Max Verstappen secured pole position by brilliantly beating Lewis Hamilton in qualifying for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Hamilton will start the race in second and will not be backed by Valtteri Bottas, who will start the race in sixth. Sergio Perez only has to overtake Lando Norris to end up behind Hamilton and Verstappen again.
Verstappen and Perez dived as one of the first drivers out on the Yas Marina Circuit, while both Mercedes had a little more patience. Perez opened for Red Bull in a 1:24.253, but Verstappen immediately went into hiding with a 1:23.860. At that time, the AlphaTauri drivers managed to split Red Bull, but that wouldn’t last very long.
Then it was Hamilton’s turn, who drove a fast last sector in his first run and recorded a time of 1:23.266, four tenths faster than Verstappen. Bottas also managed to set a good first time of 1:23.367. But Verstappen managed to dive in again with a 1:23.322, making the gap only 56 thousandths on Hamilton.
In the first qualifying round it was Mick Schumacher who caused a red flag. That didn’t happen because of an accident, but a pole driven onto the track by the Haas driver. Norris ran into the pole and drove into it, but because it is a very light pole, it had no consequences for the McLaren driver.
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After the red flag, Verstappen remained inside, while Hamilton, Bottas and Perez still ducked out. The Briton managed to tighten his time with a 1:22.845, more than four tenths faster than Verstappen. Bottas also passed the Dutchman with a 1:23.117. Dropouts after Q1 were Nikita Mazepin, Schumacher, Kimi Raikkonen, George Russell and Nicholas Latifi.
Q2: Verstappen chooses different strategy than Hamilton
Both Mercedes drivers were the first to be found on track in the second qualifying round, but Red Bull immediately followed suit. Hamilton, Bottas, Perez and Verstappen all went for the mediums on their first run. Hamilton opens in a 1:23.185, but Verstappen manages to keep the gap small by driving a 1:23.189, 4 thousandths slower than his competitor.
Bottas also set a fast time and was 57 thousandths slower than Verstappen. Perez had to concede more than five tenths to both Hamilton and his teammate after his first run. After the first run, Hamilton ducked back inside. Charles Leclerc managed to squeeze between Bottas and Verstappen with a 1:23.202. Carlos Sainz even set the fastest time by setting a 1:23.174.
While Hamilton was already inside, Verstappen drove on. That turned out not to be very useful in the end, because he drove an enormous flat side on his mediums after he shot off the track. As a result, another set of mediums had to be placed under Verstappen’s car. Meanwhile, we saw that the entire top five was within 72 thousandths of each other. It should be mentioned that the Ferrari drivers did this on the softs.
In the very last run during Q2, all drivers were on track at the same time. That almost made it seem like a race, Sainz said over the on-board radio. Hamilton, meanwhile, did set an improved time with a 1:23.145. Perez dived again with a 1:23.135, but the Mexican drove this time on the softs, so he also has to start the race on this tire.
Even more striking is that Verstappen was able to improve his time by setting a 1:22.800, but he also did that on the softs. As a result, Mercedes will start the race on the mediums, while Red Bull opts for a different strategy with the softs. Dropouts in this session were Sebastian Vettel, Antonio Giovinazzi, Lance Stroll, Pierre Gasly and Fernando Alonso.
Q3: Verstappen drives brilliant lap for pole
Perez sacrificed his first run in the final qualifying session by giving Verstappen a tow, with success. A time of 1:22.109 was recorded by Verstappen, while Hamilton could not go faster than 1:22.660. This makes him more than half a second slower than Verstappen. In the end, Perez closed behind Hamilton by setting a 1:22.968.
While the drivers were preparing for their final run, we saw a standings of Verstappen on pole, followed by Hamilton, Perez and Bottas. Hamilton eventually drove a time of 1:22.480 and did not pass Verstappen, who was also working on a better lap, but let it go. Norris eventually takes P3 and Pérez will start from fourth place. Bottas got no further than P6 and started behind Sainz.