Sebastian Vettel matches pole record

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates -- Formula One world champion Sebastian Vettel took the pole position at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Saturday, matching Nigel Mansell's record of 14 poles in a season.

The German driver clocked 1 minute, 38.481 seconds at the Yas Marina circuit, 0.14 seconds quicker than McLaren driver Lewis Hamilton, who had dominated the final practice session.

"I was very happy to get pole because it was difficult. We weren't sure and positively surprised," Vettel said, adding that Mansell's record wasn't something the team had discussed. "He obviously took two races less to achieve the same but still it's something special. Yeah, it's a great feeling for sure."

Hamilton's teammate Jenson Button will start Sunday's race third, alongside Vettel's teammate Mark Webber on the second row.

Ferrari drivers Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa continued to struggle, and will start on the third row in fifth and sixth.

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner called Vettel's matching Mansell's pole record a "tremendous achievement."

"An unbelievable final lap from Sebastian, to get the pole in what was a really exciting qualifying tonight," Horner said. "It's a remarkable achievement for him to equal Nigel Mansell's 14 in a single season."

Hamilton, who had driven flawlessly Friday and avoided the penalties that has cost him in early races, appeared poised to take pole and was leading going into the third session of qualifying. But the 2008 champion said he believed the car was "understeering" toward the end of qualifying session and made it difficult to challenge Vettel.

"I'm happy today to be in the front row and to not have any penalty is a blessing," said Hamilton, who was penalized three grid places for ignoring yellow flags at the Indian Grand Prix and has sparred repeatedly with race stewards this season. "In the first qualifying session, the car was looking good but got to Q2 and I felt the car was understeering a little bit."

Initially, it didn't appear as if this would be Vettel's weekend.

He started slow in the first practice Friday and finished sixth. Then, he made a rare mistake on Turn 1 in the second practice, crashing out and finishing fourth.

"The balance of the car wasn't as good as it could be and I felt there was more in the car and we just had to get to it," Vettel said. "I felt much better this afternoon and was getting better later on in qualifying. In Q2, we were close. I felt that in Q3 if we got everything together, we would have a chance."

Now, the 24-year-old has the opportunity to add another record to what has been one of the most dominant Formula One performances this year since his compatriot Michael Schumacher was racing at his peak.

The two-time Formula One champion Vettel already has won twice in Abu Dhabi, and another victory this weekend will leave him needing to take the checkered flag in the final race of the season in Brazil to match Schumacher's record of 13 wins in a season.