Just as he did eight days ago in neighbouring Bahrain, ART's Esteban Ocon stole an early advantage over his GP3 Series championship rival Luca Ghiotto by claiming pole position in Abu Dhabi and with it a slender two-point lead in the standings ahead of the final two races of the 2015 season.
It was an incredibly tight 30-minute qualifying session, with Ghiotto looking to have the measure of the field early on, only for his seemingly firm grip on provisional pole to be prised away first by Kevin Ceccon and then - far more significantly in title terms - by a late charge from Ocon clocking in at 1:55.491s just before the chequered flag came out.
CLICK: Full GP3 qualifying times from Abu Dhabi
As soon as the lights at the end of the unusual pit lane exit went green, the three Trident cars of Ghiotto and his team mates Artur Janosz and Michele Beretta had all been there to lead the entire 24-car field out on track with no time to waste. However all three then played the strategy card, opting to pit at the end of their installation laps and leave Jimmy Eriksson (Koiranen GP) to set the first lap time albeit still far off the expected flying lap pace.
That was finally set by two Status Grand Prix drivers, Sandy Stuvik posting a time of 1:57.763s to go a third of a second ahead of his team mate Seb Morris. However faster laps were quick in coming from Ralph Boschung (Jenzer Motorsport), Matt Parry (Koiranen GP) and Kevin Ceccon (Arden) before Eriksson finally took control at the top with a new benchmark time of 1:56.388s.
Esteban Ocon was quick to respond, the Frenchman able to shave off a further third of a second off the provisional pole time. His next lap was on course to go even faster but a slow final sector scuppered that opportunity, although his existing pace was still enough to hold off improved efforts from Ceccon, Antonio Fuoco (Carlin) and practice pace setter Marvin Kirchhöfer (ART).
All eyes now were on the championship leader Luca Ghiotto who was back out on track after his initial phantom feint. It proved to be a lap worth waiting for, as the Italian shot straight to the top of the timing screens with a new time of 1:55.634s which put him more than four tenths clear of his sole remaining rival for the 2015 drivers title. Ghiotto's team mate Janosz also put in a strong effort and narrowly failed to pip Ocon to make it a Trident 1-2 at the top, settling instead for third place ahead of Eriksson's latest offering.
Concerns that Ghiotto might have exceeded track limits during his flying lap - which could mean the time being deleted by the race stewards - meant that Ghiotto needed to keep pushing. With the tyres starting to lose their gip, the #27 was squirrelly under power which meant that his next flying lap wasn't quite as mighty as the first, but it would do as a banker in case his original time ended up being forfeited and was enough still keep him on pole.
As Ghiotto returned to the pits, his off-sync strategy meant that almost the entire rest of the field was just heading back out having completed this mid-session break for tyres and set-up adjustments. With less than ten minutes left on the clock, Ghiotto didn't hang around on pit lane and was soon high tailing it back out onto the 3.451-mile, 21-turn Yas Marina Circuit to put in his own final push for pole and with it what could prove to be a crucial four point bonus.
Ceccon as the first to make a big move, leaping to the top with an impressive 1:55.507s albeit by putting all four wheels off at the final corner in the process like Ghiotto before him. Ocon was able to improve his time slightly but still not by enough to get in front of Ghiotto, but Kirchhöfer was quicker than both and went into second place just 0.042s behind Ceccon for pole.
Ocon had one more chance to grab pole, and set off determined to do just that with a purple first sector ad a personal best time in the second. A little oversteer through the final corner meant that the lap went away slightly in the final run to the line, but when the time came up on the screens it was clear he had done enough albeit by just 0.016s.
Ghiotto couldn't match that: not only couldn't be challenge Ocon for pole, he wasn't even able to improve his grid position for Saturday from fourth place. However the margins at the top were incredibly tight - less than a tenth of a second cover the top four on the grid, with Ceccon lining up on the front row alongside Ocon and Kirchhöfer keeping Ghiotto company on the second.
Eriksson ended up fifth fastest ahead of Emil Bernstorff (Arden), Fuoco and Álex Palou (Campos Racing), with the top ten on the grid being rounded out by Parry and Janosz
With the starting order now set, the 18-lap race 1 is scheduled to get underway on Saturday at 12.25pm (8.25am GMT). The grid for the shorter 14-lap race 2 on Sunday at 1pm (9am GMT) will be set by reverse grid rules in accordance with Saturday's result.
The GP2 Series is also in action this weekend, with qualifying taking place later today in the much cooler evening conditions under the floodlights at 7.10pm local time (3.10pm GMT).
The the 31-lap GP2 feature race 1 takes place on Saturday evening at 6.40pm (2.40pm GMT), with the 22-lap sprint race 2 scheduled for Sunday at 2.20pm (10.20am GMT).
See full GP3 qualifying times from Abu Dhabi