Nico Rosberg beat title favourite Lewis Hamilton to pole position for the decisive Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix as the dominant Mercedes team mates locked out the front row in qualifying.
Williams drivers Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa failed to split the leading two but could still play a big part in Sunday’s season-ending ‘duel in the desert’ with their cars right behind on the second row.
Hamilton, hoping to become Britain’s first multiple champion since Jackie Stewart in 1971, leads Rosberg by 17 points but the double points on offer means Sunday’s winner will take an unprecedented 50.
The Briton, world champion with McLaren in 2008, was fastest in the first two phases of qualifying but a messy lap in the tense final shootout left him unable to deny Rosberg his 11th pole of the 19-race season.
The pole was the team’s 18th of the campaign, with Brazilian Massa taking the one that got away, and ensured Mercedes became the first engine manufacturer to take every pole in a season since Ford in 1969.
“It’s only one step, a very small step,” commented Rosberg, who needs someone to get between him and Hamilton in the race to have a chance of winning the title if neither Mercedes has mechanical trouble.
“This weekend is about the championship, not about pole position. It would have been great if there was a Williams in between us, but that can always happen tomorrow.”
Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo and four times world champion Sebastian Vettel filled the third row with Toro Rosso’s Russian roookie Daniil Kvyat and McLaren’s Jenson Button eighth in what could be his last race in Formula One.
Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso, the Spaniard who is set to join McLaren next year, were ninth and 10th respectively.