Sebastian Vettel today equalled the Formula One record for number of pole positions in a single-season following another one-lap last-gasp masterclass from the double world champion.
Lewis Hamilton, fastest in second and third practice for tomorrow's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, appeared poised to snatch Vettel's thunder at the Yas Marina Circuit.
Hamilton underlined his speed by going quickest in the first two qualifying sessions, and when he pipped McLaren team-mate Jenson Button by just 0.009secs in the top-10 shoot-out, pole was on for the Briton.
But not for the first time this season Vettel stole top spot on the grid at the death in his Red Bull, beating Hamilton by 0.141secs to take his 14th pole of the season, and so match Nigel Mansell's 1992 mark.
Vettel's also prevented an all McLaren front row, with Hamilton starting second for the seventh time this season, whilst Button lines up third.
Red Bull's Mark Webber finished four tenths of a second adrift of team-mate Vettel and so starts ahead of the Ferrari's of Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa.
Then come the Mercedes duo of Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher, with the Force India pairing of Adrian Sutil and Paul di Resta on the fifth row, although neither man set a time in the final outing.
Following the 15-minute Q2 that was red-flagged at one point as a Ferrari dislodged a bollard and its base at turn six, the expected gap between the top five teams at this track and the rest duly materialised.
It means Sergio Perez starts 11th for Sauber ahead of Vitaly Petrov in his Renault and the Toro Rosso of Sebastien Buemi.
Bruno Senna lines up 14th in his Renault followed by Toro Rosso's Jaime Alguersuari and the second Sauber of Kamui Kobayashi.
Although Pastor Maldonado qualified 17th, a 10-place grid penalty for using his ninth engine of the season means Williams will occupy the back row of the grid.
To compound their woes, Rubens Barrichello also started the day with a new engine - without penalty - but an oil leak saw him complete just five laps in final practice and unable to set a time at all in Q1.
All those who were behind Maldonado now get bumped up a place, so the Lotus duo of Heikki Kovalainen and Jarno Trulli start 17th and 18th, followed by Virgin's Timo Glock and Daniel Ricciardo for Hispania.
In 21st and 22nd will be Jerome D'Ambrosio in his Virgin along with the Hispania of Vitantonio Liuzzi, and then the lowly Williams duo of Maldonado and Barrichello.
Following the 29th pole of his career, Vettel said: "I had to dig deep, especially after yesterday because I wasn't happy with the car in general.
"We thought the pace was there, but we couldn't quite get to it. Today it was better, but the conditions change from practice to qualifying with the sun going down and the temperature changing.
"In qualifying I had a much better feeling, especially on the soft tyres, but then the other difference here is to get everything into one lap because it's long.
"Although there's plenty of opportunity to gain time, if you take risks it's easy to make a mistake.
"I wasn't so happy with my first Q3 run, but I was in the second, and it was just enough to jump ahead of Lewis who has looked strong all weekend."
Asked whether he felt he had done enough when he leapfrogged Button late on, a disappointed looking Hamilton said: "No, but it's been a good couple of days and a big improvement from me compared to the last race (in India).
"But that was the fastest I could get out of the lap. It wasn't my best, with the one in Q2 much better."
As for Button, he complained of a variety of issues with his car as he said: "We know the pace is in the car.
"But it's about finding the right balance because I've not felt 100% comfortable this weekend with that.
"I've been struggling with a nervous rear, and then in qualifying I was suffering with massive amounts of understeer.
"The car overall is working well, but it's not perfect, and Seb did a good job, put it on pole, so we'll have to challenge from behind."