Sebastian Vettel will start tomorrow’s title-deciding Abu Dhabi Grand Prix from pole position after delivering a searing qualifying lap at the Yas Marina circuit. The German kept his hopes of the championship alive by beating McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton to top spot in a vitally important session, though Fernando Alonso remains favourite having set the third fastest time of the day. Meanwhile Mark Webber’s hopes took a blow, the Aussie only managing P5 in his Red Bull. Here’s how the action unfolded.

Credit: Red Bull Media

The session started in typical fashion: all six new cars were eliminated in Q1, with Jarno Trulli the quickest of the bunch. Heikki Kovalainen was next up, completing a solid end to the season’s qualifying sessions for Lotus, followed by the Virgin cars of Timo Glock and Lucas di Grassi. At Hispania Bruno Senna out-qualified Christian Klien for the first time in their three races as team-mates. The Spanish team’s cars will, as has been the norm in 2010, share the back row of the grid tomorrow.

Elsewhere there was decent battle between the Toro Rossos to avoid being the unlucky seventeenth man to be eliminated. Jaime Alguersuari launched an attack on Sebastien Buemi late-on, and the Spaniard got the job done – but Buemi was on a final quick lap. Seb looked set to beat Jaime, but a scrappy moment in the final sector cost him dear. He failed to beat his team-mate’s time and dropped out in Q1 for only the second time this year.

There was a bit of controversy in Q2 as Felipe Massa and Lewis Hamilton had a moment, the McLaren driver getting caught napping as the Brazilian steamed past him. Lewis recovered to set the fifth quickest lap, but will he be hit with a grid penalty?

For the first time this season Robert Kubica failed to make it in to Q3, only managing the eleventh fastest time. In a further shock his team-mate Vitaly Petrov was comfortably through. Robert has clearly decided to start his winter holiday early.

Also eliminated were Kmaui Kobayashi, Adrian Sutil, Nick Heidfeld and last weekend’s polesitter Nico Hulkenberg. The young German will start a disappointing 15th, ahead of Tonio Liuzzi and Alguersuari.

So to Q3, hyped as the most thrilling qualifying session of the season. Could it deliver?

It certainly could if you’re a fan of Sebastian Vettel. He was once again the master of qualifying, eking that extra bit of speed from an already lightning fast car to seal his tenth pole of the season. He knows all he can do tomorrow is win and hope other results go his way and he’s in the perfect spot to do just that.

P2 went to Lewis Hamilton, who did a sterling job and eventually missed out on pole by just three tenths. Title-wise his odds are still very long, but he’s where he needs to be should his rivals hit problems.

Third went to Fernando Alonso, who delivered as good a lap as his car seemed capable of today. He leapt from P5 to third in the final moments and that puts the Spaniard exactly where he needs to be – ahead of Mark Webber.

Credit: Red Bull Media

Webber was adrift throughout, never looking like he had an answer for the pacesetters. Like Vettel he did one long run but unlike the German couldn’t get anywhere near pole. He will start fifth tomorrow and his pursuit of the title just got a whole lot harder.

Jenson Button is fourth, a strong performance from the second McLaren, with the top ten rounded out by sixth placed Massa, Barrichello in seventh, the Mercedes pairing of Schumacher and Rosberg and Petrov’s Renault.

So Fernando Alonso has moved a little closer to the title with today’s events, but with Vettel and Hamilton out front he remains at the mercy of his car – can it go the distance? Webber too can’t be discounted in a car as quick as the RB6, meaning tomorrow’s season-closing race should be a nail-biting belter.