Max Verstappen put himself in the best possible place to win his first world championship, as he took pole position for Sunday’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. His title rival Lewis Hamilton will line up alongside in second, as Lando Norris secured his best qualifying since the Russian Grand Prix to start in third.
It was all about the first run in qualifying three for Verstappen, as Red Bull decided to use his teammate Sergio Perez to give the Dutchman a tow in the middle sector. Verstappen was over half-a-second up on Hamilton after this first run in Q3, with Lewis losing time thanks to a small lock up in turn five.
Mercedes elected not to use the tow on their final run, and although Hamilton improved, he remained over three tenths of a second behind Verstappen, whose time of 1:22.109 was good enough to secure a tenth pole position of the season.
Sergio Perez managed to slot his Red Bull into fourth place, while it was a bad qualifying session for Alfa Romeo-bound Valtteri Bottas, who finds himself sandwiched between the Ferrari’s of Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc in sixth position. Yuki Tsunoda recovered from having his first lap deleted after a small mistake in the final corner to put the Alpha Tauri in eighth position, with Esteban Ocon and Daniel Ricciardo rounding out the top ten.
One small note of optimism for Mercedes is that they were able to get into the final qualifying session on the medium tyres, with all the other runners having to use the softs. Verstappen’s time on the mediums would have been good enough to get him into Q3, but concern about track evolution – and a potential flat spot on the yellow-walled tyres – meant he elected to go out again on the soft tyres.
There is the potential for the qualifying results to change, as plenty of drivers complained about traffic, especially during the second qualifying session. Fernando Alonso felt he had been held up by Ricciardo in the final corner, as the Spaniard just missed out on the top 10 and will line up eleventh. Pierre Gasly, Lance Stroll, Antonio Giovanazzi and Sebastian Vettel were the other drivers eliminated in Q2. Vettel was particularly frustrated about the traffic in the final sector as the drivers were preparing their tyres for the final runs, with the German even coming to a complete stop at one point.
The main moment of drama in the first session came when Mick Schumacher launched a bollard onto the racing line, which was then collected by Lando Norris. This did cause a red flag with just over five minutes remaining, but didn’t cause issues for those towards the top of the order.
It wasn’t the ideal sign-off to George Russell’s Williams career, as he was outqualified by Nicholas Latifi, with the highly-rated Brit failing to improve on his final run. They will line up in sixteenth and seventeenth, with Kimi Raikkonen starting his final grand prix from eighteenth position. The two Haas’ take their usual spots on the back row of the grid, with Mick Schumacher outqualifying Nikita Mazepin by six tenths of a second.
Many people thought that the changes to the Yas Marina circuit would suit the Mercedes package better than the Red Bull one. Alas, it is Verstappen who starts in the perfect position for tomorrow’s race, with the lights going out at 13.00 GMT.