Racing Engineering's Fabio Leimer demonstrated that his impressive pace in post-season testing in Spain was entirely genuine, when he flew to the Saturday GP2 Final feature race pole position in qualifying on the Yas Marrina Circuit in Abu Dhabi.
But Leimer came up against some stiff opposition in the form of Josef Kral in the Arden, who set the first sub-two minute flying lap of the session with a blistering 1:49.612s that proved remarkably difficult for anyone to improve on for the remainder of the 30 minute qualifying period.
Leimer's first flying time was 1:49.848s, still over two-tenths slower than Kral's provisional pole benchmark time, with Dani Clos slotting into third place with a time of 1:49.649s ahead of Jolyon Palmer and Kevin Ceccon. Leimer was on the way to going top when he spun harmlessly at turn 19 in the third sector.
That was the state of play at the mid-point of the session, when the cars completed a six-lap run and came in for fresh tyres and tweaks.
Rapax's Dani Clos was the first car to come back out for a second stab at qualifying with 12 minutes remaining, but it wasn't until Leimer put his foot down five minutes before the end that Kral's benchmark time fell and Leimer went top with 1:49.363s, with Clos also improving to pip Kral for second place and leave the Arden starting Caterham Team AirAsia's Luiz Razia on the second row of the grid.
Any further attempts to improve times and positions were thwarted when Esteban Gutierrez ground to a halt out on track in turn 8 with three and a half minutes remaining in the session, bringing out a brief red flag while the Lotus ART was recovered. Although the clock was stopped and cars were back on track when the green came back out, there was not enough time for the leaders to get out and warm their tyres up sufficiently to improve their previous laptimes. Despite his problems, Gutierrez will start from eighth position, somewhat disappointing after topping the Friday morning practice times.
With GP2 experience clearly proving to be a valuable help to series veterans, the highest new face on the grid is Tom Dillman in ninth place for iSport. Dams' James Calado was one of the few to improve post-red flag stoppage and leapt up from 17th to finish in 12th - just ahead of Dillman's team mate for the weekend, Nigel Melkur.
Former GP2 regular Giacomo Ricci qualified in 11th position on his return to the series, but he will be handed a ten-place grid penalty for ignoring waved yellow flag in the Friday morning practice session that will put him back in 21st place for the start of the Saturday feature race.
Rookie Nicolas Marroc was also handed a ten-place grid penalty for the same offence, but in his case it's rather irrelevant as he qualified in last place in 26th in any case.
Full qualifying times and positions