The mind games started as soon as the two had locked out the front row at the floodlit Yas Marina circuit, with the German highlighting the championship leader’s errors and suggesting he was feeling the heat.
“Lewis has everything to lose, I have everything to gain, so for sure the pressure is on him,” Rosberg told reporters after a messy lap by the Briton in the final qualifying session of the season.
“That’s my opportunity, to keep the pressure on him as much as possible and maybe he will make the mistake which we saw today for example.”
Hamilton, hoping to become Britain’s first multiple champion since Jackie Stewart in 1971, leads Rosberg by 17 points but the double points on offer here mean Sunday’s winner will take an unprecedented 50.
The Briton, world champion with McLaren in 2008, was fastest in the first two phases of qualifying but errors in the tense final shootout left him unable to deny Rosberg his 11th pole of the 19-race season.
The pole was the team’s 18th of the campaign, with Brazilian Felipe Massa taking the other for Williams, and ensured Mercedes became the first engine manufacturer to take every pole in a season since Ford in 1969.
Massa and Williams team mate Valtteri Bottas failed to split the leading two but could still play a big part in the ‘duel in the desert’ with their cars right behind on the second row and the team determined to secure third overall.
Rosberg needs someone to get between him and Hamilton in the race to have a chance of winning the title, if neither Mercedes has mechanical trouble, and his former employers at Williams look the best bet.
“This weekend is about the championship, not about pole position. It would have been great if there was a Williams in between us but that can always happen tomorrow,” he said.
Hamilton, winner of 10 races this year to Rosberg’s five, has said he wants to take the title with a win and looked unhappy at the outcome even if he shrugged off suggestions he was unsettled.
“I generally didn’t have the best of laps but I enjoyed the qualifying session,” said the 29-year-old. “Tomorrow is going to be a special day.”
Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo and four-times world champion Sebastian Vettel qualified on the third row but were sent to the back of the grid after stewards ruled their front wings were illegal.
That lifted Toro Rosso’s Russian rookie Daniil Kvyat to fifth and McLaren’s Jenson Button to sixth in what could be the Briton’s last race in Formula One, even if the 2009 champion is still hoping it will not be.
Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso, the Spaniard who is set to return to McLaren next year, moved up to seventh and eighth places respectively.
“It will be a special day for me and even if it’s really about the title contenders, Rosberg and Hamilton, I would like my last race for Ferrari to feature some nice battles,” said Alonso.
Caterham’s British rookie Will Stevens will start his first Formula One race in an unexpected 17th place after Lotus’s Frenchman Romain Grosjean was handed a 20-place penalty for exceeding his allocation of power unit elements.
Caterham missed the last two races and are competing while under administration. Failed tail-end rivals Marussia are absent.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Toby Davis and Ian Chadband)