Lewis Hamilton (1:40.630) won pole for the 2012 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix with a stunning early run to pole at the Yas Marina Circuit. Mark Webber joined him on the front row, as Sebastian Vettel could not beat his teammate on a final run. Vettel stopped on his cool down lap on orders from the team, via Renault, and had to be picked up make it back to parc ferme. Both Q1 and Q2 were fairly standard, with Jean-Eric Vergne joining the usual six dropping out in the first session, while both Force India drivers and Schumacher were knocked out in Q2, along with both Sauber drivers and Bruno Senna. The latter might have been impeded by Sergio Perez in Q1, an incident investigated by the stewards after qualifying. Pastor Maldonado, Kimi Raikkonen, Jenson Button, Fernando Alonso, Nico Rosberg, Felipe Massa, and Romain Grosjean completed the top ten qualifiers.
Hamilton (1:43.285) set the fastest time for the morning session, leading teammate Button, Vettel, Alonso, and Webber as the fastest five during the incredibly hot ninety-minute practice. Hamilton set his fast time with just under a half hour remaining in the session, and no other driver could top him after that point. Vettel attempted, but could not push his Red Bull beyond the McLarens. Despite the green track, few drivers got too sideways. Vettel had a moment or two, as did Glock, but Perez managed to increase everyone’s heart rate by running wide at pit in, driving across the runoff area to keep from slamming into the barrier. Meanwhile, Caterham’s Friday driver Giedo van der Garde remained in the garage, as his engine had not taken to its installation.
The temperatures dipped for the afternoon practice eon Friday, leaving space for Vettel (1:41.751) to continue his fast streak. Hamilton, Button, Webber, and Grosjean completed the fastest five while a struggling Alonso could only muscle his Ferrari to seventh fastest. The session seemed rather a Vettel-Hamilton show as the two attempted to best the other, but the German came out consistently on top on the short soft tyre runs. Meanwhile, Hamilton also complained of similar steering wheel issues that caused a change mid-race last weekend. Webber also suffered car issues, as either the KERS or water generator caused a leak that saw the Austrailian parked in the garage for much of the session. A few more drivers spun or went wide in the afternoon than the morning, but no major incidents occurred.
Hamilton (1:42.130) again went fastest for the final practice, as Vettel spent much of the hour in the garage with a brake issue. The German did mange one final flying lap after the flag, posting the third fastest time, but Red Bull lost a good bit of running for the championship leader. Button ended the session second fastest, with Webber and Hulkenberg rounding out the fastest five. Though Webber spent the session lapping, he did nearly have a collision with Raikkonen, who nearly ran into the back of the Red Bull driver as Webber entered the pits slowly. A few other drivers had minor moments running wide or taking to the runoff area.
The twenty minutes of Q1 began as the sun dipped toward the horizon. Quickly, Maldonado, Kobayashi, Grosjean, and Pic ducked through the tunnel to exit pit lane and get the session started. Others soon followed, with nearly half the field onto the track with just one minute gone in the session. Kobayashi (1:43.939) set the first time, only to have Maldonado better it. At that point, only Vettel, Webber, Hamilton, and Rosberg remained in the garage with four minutes elapsed.
Five minutes in, Maldonado (1:42.595) led Grosjean, Di Resta, Kobayashi, Pic, Glock, Petrov, and Hulkenberg as the nine drivers to have set times. Raikkonen soon popped up to second fastest, while Alonso’s (1:42.574) first time put him fastest of all. Maldonado took two tenths off that time on his next time around, as the Red Bull drivers remained in the garage. Button went third fastest on his first lap, while Hamilton managed only fourteenth fastest.
Vettel and Webber did not leave the garage until nearly halfway, with eleven minutes to go. Maldonado led Raikkonen, Alonso, Button, Hulkenberg, Massa, Perez, Schumacher, and Senna as the top ten at that time. At halfway, Pic, Glock, de la Rosa, Petrov, and Karthikeyan sat in the knockout zone with Rosberg, Vettel, and Webber, none of whom had set a proper time. Hamilton remained down the order, having made a mistake on each of his first two timed laps. Meanwhile, Alonso gained more time and went back to the top of the order. As most of the drivers went back to the garage, Hamilton cruised to the top position on the timesheet, six tenths faster than Alonso.
Webber managed only twelfth fastest, with Vettel just over a tenth slower than his teammate on their first timed laps with seven minutes remaining, though Vettel soon moved up to fourth. At that time, Vergne, Kovalainen, Pic, Glock, de la Rosa, Petrov, and Karthikeyan were all in the knockout zone. Hamilton (1:41.497) led Alonso, Massa, Button, Vettel, Maldonado, Raikkonen, Perez, Schumacher, and Rosberg as the top ten with five minutes to go. Di Resta sat on the bubble at that time, having complained of traffic, while teammate Hulkenberg was up in eleventh.
In the final minutes, Vettel heard that his lap was fast enough and he could pit if he chose. Those in the top four had already pitted while the German continued to lap. Pushing hard, he managed to kiss the wall, but continue on lapping. Teammate Weber moved up to second fastest as the session wound down, as Vergne lost his Toro Rosso in the final turn while attempting to get out of eighteenth place. In the final moments, Rosberg jumped up to second fastest on soft tyres, as seven of the top eight drivers sat in the garage. Most drivers in the mid-field began to pit on the final post-flag laps as Vergne remained slow on his final lap. In the end, Hamilton (1:41.497) led a top ten of Rosberg, Webber, Alonso, Massa, Maldonado, Grosjean, Vettel, Raikkonen, and Button. Word also came immediately after the session that a blocking incident between Perez and Senna would be investigated after qualifying.
Knocked Out in Q1:
18. Jean-Eric Vergne
19. Heikki Kovalainen
20. Charles Pic
21. Vitaly Petrov
22. Timo Glock
23. Pedro de la Rosa
24. Narain Karthikeyan
No driver waited as the light went green for the fifteen minutes of Q2, though Di Resta and Perez were soon on their way. Quickly, much of the rest of the field joined, on the softer tyre compound. All drivers but Hulkenberg had begun lapping three minutes into the session. Raikkonen (1:41.635) led five minutes into the session, only to lose position to his teammate, then Webber. Maldonado, Rosberg, Schumacher, Perez, Senna, Kobayashi, and Ricciardo rounded out the top ten at that point, but times were coming in fast and furious, with Hamilton taking over the top spot from Webber. Pushing for a fast first lap, Vettel had another little mistake and slowed, leaving his first time well off the pace. Alonso, meanwhile, posted the fastest first sector and put together a lap about a tenth and a half off Hamilton’s leading pace, slightly held up by Webber. Vettel quickly put things back together, slotting in between Hamilton and Alonso.
Hamilton led Vettel, Alonso, Webber, Grosjean, Raikkonen, Massa, Button, Maldonado, and Rosberg at halfway. A minute later, Schumacher, Perez, Senna, Kobayashi, Ricciardo, Hulkenberg, and Di Resta (who had set no time) were in the knockout zone. Webber took the top position for a moment, only to immediately lose it to Hamilton.
About half the drivers sat in the garage with five minutes to go. Both Button and Maldonado headed back out on new soft tyres, down in eighth and ninth positions respectively. The top five remained in the garage when two minutes remained, as Perez, Di Resta, Rosberg, Schumacher, Kobayashi, Senna, and Ricciardo all worked to move out of the knockout zone. Grosjean rejoined from fifth, not feeling terribly safe.
Rosberg had a fastest overall second sector after a slow first sector, hoping to move up from thirteenth. He did so, going seventh fastest. Massa pitted from eighth as the flag flew. Schumacher was fourteenth fastest, and could not improve. Hulkenberg also gave up, dropping out from eleventh. In the end, Hamilton (1:40.901) led Webber, Vettel, Alonso, Raikkonen, Grosjean, Rosberg, Massa, Button, and Maldonado into the fight for pole in Q3.
Knocked Out in Q2:
11. Nico Hulkenberg
12. Sergio Perez
13. Paul Di Resta
14. Michael Schumacher
15. Bruno Senna
16. Kamui Kobayashi
17. Daniel Ricciardo
Raikkonen waited for the green light for the ten minutes of Q3, while Alonso, Rosberg, and Grosjean soon followed him. Within the first minute, only Vettel, Massa, and Maldonado remained in the garage. The championship leader quickly joined under the lights, with the natural light fading from the circuit. Raikkonen’s first time was a solid 1:41.756, with Grosjean a few tenths slower. Rosberg soon beat Raikkonen’s time, only to have Alonso go fastest. Hamilton quickly bettered Alonso by nearly nine tenths. Webber popped in between them, only to have Vettel supplant his teammate.
At halfway, Hamilton (1:40.630) led Vettel by a half second, with Webber, Alonso, Rosberg, Button, Raikkonen, and Grosjean completing the top eight. Massa had only just joined the session while Maldonado remained in the garage. Most drivers returned to the garage when three and a half minutes remained, leaving the track to Massa and Maldonado. Raikkonen soon rejoined with fresh tyres, as did Webber. Alonso did so just before a raft of cars flew back out onto the track. As Alonso rejoined onto the pit lane, so did Lotus release Grosjean almost into his path. The stewards investigated after the session and gave no penalty. Only Rosberg remained in the garage when two minutes remained, and he soon climbed out of his Mercedes to sit on a fifth fastest time. Meanwhile, Massa had moved up to sixth fastest, and Maldonado jumped up to third fastest.
Hamilton was the last man across the line just before the flag for a final run. Raikkonen managed only fifth for his lap, as Webber moved up to second, more than three tenths off Hamilton’s time. Alonso could only do sixth, only to be dropped to seventh by Button. Pushing on his final lap, Vettel could not beat Webber and settled for third fastest, leaving room for Hamilton to pit and rest on his former fast time to keep pole. Vettel stopped on the cool down lap, upon radio orders from the team. Afterwards, Christian Horner informed media that Renault had told the team to stop the car.
Final Qualifying Times for the 2012 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix:
Driver Team Time Laps 1. Lewis Hamilton McLaren 1:40.630 15 2. Mark Webber Red Bull 1:40.978 17 3. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:41.073 16 4. Pastor Maldonado Williams 1:41.226 22 5. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1:41.260 20 6. Jenson Button McLaren 1:41.290 20 7. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:41.582 17 8. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:41.603 17 9. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:41.723 17 10. Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:41.778 24 11. Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1:42.019 16 12. Sergio Perez* Sauber 1:42.084 17 13. Paul Di Resta Force India 1:42.218 16 14. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1:42.289 14 15. Bruno Senna Williams 1:42.330 18 16. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 1:42.606 17 17. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1:42.765 14 18. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:44.058 9 19. Heikki Kovalainen Caterham 1:44.956 11 20. Charles Pic Marussia 1:45.089 10 21. Vitaly Petrov Caterham 1:45.151 11 22. Timo Glock Marussia 1:45.426 9 23. Pedro de la Rosa HRT 1:45.766 8 24. Narain Karthikeyan HRT 1:45.382 9
*post-qualifying stewards’ investigation