Australian star Daniel Ricciardo will have to start the Formula One season finale from the back of the grid after race stewards ruled that the Red Bull cars had illegal front wing flaps.
Already guaranteed third place in the drivers championship, Ricciardo was relegated to the 10th and last row for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix along with his teammate Sebastian Vettel.
Germany’s Nico Rosberg claimed pole position in Abu Dhabi, edging out his Mercedes teammate and Formula One title rival Lewis Hamilton.
Rosberg, who secured his 11th pole of the season, has to come first and hope Hamilton finishes outside the top two to overtake the Briton and take the title.
Ricciardo had qualified on the third row alongside Vettel but the stewards later ruled that the front wing flaps of their Red Bull cars were too flexible.
Red Bull claimed they were being unfairly singled out but copped the penalty.
“We are disappointed that we have been singled out for a front-wing deflection test when it is clear that other teams are interpreting the rules in a similar fashion,” said the team in a statement.
“The team accepts the decision of the stewards and will start the race from the back of the grid.”
Sunday’s 55-lap race will be Vettel’s 113th and final one with the Red Bull team.
Ricciardo had originally been slotted to start from the third row alongside Vettel.
Williams pair Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa of Brazil will start from the second row, and Russian Daniil Kvyat and Britain’s Jenson Button move up to third.
Rosberg’s time was 0.386 of a second ahead of Hamilton. It will be the eighth straight race when Mercedes have both front-row places.
Hamilton was quicker than Rosberg in the first two qualifying sessions, but the German driver set the pace in the third. Hamilton almost went off the track as his brakes locked heading into the final corner.
Like the F1 season itself, this weekend has been close between the Mercedes teammates and Hamilton could not quite find enough speed on his last run.
Hamilton leads Rosberg by 17 points overall, with double points on offer in Sunday’s season finale in Abu Dhabi, meaning a win is worth 50.
Although Hamilton leads Rosberg 10-5 in race wins, the German is up 11-7 in pole positions including four of the past five races.
GRID POSITIONS FOR SEASON-ENDING ABU DHABI F1 GRAND PRIX:
* 1st row:
Nico Rosberg (GER/Mercedes)
Lewis Hamilton (GBR/Mercedes)
* 2nd row:
Valtteri Bottas (FIN/Williams)
Felipe Massa (BRA/Williams)
* 3rd row:
Daniil Kvyat (RUS/Toro Rosso)
Jenson Button (GBR/McLaren)
* 4th row:
Kimi Raikkonen (FIN/Ferrari)
Fernando Alonso (ESP/Ferrari)
* 5th row:
Kevin Magnussen (DEN/McLaren)
Jean-Eric Vergne (FRA/Toro Rosso)
* 6th row:
Sergio Perez (MEX/Force India)
Nico Hulkenberg (GER/Force India)
* 7th row:
Adrian Sutil (GER/Sauber)
Esteban Gutierrez (MEX/Sauber)
* 8th row:
Pastor Maldonado (VEN/Lotus)
Kamui Kobayashi (JPN/Caterham)
* 9th row:
Will Stevens (GBR/Caterham)
Romain Grosjean (FRA/Lotus)
Daniel Ricciardo (AUS/Red Bull)
Sebastian Vettel (GER/Red Bull)