|Red Bull's German driver Sebastian Vettel celebrates pole position, but knows Alonso isn't far behind him [AFP]
Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel has taken a step closer to claiming the Formula One title by claiming pole position in the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, putting pressure on championship leader Fernando Alonso.
With an unprecedented four drivers still in contention for the title, Alonso still put himself in a good position to clinch the championship at the Yas Marina circuit by finishing third in qualifying. McLaren's Lewis Hamilton - a long shot for the title - was second, while Alonso's closest challenger Mark Webber of Red Bull was a disappointing fifth.
The 23-year-old Vettel, celebrating his 10th pole of 2010 and a record-equalling 15th in a single season for his team, could do no more at a circuit where he won last year and where he will probably have to win again to become the sport's youngest champion.
Alonso has an eight-point lead over Webber in the championship standings, while Vettel is 15 points behind and Hamilton 24 points back.
If the finishing order stays the same as the start then Alonso will become the sport's youngest triple champion - meaning he need not overtake anyone on Sunday if he keeps position at the start.
Alonso did not expect such a straightforward outcome, or easy afternoon, however.
"We know the situation, we know the four contenders. Anything can happen in the race," Alonso told reporters.
The 23-year-old Vettel held up one finger and stuck out his tongue after taking his 10th pole of the year. He now has a chance to repeat last year's performance, when he led a one-two Red Bull finish in the Gulf.
"Obviously, we start from pole. It couldn't be better,'' Vettel said.
"At the practice, we didn't look too good but we went out last and we did it. It was a very good job by everyone, the whole team.''
Webber's disappointing performance was just what Alonso wanted.
"Third place is good for us," said the 29-year-old Alonso, with the King of Spain and Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo among the VIP audience.
"We just need one more day."
Australian Webber, who starts behind McLaren's outgoing title-holder Jenson Button in fourth place, now has an uphill battle to become his country's first champion since Alan Jones 30 years ago.
"I could not get the pace. We are still in the hunt, that's the main thing. It is disappointing but there is still a long way to go. The fat lady has not sung yet," said Webber.
His team boss Christian Horner recognised there was work to do.
"The job for Sebastian is quite clear. Sebastian has to get his head down and get on with it," he said. "Mark has to beat Alonso."