ABU DHABI (Reuters) - McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton denied Red Bull a fourth successive pole position on Saturday with a sizzling Abu Dhabi qualifying lap that pushed Formula One championship leader Sebastian Vettel off the front row.
Hamilton, the 2008 champion, will have Red Bull’s Australian Mark Webber alongside him for Sunday’s start instead of the German, who had been on the front in all three races to date at Yas Marina.
Vettel qualified third while Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, the defending Red Bull champion’s closest title rival who has a 13-point gap to close with three races remaining, will line up a distant seventh.
Red Bull had locked out the front row of the last three races.
“It’s the first time for a long time to be ahead of the Bulls and starting at the front,” said Briton Hamilton, who was last on pole in Singapore last month but has always started on the front row in the Emirate.
“It’s going to be tough in the race and I hope we are strong enough to fight them once again. The car’s felt beautiful all weekend,” he added after his 25th career pole.
Vettel, who had brake problems in final practice, was told urgently to stop the car at the end of qualifying but played down the problem.
“I don’t know why I had to stop. I was asked to stop. Probably some problem. But it shouldn’t be something major,” the German, chasing his fifth win in a row and looking good for a third successive title, told reporters.
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said it was “a request that came from the engine ranks, but at the moment I have no idea why”.
Vettel also brushed the guardrail in the first part of qualifying, sending out sparks, but appeared to escape without damage. He and Hamilton are the only drivers to have ever won at the harborside track.
Webber, who is effectively out of the championship, inevitably faced questions about so-called ‘team orders’ in favor of his team mate with Red Bull also able to win the constructors’ championship on Sunday.
Alonso, whose car has shown better pace on Sundays than Saturdays in recent races, said he had done the best he could in the circumstances.
“We were not competitive today. I‘m happy with my performance. We struck the maximum,” the Spaniard said.
Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado qualified a strong fourth for Williams with Finland’s Kimi Raikkonen, third in the championship with Lotus, lining up fifth and alongside McLaren’s Jenson Button.
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Mark Meadows