Lewis Hamilton was beaten to pole position by his Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas for Sunday’s final race of the year in Abu Dhabi.
World champion Hamilton, who had appeared in ominous form for much of the weekend, was on course to steal pole in the closing moments only for a scruffy end to his last lap which included him running wide at the final corner.
Bottas finished the best part of two tenths of a second ahead of Hamilton under the floodlights of the Yas Marina circuit to secure his second pole in as many grands prix, while Sebastian Vettel will line up in third on tomorrow’s grid.
Hamilton may have sealed his fourth championship at last month’s Mexican Grand Prix, but the Mercedes driver vowed not to take his foot off the accelerator in the closing stages of his title-winning year.
He was not among the contenders at the last race in Brazil after he crashed out in qualifying, and while he recovered to finish fourth it was Vettel who ended his seven-race winless streak.
Here, Hamilton will have to pass his team-mate to seal the 10th victory of his championship-winning campaign.
Bottas has been second best to his team-mate for much of the year, but he set the fastest time during the first runs during the final phase of qualifying, and despite Hamilton’s best efforts he was unable to usurp the Finn in the dying seconds.
Vettel, who overtook Bottas with a gutsy move at the opening corner at Interlagos a fortnight ago to set up his first win since July, was a distant third – some half-a-second slower than Bottas – while Daniel Ricciardo will line up in fourth for Red Bull.
“Things were getting better and better for me in practice and also in qualifying,” Bottas said. “It was all under control, I managed to find time, and it just felt very good with the car.
“I was gutted in Brazil at the last race after being on pole position and missing out on the win so I have got a clear target for tomorrow.”
Hamilton added: “What a lap – Valtteri just had an incredible qualifying – so congratulations to him. I gave it everything, but he did an exceptional job.”
Elsewhere, Kimi Raikkonen was fifth for Ferrari ahead of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.
Felipe Massa, who will start his 269th and final race on Sunday ahead of his imminent retirement from the sport, squeezed into the final phase of qualifying. The veteran Brazilian lines up 10th with his former Ferrari team-mate Fernando Alonso one spot further back.