Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Valtteri Bottas is doing a good job of spoiling Lewis Hamilton’s title celebrations.
Hamilton earned his fourth Formula One title last month, but the British driver is keen to avoid a third straight race without a win, and to possibly avoid a repeat scenario in the making.
Two years ago, he won the title with three races to spare then went eight without a win. Dropped points were made to count when he was narrowly beaten to the 2016 title by then-Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg.
In the closely contested qualifying session between the friendly teammates, Hamilton led but faded on the final sector.
Bottas bagged the fourth pole of his career — all since joining Mercedes this season from Williams — and intends to go one better than Interlagos two weeks ago, when he was beaten to the checkered flag by Sebastian Vettel.
“I was so gutted in Brazil to be on pole and miss out on the win,” said Bottas, who had a narrow escape earlier Saturday in the third and final practice. “I have a clear target for tomorrow.”
The Finn set a lap record on Yas Marina circuit of 1 minute, 36.231 seconds. He was .172 seconds ahead of Hamilton and about half a second clear of Vettel.
“I’ve only won once from pole, but I’ve not had so many poles,” said Bottas, who won the Austrian GP from the front in July.
Hamilton just missed out on a 73rd career pole, and a personal best-equaling 12th of the season. He hugged Bottas afterward.
“I lost it on turn five or six … I gave it everything I could but it was really on a knife edge,” Hamilton said.
Vettel was followed by Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo and Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen in fifth.
A sixth win of the season will lift Vettel’s confidence after his title bid spectacularly collapsed in September and October.
“It’s important to set yourself up for the winter and give the whole factory a boost,” Vettel said, looking ahead to 2018.
Next year, Hamilton and Vettel will both try to equal Argentine great Juan Manuel Fangio on five world titles. Only Michael Schumacher has more with seven, and the German great also holds the record for race wins with 91. Hamilton, the F1 record-holder for pole positions, is second all-time with 62.
Qualifying has been difficult for Bottas compared to Hamilton, but he found the extra speed.
After Hamilton set a lap record in Q1, Bottas went even faster. Bottas looked sharp again as he led Q2 before Hamilton moved top, with Vettel and Raikkonen following.
Meanwhile, Brazilian veteran Felipe Massa just sneaked into Q3 at the expense of McLaren driver Fernando Alonso.
Competing in his last ever race, the 36-year-old Massa starts from 10th, behind Esteban Ocon and then Sergio Perez (both Force India). Renault driver Nico Hulkenberg goes from seventh behind Red Bull driver Max Verstappen.
“I’m finishing with my head held high,” said Massa, who won 11 races and dramatically lost the 2008 F1 title to Hamilton on the last lap of the final race. “I’m so happy with what I achieved and I’m really looking forward to tomorrow’s race.”
It starts at 5 p.m. local time (1300 GMT) and finishes under floodlights when the heat drops considerably.
Earlier, in far hotter conditions on a sun-drenched track, Hamilton was fastest in the third and final practice. Bottas skidded left off the track and narrowly avoided clipping the barriers.