VERSTAPPEN TAKES SURPRISE POLE IN ABU DHABI QUALIFYING
Max Verstappen finally broke the Mercedes stranglehold on qualifying that has been a signature of Saturday afternoon this season with a stunning Q3 lap that took pole position for the final race of the season at Yas Marina.
Verstappen’s surprise pole was just his third P1 in his last 119 starts for Red Bull. This statistic of course is less of a criticism of Verstappen’s performance and more a testament to Mercedes dominance.
In a Q3 shootout that proved to be the tightest of the season with the top three separated by only 0.086 seconds, Verstappen beat Bottas into P2 and Hamilton, coming back from testing positive for COVID-19, into P3.
Another contender for lap of the day was Lando Norris who took P4 in the McLaren, just 0.251secs off pole and ahead of Red Bull’s Alex Albon in P5.
Carlos Sainz will start the race in P6 as McLaren try to snatch third place in the constructor’s world championship from Racing Point, who currently sit 10 points above them. With the Racing Points of Stroll in P8, and Perez at the back of the grid due to an engine penalty, there is a real chance that McLaren can pull it off.
Should McLaren manage to reel in Racing Point, it would mean millions of dollars of additional prize money, a fact not lost on McLaren’s investors following their announcement that the business has agreed to sell a third of the company to United States-based investors MSP Sports Capital who will inject £185m by the end of 2022 in a deal valuing the British company at £550m.
Norris’ P4 also settled the head-to-head battle with Carlos Sainz for qualifying supremacy at McLaren with Norris taking it 9 to 8 as the Spaniard leaves for Ferrari.
Verstappen’s pole lap demotes Mercedes from top spot on the grid for only the second time this season and the first time on a dry track.
Verstappen was as surprised as anyone with the performance saying, “Very happy with that… It was a tricky qualifying at the beginning to get your laps in but luckily everything came together in that final lap. The whole year when you are behind getting closer it gets a bit frustrating sometimes. But very pleased with today.”
Tyres yet again proved to be Mercedes Achilles Heel with only marginally better times on the soft tyre than the medium tyre.
Valtteri Bottas commented, “We saw in practice three that Red Bull and especially Max was quick. The main issue was we didn’t get the soft to work properly. All the way to qualifying the medium was feeling better, I don’t think we got 100% out of the tyres. The lap itself I wasn’t fully happy with everything; the balance wasn’t quite perfect. But small margins.”
Lewis Hamilton returning from a layoff with COVID-19, said it had taken him time to get back into the swing of things on his return, even though it had only been two weeks since he last raced.
Hamilton said, “I’m honestly really grateful to be back here with the team to try to close out the strong season we’ve had… It has been a difficult weekend getting back into a rhythm. It was just a couple of weeks off, but it felt like I’d lost momentum… I struggled with the balance all weekend, but congratulations to Max, a great way to seal the season. But we’re going to give them a good run tomorrow”
Another solid performance from Daniil Kvyat in P7 is unlikely to reverse his exit from Formula 1 for next season, but he was philosophical in post-qualifying interviews as he said he hoped to regroup and return to F1 in 2022.
With Lance Stroll in P8 and Charles Leclerc in P9, Pierre Gasly made up the top 10 starters.
In his final qualifying for Ferrari Sebastian Vettel, starts one place behind Leclerc, albeit over half a second slower than his young teammate.
HOW THE GRID SHAPES UP
- M. Verstappen – Red Bull 1:35.246
- V. Bottas – Mercedes 1:35.271
- L. Hamilton – Mercedes 1:35.332
- L. Norris – McLaren 1:35.497
- A. Albon – Red Bull 1:35.571
- C. Sainz Jr – McLaren 1:35.815
- D. Kvyat – AlphaTauri 1:35.963
- L. Stroll – Racing Point 1:36.046
- P. Gasly – AlphaTauri 1:36.242
- E. Ocon – Renault 1:36.359
- D. Ricciardo – Renault 1:36.406
- C. Leclerc – Ferrari 1:36.065
- S. Vettel Ferrari 1:36.631
- A. Giovinazzi – Alfa Romeo 1:38.248
- K. Räikkönen – Alfa Romeo 1:37.555
- G. Russell – Williams 1:38.045
- P. Fittipaldi – Haas 1:38.173
- N. Latifi – Williams 1:38.443
- S. Pérez Racing – Point DNS
- K. Magnussen – Haas 1:37.863
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