chose to wear sunglasses on the podium despite it being after nightfall.
“The laps have not been ideal. The first run was okay, but I knew there was room to improve. It was still a bit off what the other guys can do.”
Mexican Sergio Perez was fourth-fastest for Force India ahead of Australian Daniel Ricciardo of Red Bull, Finn Valtteri Bottas of Williams, German Nico Hulkenberg of Force India and Brazilian Felipe Massa in the second Williams.
Russian Daniil Kvyat was ninth for Red Bull and Spaniard Carlos Sainz 10th for Toro Rosso.
Rosberg’s joy was clear as he punched the air with delight on his slow-down lap while Hamilton appeared bewildered and slightly crestfallen, his loss of form since winning his third title at last month’s United States Grand Prix continuing.
Rosberg’s sixth successive pole moves him within sight of Brazilian three-time champion Ayrton Senna’s record of eight, if he can continue his form at the start of next season.
Only four drivers have done better than six consecutive poles.
Senna delivered eight while French four-time champion Alain Prost, German seven-time champion Michael Schumacher and Hamilton have all managed seven.