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Sebastian Vettel will have to play the waiting game in his quest to become the youngest champion in the 60-year history of Formula One as the season as the season reaches a thrilling climax at the spectacular Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi on Sunday.
“The main target is simply to finish the race, which would be a good start, and obviously as high up as possible,” said pole sitter Vettel.
“Clearly it’s not dependent on me. We have to focus on us and then it’s up to the others to deliver, so we take it step by step. It is what it is.
“We knew that before going to Brazil, before coming here, before starting the race here, the event.
“It will be a long race and then after it there are screens around the track and I’ll have enough time to see where others have finished and if there is something to celebrate or not.”
Championship leader Fernando Alonso needs to finish among the top five to claim his third world title to be crowned the youngest three-time winner of the Formula One world title in the sport’s history.
Alonso starts the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix from third on the grid, with Red Bull duo Vettel two places ahead of him on pole and Mark Webber two places behind in fifth.
“Third place is great. It was a good qualifying from us, and now we just need only one more day and perfection because at the moment we have done nothing," he said.
From such a position, Alonso does not have to push or overtake to claim his third title, which at the age of 29 would see him eclipse Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher, who were both 31 when they scored their hat-trick of championships.
“We know the situation, that everything comes down to tomorrow’s (Sunday) race, and anything can happen,” said Alonso.
The Spaniard could sit in third place for all 55 laps around the Yas Marina circuit and leave those around him to worry about their chances.
“We need to complete the 55 laps without any problem. It will be a tough, long race for everyone, but right now we are in a position that is very strong.
“But I’m confident. I’ve been confident for the last five months of the championship.”
Vettel seemed to be unstoppable during qualifying on Saturday as he claimed his 10th pole of the season.
“I can’t ask for anything better than this especially with four drivers in the reckoning for the title. We didn’t look good in the practice session. Now I am really pleased with the result. It’s going to be a tough race on Sunday, but I am confident as the Red Bull car is in great shape. I am looking forward to the race," said Vettel oozing confidence.
The 23-year-old Red Bull star, who trails championship leader Fernando Alonso by 15 points, grabbed the 15th pole of his career clocking the fastest lap of one minute 39.394 seconds to pip McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton (1:39.425) by just 0.031 seconds in a gripping qualifying session on Saturday.
However, two-time champion Alonso stormed back into contention with a lap of 1:39.792 to start in third on the grid, and keep alive his chances of winning his first title with Ferrari by finishing among the top two in the 55-lap twilight race.
"We went out last in the final segment of the qualifying session (Q3) amidst all the traffic. Had we hit the Q3 early, I could have posted a better timing. I am, however, happy to manage to pull off in a single lap. Winning the race will not guarantee me the title as it’s depending on how others finish. I think the pressure is on Alonso and Webber. My objective is to finish as high as possible. Let’s see what happens in the race," added Vettel almost taunting his rivals.
“It was a great lap and I’m proud of it. It was a very tight qualifying session and it’s even more thrilling when you know there’s tension going into it and you know ‘this is it’,” added Vettel.
Vettel became only the seventh driver to claim double figures in a season - Nigel Mansell, Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost, Mika Hakkinen, Jacques Villeneuve and Michael Schumacher being the others.
It was also Red Bull’s 15th pole of the year, equalling the F1 record set by Williams in 1992 and 1993 and McLaren in 1988 and 1989.
McLaren’s Jenson Button (1:39.823) starts fourth, with Mark Webber (1:39.925) a lowly fifth in his Red Bull and in need of help on Sunday if he is to close the eight-point gap to Alonso and overhaul the Spaniard.
“We are amongst the championship contenders. We are going to be in their way but we can’t hold back. We are going to try and score as many points as we can,” said Button who was pleased with his comeback after struggling with the car during before qualifying.
Webber was one of the four contenders going into race weekend in Abu Dhabi but faltered during qualifying.
“I’m not rapped to be fifth on the grid. It’s disappointing but there’s still a long way to go tomorrow (Sunday) – the fat lady hasn’t sung yet. I would have liked to have been further up, but I couldn’t get the pace,” said Webber.
“Obviously I want to hang in there. I need to see the flag. A lot can still happen. I haven’t helped things today (Saturday) but the Championship’s not decided today. It’s a long race. We’re still in the hunt and that’s the main thing,” added Webber.
Alonso, 29, who aims to become the youngest triple champion after having won twice with Renault tried to remain calm during a stressful week.
"It’s going to be a challenging race. My focus is only on getting the 100 per cent of the car and finishing the race. I am confident of doing that. The season has already seen a lot of crazy incidents. Red Bull dominated the first half of the Korean GP before pulling out with mechanical issues. So anything can happen in this sport," said Alonso.
The top 10 is completed by Felipe Massa in his Ferrari, Williams’ Rubens Barrichello, the Mercedes duo of Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg, and finally Renault’s Robert Kubica.
“We start from pole so it couldn’t be better,” said Vettel beaming confidently.
“It was a tough qualifying, we knew conditions could be tricky because temperatures drop at night.”
He looked the most happiest at the post-race conference.
“I’m obviously very pleased. Ten poles in qualifying in one season shows how great our car is. I am not at the top with other guys, so may be we can work on that next year.
“We have to go step by step to make sure we stay where we are, and then we will see what happens,” said Vettel who won the inaugural Abu Dhabi Grand Prix last year.
During the 15-minute Q2 Hamilton caused some anxiety in the McLaren camp as he initially outbraked himself into turn 11, running wide, forcing him to abort that particular hot lap.
Then on a subsequent out lap, the 25-year-old failed to see Massa on a quick lap of his own as he cut across the Brazilian’s line on the approach to turn five.
Within a split second Hamilton realised Massa’s position and took evasive action by cutting across the corner, sending flying a thin plastic bollard that was also housing a television camera.
“Today is a much better weekend, or start of the weekend,” said Hamilton shrugging off the incident.
“We’ve nothing to lose and everything to gain. We’re quite chilled and quite happy. I’m just here enjoying myself and the car and I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”
Alonso, who only sneaked into the top three on his final lap, said: “It was a tough qualifying for everyone, with positions changing constantly.
“I pushed on the limit, and third place is okay. It was a good qualifying, and now we just need one more day.
“But anything can happen in the race. We need to complete the 55 laps without any problem.
“It will be a tough race, a long race, but we are in a strong position.”
The session resulted in Petrov beating Renault team-mate Robert Kubica for only the second time this season, with the Pole 11th ahead of Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi.
The Force India duo of Adrian Sutil and Vitantonio Liuzzi will start 13th and 16th, sandwiching Sauber’s Nick Heidfeld and Nico Hulkenberg in his Williams.
It was a case of back down to earth with a bump for Hulkenberg who last Saturday in Brazil gave Williams their first pole position for five and a half years.
Toro Rosso’s Jaime Alguersuari lines up in 17th ahead of team-mate Sebastien Buemi, the duo enjoying their own private duel at the end of Q1, with the former ousting the latter by 0.117secs.
As has been the case virtually all season the three debut teams concluded their final qualifying campaign by occupying the last six places on the grid.
Lotus Racing have the edge over rivals Virgin and Hispania as Jarno Trulli and Heikki Kovalainen will start 19th and 20th ahead of Timo Glock and Lucas di Grassi.
Hispania duo Bruno Senna and Christian Klien line up 23rd and 24th, the latter still over four seconds away from finding a place in Q2.
1 Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull-Renault) 1 minute 39.394 seconds
2 Lewis Hamilton (McLaren-Mercedes) 1:39.425
3 Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) 1:39.792
4 Jenson Button (McLaren-Mercedes) 1:39.823
5 Mark Webber (Red Bull-Renault) 1:39.925
6 Felipe Massa (Ferrari) 1:40.202
7 Rubens Barrichello (Williams-Cosworth) 1:40.203
8 Michael Schumacher (Mercedes) 1:40.516
9 Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) 1:40.589
10 Vitaly Petrov (Renault) 1:40.901
11 Robert Kubica (Renault) 1:40.780
12 Kamui Kobayashi (Sauber-Ferrari) 1:40.783)
13 Adrian Sutil (Force India-Mercedes) 1:41.914
14 Nick Heidfeld (Sauber-Ferrari) 1:41.113
15 Nico Hulkenberg (Williams-Cosworth) 1:41.418
16 Tonio Liuzzi (Force India-Mercedes) 1:41.642
17 Jaime Alguersuari (Toro Rosso-Ferrari) 1:41.738
18 Sebastien Buemi (Toro Rosso-Ferrari) 1:41.824
19 Jarno Trulli (Lotus-Cosworth) 1:42.516
20 Heikki Kovalainen (Lotus-Cosworth) 1:43.712
21 Timo Glock (Virgin-Cosworth) 1:44.095
22 Lucas di Grassi (Virgin-Cosworth) 1:44.510
23 Bruno Senna (Hispania-Cosworth) 1:45.085)
24 Christian Klien (Hispania-Cosworth) 1:45.296