Early in qualifying, it looked as though Lewis Hamilton's effort to take pole position for the 2012 F1 Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi was on treacherous grounds, as lock-ups left him struggling to set a decent flying lap. But the moment it all came together and clicked, he was unstoppable for the rest of the afternoon.
Sebastian Vettel also had an early scare in qualifying, but then seemed to settle down despite a glancing blow against the barrier. However, his efforts to start on the front row alongside Hamilton were thwarted by his team mate Mark Webber, and a sudden order over the team radio from Renault to stop the car immediately on the cool down lap after Q3 added late drama with the possibility that the Red Bull might have a serious issue that could even cost Vettel his hard-won third place on the grid.
And as for Fernando Alonso's hopes that Ferrari's raft of upgrades on the car for this weekend's race? Don't ask. There was practically steam coming out from under the Spaniard's helmet as Q3 went steadily downhill amid a welter of frustrating lost opportunities, including a number of on-track encounters with other cars that left him fuming in the twilight gloom.
Even at the start of qualifying an hour earlier, the sun had already been low in the sky and the shadows lengthening and deepening over the Yas Marina Circuit as Sauber's Kamui Kobayashi posted the first time of qualifying for the 2012 Abu Dhabi F1 Grand Prix.
Kobayashi's time of 1:43.939s set the initial benchmark but it was soon bested by Pastor Maldonado posting a lap of 1:42.595s in the Williams. That stood as the best lap for several minutes until the big guns came out to join the battle: Ferrari's Fernando Alonso went top only for Maldonado to respond straight away, but Alonso's subsequent effort of 1:41.939s was enough to see off the Venezuelan's challenge for the rest of Q1.
Jenson Button was also quickly posting fast times, but it took a little longer for his team mate Lewis Hamilton to get into his groove: his first two laps ended up with lock-ups, but once he found his rhythm the McLaren driver smashed Alonso's earlier best effort by a whopping 1:41.497s, which needed no further follow-up.
Despite their technical glitches in earlier practice sessions, the Red Bulls both felt confident enough to leave it late before coming out for their qualifying runs. Both drivers took time to get their tyres up to optimum conditions, but once they did they both safely leapt up into the top ten - despite Vettel having earlier drafted slightly wide over the kerbs and given the barriers a glancing blow that sparked dramatically in the low-light conditions.
With all the big names looking comfortably through to Q2 and six of the seven elimination spots handed to the usual suspects at Caterham, Marussia and HRT, attention at the end of the first part of qualifying focused on the identity of the seventh driver who would play no further part in proceedings.
Paul di Resta was clearly feeling the pressure, having earlier complained of traffic on his initial flying lap attempts in the Force India. Once he switched to the soft option tyres for his final run, he bounced up into the safety of 11th place with a lap of 1:42.572s leaving Kamui Kobayashi on the bubble in 17th and Jean-Eric Vergne in the drop spot one place back. Vergne gave it his all on his final flying lap but overcooked it and spun near the end; while he had time to rather the car up and start one final lap before the chequered flag came out, the far-from-ideal circumstances left him rattled and unable to improve his time - to Kobayashi's relief.