FORMULA 1 driver Lewis Hamiton will start the 2011 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix from the front row after today’s qualifying session.

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The Vodafone McLaren Mercedes F1 star from Hertfordshire dominated qualifying at the Yas Marina Circuit – until the final seconds of Q3 when Sebastian Vettel snatched pole position.

Hamilton clocked a time of 1m 38.704s with his first hot lap in Q3 to bag provisional pole position ahead of Vettel, who recorded 1m 38.746s.

The 2008 F1 world champion from Tewin went faster in his second run with a 1m 38.622s, but was then beaten by Red Bull’s world champion Vettel with a 1m 38.481s.

Hamilton’s McLaren colleague Jenson Button will start on the second row of the grid from third place.

Button said over the team radio: “It wasn’t perfect, guys, but it’s a good place to start the race. We have a good race car.”

Red Bull’s Mark Webber qualified fourth in the top 10 shoot-out with the Ferraris of Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa on the third row.

Herts-born Hamilton, 26, had earlier gone quickest in final practice in the United Arab Emirates.

Watched by McLaren supporting Beatles legend Sir Paul McCartney, Hamilton followed that by recording the fastest lap in Q1 with a 1m 39.782s.

McLaren team-mate Jenson Button was third on the timesheets at that stage on 1m 40.227s.

Before the first qualifying phase finished, the pitwall told Hamilton: “The track temperature is coming down, so it’s getting quicker out there.”

Lewis was later told: “We think the cut-off point in Q2 is going to be in the high 1m 39s. The bigger margin the better obviously.”

He banged in another blistering lap to comfortably get through Q2 before the 15-minute session was briefly red-flagged for debris on the track.

Vettel, Alonso, Button and Webber had all set lap times in the 1m 39s at that point, but Hamilton went even quicker with a 1m 38.434s.

The Red Bulls of Vettel and Webber later went under 1m 39s but were still slower than Hamilton’s flying lap.

Hamilton’s Q2 time would have been good enough to bag pole had it been achieved in Q3 – a fact he later acknowledged in the post-qualifying press conference.

Before going out in Q1, Hamilton was told over the radio: “The track is going to be very busy, so we need to be careful about not impeding people. I’ll keep you informed as to where others are.

“We’re expecting the cut-off time to be a 1m 41.1s. We need to be well inside that to be comfortable.”

Hamilton didn’t take long to duck under 1m 40s – the only driver to achieve that in Q1.

The 2011 Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi day-night race will start at 1pm GMT on Sunday.

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