Vettel from Red Bull topped McLaren drivers Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button in a thrilling conclusion of qualifying at Yas Marina Circuit. The young German posted a lap time of one minute, 38.481 seconds around the 3.451-mile (5.554-kilometer) circuit. His time was 0.14 seconds quicker than Hamilton's lap of 1:38.622.
"I was not so happy with my first run in Q3, but the second run, I was much happier, especially with the first two sectors, and with that, I was buying myself a little bit of cushion in the last sector, which was a bit tricky towards the end of the evening," said Vettel, who captured his 29th career F1 pole. "All in all, it was just enough to jump ahead of Lewis, who looked very strong all weekend."
Vettel will attempt to end Mansell's 19-year-old pole record in the season- ending Brazilian Grand Prix later this month.
Hamilton will start on the front row in the Abu Dhabi GP for the third straight year.
"It was a good session for me, and I think it's been a good couple of days," he said. "It's been a big improvement for me from the last race. We were quick, and the car has been feeling good. Just at the end, that was as fast as I was really able to go on my lap."
Button's lap time of 1:38.631 was just 0.009 seconds behind his teammate Hamilton.
"I have not felt 100 percent comfortable this weekend, in terms of the balance of the car," Button said. "We've improved it, and we've tried a few different things, finally getting there through qualifying. Q3 was very strange, because there was less grip. The circuit was a lot cooler. The car was acting differently."
Rubens Barrichello from Williams did not participate in qualifying after his car experienced an oil leak during practice earlier in the day and could not be fixed in time. Barrichello's teammate, Pastor Maldonado, qualified 17th but will have to start from the rear of the field due to his 10-place grid penalty for using his ninth engine of the season.
Vettel has already won 11 grand prix this year. If he can win Sunday's race in Abu Dhabi and then November 27 in Brazil, he would equal Michael Schumacher's season-record of 13 victories, set in 2004. Vettel has won the first two Abu Dhabi GPs -- 2009 and '10.
"As we've seen all weekend, both Lewis and Jenson have been very competitive and very quick on the long runs," Vettel said. "That's what we expect. We'll be very quick in the race."
The 55-lap race in Abu Dhabi is scheduled to start at 8:00 a.m. (et).