Lewis Hamilton secured his first pole position in four months as the British driver seeks to round off his championship-winning season in style in Abu Dhabi.
Under the lights of the Yas Marina Circuit, the Mercedes driver ended a nine-race drought by soaring to the top of the time sheets in the concluding qualifying session of the year.
Hamilton, Formula One’s quickest driver ever over one lap, finished 0.194 seconds clear of Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas. However, the Finn will be sent to the back of the grid following an engine change.
The Ferrari duo will be occupying virtually the same piece of tarmac for the start of Sunday’s season finale a fortnight on from their embarrassing crash in Brazil.
In yet another blunder by Ferrari, Leclerc was unable to complete his final qualifying lap after his Italian team failed to send him out in sufficient time.
Mercedes have looked speedy all weekend, and Hamilton’s pole in the desert is the team’s sixth in a row at a venue where they have excelled.
But it is the six-time world champion’s first since the German Grand Prix in July.
“It has been such a long slog trying to get this pole position in,” said Hamilton. “We have kept our heads down and I have been focusing on my job.
“Yesterday was wobbly, so I had to compose myself last night, and I have dialled in the car.
“We never give up. There is always room to improve.
“There has been a lot of growth this year, and the past few races. I am just constantly looking for those milliseconds. It has been a special car and it is the last time I will qualify in it so I am glad I did it proud today.”
Verstappen, who won last time out in Interlagos, added: “This was the best we could do. Mercedes are dominant here and we tried everything we could.
“There are still a lot of chances for tomorrow.”
Lando Norris has helped to spearhead McLaren’s resurgence in his debut year. Indeed, the British team are certain of finishing fourth in the constructors’ championship – their highest position since 2012.
Norris, 19, has been steady, if not spectacular, but here qualified seventh, ahead of his team-mate Carlos Sainz, who finished ninth. The McLaren duo have been evenly matched over one lap, and Norris’ lap ensures he secured an 11-10 qualifying victory.
Russell has qualified ahead of his Williams team-mate at all 21 rounds this year, finishing 19th here, half-a-second clear of Kubica.
Kubica, 34, departs the sport for the final time on Sunday. The Pole has been short of speed on his brave comeback eight years after his life-threatening rally crash.