Max Verstappen came flying back to clinch pole position at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix with a fine lap to leave title rival Lewis Hamilton starting second on the grid.

After Hamilton dominated the practice sessions in his Mercedes - in his quest for a record eighth Formula One world championship - Verstappen, with a tow in the slipstream of Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez, set an unassailable time of one minute 22.109 seconds to clinch what could prove to be the most important pole of his career.

Verstappen went into the season finale at the Yas Marina Circuit tied level with defending champion Hamilton at the top of the standings.

Hamilton will at least start second, clocking a time 0.371 seconds slower as the title protagonists locked out the front row.

McLaren's Lando Norris put in a fine display to qualify third as Perez went fourth fastest in the second Red Bull.

"It is an amazing feeling," said Verstappen.

"We definitely improved the car again in qualifying. So far this weekend it has been on and off, but I'm incredibly happy with this. It is never easy, especially with their form in the past few races."

Hamilton, meanwhile, admitted he had no answer to Verstappen's fastest effort.

"Max did a great lap today, so we just couldn't compete with that time at the end," he said.

"It was looking really strong in practice. We couldn't answer that lap, it was a fantastic lap from him but we are in a good position, I think, with our tyres tomorrow.

"I couldn't beat that time he did today and he fully deserved the pole. I'm grateful I can see where he is!"

McLaren's Lando Norris put in a fine display to qualify third

Earlier, Hamilton had beaten Verstappen to the fastest lap in the final practice session.

Hamilton steered his Mercedes around the revised 5.2km layout of the Yas Marina track in one minute, 23.274 seconds, beating his Red Bull rival by 0.214 seconds.

Valtteri Bottas, in his final race with Mercedes ahead of a switch to Alfa Romeo next season, was third 0.751 seconds off the pace.

Verstappen, 24, and Hamilton, 36, head into Sunday's race, a winner-takes all showdown, level on points. But the Dutchman is ahead 9-8 on wins.

The pair have already collided three times this season, raising concerns that a riveting title battle might end in a crash.

But the governing FIA has warned drivers of severe consequences, such as a points deduction, for unsportsmanlike behaviour.