McLaren's Lewis Hamilton left his rivals reeling on Saturday with pole position for the floodlit first Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
The outgoing world champion grabbed the 17th pole of his 52-race career to push Red Bull's German Sebastian Vettel into second place at the glittering new Yas Marina circuit that hosts the season-ender.
The Briton was nearly 0.7 seconds quicker than Vettel in qualifying and, despite unknown fuel loads, should run away with the sport's first day-to-night race.
While both titles have been decided already in favour of compatriot Jenson Button and Brawn GP, Hamilton's McLaren team are only a point ahead of Ferrari in third place in the constructors' standings with significant prize money at stake.
Hamilton can count on the KERS energy recovery system that he said offers an advantage of three to four tenths of a second a lap at such a circuit and that the Red Bulls and Brawns lack.
“The car's been probably the best it has been all year,” Hamilton said. “It seems to really feel quite comfortable on this circuit.”
Red Bull's Australian Mark Webber, winner in Brazil, starts in third place with Brazilian veteran Rubens Barrichello alongside for Brawn.
Button qualified fifth for Brawn after failing to live up to the hope of a first all-British front row since 1995.
“I think both of us were a little surprised by the gap,” said Vettel, who can consolidate his second place overall on Sunday.
Neither Ferrari made it to the final session of qualifying, with 2007 world champion Kimi Raikkonen pegged back in 11th place on the starting grid for his last race with the Italian team.
Italian stand-in Giancarlo Fisichella, with injured Brazilian Felipe Massa looking on, qualified last for what will also be his last F1 appearance before he becomes Ferrari's test driver.
“I was only a tenth slower than Kimi up until the last sector, but then there was a lot of understeer and the car wouldn't work so unfortunately I didn't get through,” Fisichella said.
Renault's double world champion Fernando Alonso, who replaces Raikkonen at Ferrari, also had a demoralising afternoon and qualified 16th.
McLaren's Heikki Kovalainen was 13th after suffering a gearbox problem that will demote him five places if the team have to change it.
Senna name back in Formula One
The Senna family name will return to F1 next season when Bruno Senna, nephew of the late three-times world champion Ayrton, races with the Campos Meta team. The Spanish team confirmed Senna's place in a statement on Saturday.
Senna, runner-up in the 2008 GP2 series, said he was very happy to finally secure a drive after months of speculation. He confirmed the news in a statement: “I want to thank everyone. After weeks of negotiations, we were finally able to close a deal.
Campos Meta CEO Enrique Rodriguez de Castro said: “For Campos Meta, it is an honour to return the name of Senna to F1. The deal with Senna confirms and re-enforces our prime objective of being not only the first Spanish F1 team, but rather the first Iberian-American F1 team.