- Associated Press - Saturday, November 13, 2010

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES (AP) - Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull put pressure on championship leader Fernando Alonso by taking pole position Saturday for the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

With an unprecedented four drivers still in contention for the title ahead of the last race Sunday, Alonso still put himself in good position to clinch the championship by finishing third in qualifying. McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton _ a longshot for the title _ was second, while Alonso’s closest challenger Mark Webber of Red Bull was fifth.

Vettel clocked 1 minute, 39.394 seconds at the Yas Marina circuit, making him 0.31 seconds faster than Hamilton. Alonso was 0.398 seconds back in his Ferrari, with defending champion and Hamilton’s teammate Jenson Button in fourth.

Alonso has an eight-point lead over Webber in the championship standings, while Vettel is 15 points behind and Hamilton trails by 24.

The 23-year-old Vettel held up one finger and stuck out his tongue after taking his 10th pole of the year. He has a chance to repeat last year’s performance, when he led a one-two Red Bull finish in the Gulf.

“Obviously, we start from pole. It couldn’t be better,” Vettel said. “At the practice, we didn’t look too good but we went out last and we did it. It was a very good job by everyone, the whole team.”

Hamilton struggled earlier in the qualifying session, slipping off the track and being clipped by Ferrari’s Felipe Massa, but he got in a good lap when it mattered. He just barely managed to remain in the top 10 after the second qualifying session and had a stunning lap in the third.

“Today is a much better start of the weekend for us,” Hamilton said. “The team did some great things improving the car. A good feeling. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain.”

A victory is worth 25 points, while second place is good for 18. Alonso can guarantee himself the title by finishing in the top two.

Alonso can finish as low as third or fourth if Webber doesn’t win the race. He can also win by finishing out of the points as long as Webber doesn’t finish in the top five, Vettel is third or lower and Hamilton fails to win.

Alonso, whose fast time came with minutes left in qualifying, said “a lot can happen” during Sunday’s race. But he was happy to finish ahead of Webber.

“For tomorrow, I feel confident,” Alonso said. “I feel the team supporting a lot, a very good atmosphere. I feel happy with the car, 2010 has been a great, great year for me.”

Webber can win his first F1 title by leading a Red Bull 1-2. But with teams banned from giving “team orders” _ telling drivers to let their teammates pass _ it may come down to Vettel voluntarily letting Webber through if the team is to add a drivers’ championship to the constructors’ title it has already won.

But Webber’s fifth-place position dents his dream of becoming the first Australian world champion since Alan Jones in 1980.

To win the title, Vettel needs to win and hope Alonso is outside the top four. If Vettel is second, both Webber and Alonso need to finish low enough to allow the German to remain at the top.

Hamilton can still win his second title, but the 2008 champion needs a victory coupled with Alonso finishing out of the points, Vettel no higher than third and Webber sixth or lower.


Associated Press Sports Writer Jerome Pugmire contributed to this report from Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

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