Hamilton blitzes new Abu Dhabi circuit to claim pole

hamLewis lights up Abu Dhabi with searing pace and pole.

Lewis Hamilton blitzed the impressive new Yas Marina Circuit to take pole position for the inaugural Abu Dhabi Grand prix, smashing the best efforts of Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber by over half of second as night descended on the city.

Marking the end of a season which has seen Hamilton unable to defend his title due to the shake-up caused by new regulations, the 24-year-old issued a stark reminder of the threat he and his McLaren team pose when the performance reset button is pressed, such as in the case of a new circuit like Abu Dhabi.

The McLaren driver, assisted to some extent by the advantage of KERS at this arena, dominated all three qualifying sessions before disposing of the Red Bull drivers in Q3 with a blistering pole lap.

Rubens Barrichello was fourth quickest for Brawn GP just ahead of newly crowned world champion Jenson Button.

The final qualifying knock out session played out under floodlights as night descended on the United Arab Emirates capital creating a spectacular atmosphere for the battle for pole.

The session started at 1700hrs and that gave the drivers further experience of racing at dusk ahead of what will be Formula One’s first twilight grand prix, which will start at dusk and finish in the dark under floodlights.

Toyota’s Jarno Trulli laid down a benchmark time of 1.42.318 around the demanding 5.554 km circuit. Rubens Barrichello, who took an impressive pole position at the Brazilian Grand Prix a fortnight ago, quickly bettered that time with a 1.41.952.

Lewis Hamilton, who dominated Q1 and Q2 thanks to the pace of his McLaren and the advantage of KERS on the long straights, made a mistake on his first final lap, but quickly put himself back at the top of the timesheets on a 1.41.773.

Red Bull came to the fore with late efforts from Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel, the latter driver taking provisional pole on a 1.41.615.

But no one could match the pace of Hamilton who was on an even quicker lap. The Briton was the only driver to break into the 1.40s barrier clocking a 1:40.948 to take his fourth pole position of the season, and the seventeenth of his career.

“Like I always say it was never easy but definitely as fun as it looked,” Hamilton said afterwards. “The car has probably been best it has been all year. It seems to feel quite comfortable on this circuit.

“What they have done here is incredible and a it’s a pleasure to drive here. When you have a good car here it is a great drive.

“With that lap for sure we should have thought about going longer, but I don’t think we were too aggressive [on fuel]. That lap felt like it was getting better and better.”

He added: “Anything could have happened. Clearly we have been very competitive all weekend, and car has felt great. I didn’t have doubts in my mind about what we have done it. It was easy to make mistakes but fortunately I didn’t, so I’m happy with my lap.”

“We are always trying to improve other circuits and say kerbs should be good here, but honestly I think they have almost done a perfect job at this track with the layout,” he added.

“It’s really smooth, the kerbs are nice and in the right places. For racing it is very safe. There’s quite a few opportunities to overtake so should be a good race.”

Jarno Trulli was demoted to sixth place as the timing sheets sorted themselves out, ahead of the BMW Sauber drivers Robert Kubica and Nick Heidfeld.

Nico Rosberg somehow managed to haul his Williams into the top ten to start in ninth place, despite the seeming handling difficulties of the FW31 around the ‘straight-and-brake’ Yas Marina circuit.

Toro Rosso rookie Sebastian Beumi rounds out the top ten.

It was a difficult session for Ferrari as both drivers struggled with the handling of the Ferrari F60 around the demanding 5.554 km circuit. The best Kimi Raikkonen could manage was eleventh, while Giancarlo Fisichella’s lacklustre run of form at the Maranello squad was further compounded when he was embarrassingly knocked out of Q1 after pacing slowest.

“A difficult situation,” Fisichella told BBC Sport. “In the second sector I was only a tenth slower than Kimi, it was the last sector where we lost most of the time.”

Heikki Kovalainen in the sister McLaren was forced to settle for thirteenth after he stopped out on track during Q2 due to a mechanical problem.

Williams’ Kazuki Nakajima just scraped into Q2 with a quick lap at the end of the opening knock-out session, but the Japanese driver, who is under pressure to retain his seat with the Grove-based outfit next year – especially since the team will lose backing from Toyota – struggled to match Rosberg’s pace in Q2 and wound up fourteenth, ahead of Toro Rosso rookie Jaimie Alguersuari.

Giancarlo Fisichella’s lacklustre run of form at Ferrari as Felipe Massa’s replacement was further compounded when the Italian was embarrassingly knocked out of Q1 after pacing slowest.

“A difficult situation,” Fisichella told BBC Sport. “In the second sector I was only a tenth slower than Kimi, it was the last sector where we lost most of the time.”

There was disappointment in the Renualt garage as Fernando Alonso, who will be hoping to end his tenure with the French team on a high before joining Ferrari in 2010, was knocked out of Q1 due to late flying laps from Williams’ Kazuki Nakajima and Toyota’s Kamui Kobayashi.

“It’s not been easy,” the double world champion told BBC Sport. “Nothing’s changed since practice. [We were] not quick in practice, not quick in qualifying. Hopefully we can make some places tomorrow.”

When asked if this was the kind of send-off he had hoped for, Alonso replied: “They know I have given 120% for the last seven years. This is only one race. We are not quick enough and couldn’t find the pace.”

The Spaniard will start Sunday’s race in sixteenth place ahead of the Force India drivers, Tonio Liuzzi and Adrian Sutil, who both failed to progress to Q2 despite appearing to show strong pace in Friday practice.

Romain Grosjean in the sister Renault also struggled with grip and could only manage nineteenth quickest after spinning on his final flying lap.

Qualifying standings:

1       Lewis Hamilton          McLaren         1:40.948
2       Sebastian Vettel        Red Bull        0:00.889
3       Mark Webber             Red Bull        0:01.000
4       Rubens Barrichello      Brawn           0:01.060
5       Jenson Button           Brawn           0:01.166
6       Jarno Trulli            Toyota          0:01.171
7       Robert Kubica           BMW             0:01.266
8       Nick Heidfeld           BMW             0:01.617
9       Nico Rosberg            Williams        0:01.857
10      Sebastien Buemi         Toro Rosso      0:01.987
11      Kimi Räikkönen          Ferrari         0:00.000
12      Kamui Kobayashi         Toyota          0:00.051
13      Heikki Kovalainen       McLaren         0:00.051
14      Kazuki Nakajima         Williams        0:00.422
15      Alguersuari Jaime       Toro Rosso      0:00.963
16      Fernando Alonso         Renault         0:00.941
17      Vitantanio Liuzzi       Force India     0:00.975
18      Adrian Sutil            Force India     0:01.137
19      Romain Grosjean         Renault         0:01.224
20      Giancarlo Fisichella    Force India     0:01.458