Verstappen takes key final pole of the season from Hamilton in Abu Dhabi, will start race on soft tires

Dutchman was assisted by teammate Sergio Perez, who gave him a tow in the flying lap

By Yuri Coghe
@yuricoghe
Verstappen claimed the final pole position of the season in Abu Dhabi on Sunday (Photo: Red Bull/Twitter)

Max Verstappen posted an impressive 1:22.109s lap time to claim the final pole position of the season in Abu Dhabi on Saturday in a key step for his championship hopes.

The Dutchman’s flying lap was assisted by teammate Sergio Perez, who gave him the slipstream in the second sector. Rival Lewis Hamilton had no reply to it, having to settle for the second position with a 0.371s slower lap time.

McLaren’s Lando Norris was third, ahead of the Ferrari duo of Carlos Sainz Jr., fifth, and Charles Leclerc, seventh, who are both fighting with the young Briton for the fifth place in the drivers’ standings.

The top team’s B-drivers, Valtteri Bottas and Perez, were only able to claim the fourth and sixth positions, respectively, and might have no part to play in Verstappen’s and Hamilton’s title fight on Sunday other than, perhaps, going long in the first stint.

AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda (P8), Alpine’s Esteban Ocon (P9) and McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo (P10) rounded out the top 10.

The Q1 was red-flagged for some minutes for a loose bollard to be fixed.

Championship fight

If Verstappen is able to turn his tenth pole of the season into a tenth victory in 2021, the 24-year-old will have clinched his first F1 world title. He only needs to finish ahead of Hamilton to grab the first non-Mercedes championship of the hybrid era that started in 2014 as they’re both tied in points.

“It’s of course an amazing feeling,” Verstappen said after the race. “I’m incredibly happy with this, this is what we wanted, but it’s never easy, especially with their form in the last few races.”

Hamilton, on the other hand, has a challenge on his hands for Sunday’s race in order to become an eight-time world champion, something no one was able to achieve in the history of the series.

“Max did a great lap and we couldn’t answer that today. He fully deserves the pole,” said Hamilton. “But we think we’re in a good position with our tyres tomorrow and we’re hoping for a good race. I’m still on the front row and we’ll navigate from there.”

Tires could play a part

But not everything is ideal for Verstappen.

He trashed the set of medium tires he used to post his first Q2 lap, having to come back at the end of that session to post a faster time with soft tires to avoid starting Sunday’s race with the damaged kit – since drivers in the top 10 have to start the race with the set of tires used in their best Q2 laps.

Hamilton – along with Bottas and Tsunoda in the top 10 – will start the race with medium tires, anticipating different strategies from Mercedes and Red Bull on Sunday that could end up deciding the championship.

Rest of the grid

Both Canadian drivers outqualified their teammates in Abu Dhabi

Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll was 13th, two positions ahead of Sebastian Vettel and behind Fernando Alonso (P11) and Pierre Gasly (P12).

Williams’ Nicholas Latifi was 16th, one place ahead of George Russell in their final weekend as teammates after two seasons.

Russell is joining Mercedes to replace Bottas as former Red Bull driver Alex Albon is set to return to F1 next season as Latifi’s teammate.

Also leaving the series, the Alfa Romeo duo of Formula E-bound Antonio Giovinazzi and soon-to-be-retired Kimi Raikkonen was 14th and 18th, respectively.

The Haas duo wrapped up the grid as usual with Mick Schumacher in 19th and Nikita Mazepin in 20th.

The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the final race of the 2021 season, starts on Sunday at 8 AM EST, 5 AM PT.

See the full Abu Dhabi GP qualifying results below:


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