ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Defending champion Lewis Hamilton dominated qualifying to clinch pole position Saturday for the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and keep the pressure on title rival Nico Rosberg.
Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo qualified in third behind Rosberg, and starts on the second row with Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen.
With temperatures cooling and the sun setting on the Yas Marina circuit, Hamilton dominated all three qualifying sections and edged out Rosberg by .303 seconds to take his career-best 12th pole of the season and 61st of his career — just four behind Brazilian great Ayrton Senna.
"It's kind of crazy to think I have 12 poles," a jubilant Hamilton said. "We put the car in a real sweet spot today."
Hamilton also beat his Mercedes teammate in all three practice runs this weekend, although Rosberg entered the race with the odds stacked in his
However, Rosberg insisted that he was going flat out to beat Hamilton's time.
"I'm not ecstatic about today," Rosberg said. "Lewis was just a little bit quicker and did a great job."
Rosberg, who took pole here in the two previous years, can guarantee his first title by finishing third, even if Hamilton wins the race.
Both Mercedes drivers have won nine races this season.
Hamilton, who is bidding for a third straight title and fourth overall, trailed Rosberg by more than 40 points early in the season and by 33 points as recently as last month.
"I've battled all types of adversity this season," the British driver said. "I have everything to gain tomorrow."
Rosberg has finished runner-up to Hamilton for the past two years and the 2014 title also went down to the final race in Abu Dhabi — although the German driver was only in contention with Hamilton because of the double points rule that has since been scrapped.
This season has seen the best and most focused driving of Rosberg's career.
It started with him winning the first four races of the campaign as Hamilton struggled with engine problems.
"I'm proud of my season," Rosberg said. "But one race to go."
Both drivers may be relieved to see that teen sensation Max Verstappen is starting the race from sixth on the grid alongside Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel.
The 19-year-old Dutchman has been involved in several altercations with other drivers this season — notably Vettel and Raikkonen — and has earned a reputation for risky overtaking moves.
With Vettel and Verstappen vying to finish in fourth place overall, and only five points separating them, both Mercedes drivers will be looking to steer well clear of that private battle.
Getting stuck behind another driver in midfield is another potential headache.
In the 2010 title decider, which also went down to the wire in Abu Dhabi, title
But, following a tactical error, the Spanish driver got stuck behind Vitaly Petrov for much of the race and was unable to overtake as Vettel secured his first title.