(CNN) -- Sebastian Vettel's title charge was dramatically held up Saturday as Britain's Lewis Hamilton took pole for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix with a commanding performance in qualifying.
Hamilton was fastest in his McLaren in all three sections and set the best time of one minute 40.630 seconds but Vettel, who initially finished third quickest, was later relegated to the back of the grid for a technical infringement.
Qualifying had finished several hours earlier when world governing body FIA announced that the two- time reigning champion was to be demoted.
The Red Bull star had fallen foul of F1 rules which dictate that cars must return to the pits after qualifying with at least one liter of fuel in the tank.
Vettel has a 13-point lead over Fernando Alonso with three races left of the F1 season and is bidding for his fifth straight win to strengthen his grip on a third title.
Alonso struggled to only seventh fastest in his Ferrari, but will now start on the third row with Jenson Button in the second McLaren.
Vettel had told CNN before qualifying that he was not taking victory for granted despite his team's recent dominant run.
"I'm trying to make it five and not really thinking about how many I have won previously," he said.
Hamilton, who will share the front row with Vettel's teammate Mark Webber, was delighted to have gotten the better of the Red Bulls, who have filled the top two on the grid for the last three rounds.
"I'm very excited," he told the official post-qualifying press conference.
"It's going to be tough in the race and I hope we are strong enough to fight them again," he added.
Vettel's relegation will see Pastor Maldonado of Venezuela in his Williams promoted to third on the grid to share the second row with Kimi Raikkonen in his Lotus.
Vettel clinched his first world title in 2010 on the Yas Marina circuit, where he has "great memories" but a puncture in last year's race in the emirate cost him victory before his later misfortune in Abu Dhabi..
Alonso had a 52-point lead before the young German cut into his title lead as Red Bull rediscovered their former dominance.
"I think we were able to improve the car so I feel a bit more comfortable now than in the first half of the season," he told CNN.
"We've also had a smooth run with no reliability issues in races," he added.
That run was halted Saturday and he will be hoping his earlier prediction "I think the race pace should be good," will help lift him up the field from the back.
2008 champion Hamilton, who leaves McLaren at the end of the season for Mercedes, was claiming his sixth pole of the season and 25th overall.