For a season that has seen Lewis Hamilton establish himself arguably as the greatest qualifier in Formula 1 history - statistically, at least - to grab pole position away at a track Mercedes enjoyed the edge in qualifying, to upstage him has taken a significant effort.

Valtteri Bottas was able to edge out Sebastian Vettel in Brazil after Hamilton stuffed his Mercedes into the wall, but this time around in Abu Dhabi, the odds looked stacked against the Finn heading into qualifying.

After all, Hamilton had a fresher engine by virtue of his Interlagos prang and was on top throughout practice, enjoying an edge of two-tenths of a second in FP3, making him the strong favourite for a fourth Yas Marina pole come qualifying.

But a move in the wrong direction on setup proved costly for Hamilton, opening the door for Bottas to grab his fourth pole position of the year, drawing him level with Vettel.

That is not to take anything away from Bottas' efforts in qualifying. At a track that should have theoretically played towards both Ferrari and Red Bull, Mercedes was able to steal a march and lock out the front row of the grid with relative ease.

Neither Bottas nor Hamilton managed to improve on their final flying laps in Q3, yet still managed to gap Vettel by half a second even when the Ferrari driver gained a tenth through his final effort.

While Mercedes and Ferrari were fairly even through the first sector, Mercedes was really able to make its advantage tell through sectors two and three, with Hamilton looking especially rapid in the final portion of the lap in practice.

Bottas sent an early warning shot out to Hamilton in Q1 by finishing marginally faster, and was within a tenth of a second in Q2 also - but surely, with a fresher engine, Hamilton would be the man to beat come Q3?

The lap Bottas produced was almost six-tenths up on his best in Q2 - Hamilton's, by comparison, was just three-tenths better - and even drew plaudits from his teammate across the garage.

"What a lap - he just had an incredible qualifying, congratulations to him," Hamilton said. "Valtteri did an exceptional job, so really, really happy for him."

Bottas' first lap in Q3 was so good that even the Finn himself could not match it with his second effort, with a slow first and second sector prompting Mercedes to tell him to bring it straight back to the pits, hence why he did not park up on the main straight as is now procedure for the front-runners.

The lack of pace opened a door for Hamilton, but he too could not improve, with a scruffy middle sector before a wide run at the final corner costing him a fourth pole at Yas Marina.

"I think just overall it was just little bits here and there. I was up a tenth and a half out of Turn 1, and then I lost it in Turn 5 and 6," Hamilton explained, before revealing a setup shift between FP3 and qualifying had made things somewhat more difficult.

"I made some changes in anticipation of the track cooling, and in hindsight, it probably wasn't the right one," he continued. "But it was nice to experiment, which I hadn't really done all season long. I experimented and then I struggled a little bit with the balance generally through the laps."

Whereas Hamilton had opted to roll the dice in search of a time gain, Bottas stuck with his setup and made marginal gains through the weekend. By sticking to his guns, he was able to get more and more comfortable, leading to his fourth pole of the year.

"It was a really clean, nice session. I just managed to find time run by run from different corners," Bottas said.

"The car was feeling much better than at any other point this weekend. That allowed me to really work on the details - enough details to be on pole."

Hamilton may have the fresher engine, but if he cannot get to grips with his car as in qualifying, it may be Bottas, courtesy of his marginal gains, that can sign off in style in Abu Dhabi.

As for Vettel and Ferrari? As explored in our practice analysis and look at the long runs on Friday, the race is where they could really come into play. Kimi Raikkonen appeared to have the edge in the ultra-soft runs, but from P5 on the grid - demoted thanks to Daniel Ricciardo's late effort - it's unlikely he will be able to make much of an impact.

Vettel himself was left quietly content with his display in qualifying, finishing as the best of the rest to put the Mercedes cars in striking distance for the start on Sunday.

"Practice this morning was a bit tricky but qualifying really came together, so I’m quite happy with that. The gap is big but also it’s a long lap, so naturally the gaps are a bit more spread," Vettel said.

"I think in the race we usually get a little bit closer. Qualifying we’ve seen all year that we’ve never had the car to put half a second between us and somebody else.

"For the race, I’m fairly optimistic. I think yesterday was good, we tried some stuff, so we’ll see how close we get tomorrow. We touched on overtaking – it’s not the easiest one but it’s not impossible, so let’s see what we can do."



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