Verstappen stuns by claiming Abu Dhabi pole


Lewis Hamilton set the pace earlier just as he did yesterday evening, the Briton setting a blistering pace, which was even acknowledged by Christian Horner.

Despite being off the pace by over a second for most of the session, Mas Verstappen eventually closed to within 0.214s, but in all honesty the Red Bull doesn't lok good on single-lap pace here unlike the Mercedes.

That said, the morning was not without its issues for Hamilton either, like many he was affected by the wind, traffic and the odd mistake, not to mention impeding Nikita Mazepin for the second weekend running.

If, as we suspect, Red Bull has given up on pole and is instead focussing on the race, it will be vital that Sergio Perez and Valtteri Bottas do their jobs his afternoon.

While the focus is naturally on the title protagonists we should not forget that there is still much to play for elsewhere on the grid, not least the battle between Ferrari and McLaren for 'best of the rest' and that between Alpine and AlphaTauri for fifth.

While these positions may not mean much to fans, due to the fact that they decide the prize money they mean a lot to the teams.

Having shown good pace yesterday, this morning Alpine lost out to AlphaTauri, while a strong, late lap from Norris signals hope for McLaren.

That aside, this weekend really is about just two men as we anticipate what both have achieved over the months since Bahrain. To arrive here, 21 races later on level points is quite something.

In the moments before the start of Q1 there is frantic activity in the Red Bull garage, with mechanics working on the underside and rear wing of Verstappen's car, while Perez' car doesn't even have a rear wing.

Christian Horner reveals that it's a "new problem" and certain parts have been changed as a precaution.

Air temperature is 25 degrees C, while the track temperature is 31 degrees.

Back at the Red Bull garage the cars are both ready and raring to go, both cars sporting low downforce rear wings.

The lights go green and Verstappen is among the first out, along with teammate Perez, while the Mercedes pair remain in their garages.

Perez is quickest in S1, but Tsunoda and then Verstappen go quicker. At the line Perez posts a 24.253, while Tsunoda responds with a 23.993 and Verstappen a 23.680.

Gasly goes second (23.967), ahead of Tsunoda, Perez, Sainz and Giovinazzi as the Mercedes pair head out.

All bar the Ferrari pair are on softs.

Hamilton goes quickest in S2, finally crossing the line at 23.266 to go top by 0.414s. Bottas goes second with a 23.367.

A 23.903 sees Alonso go fourth, only to be demoted when Norris stops the clock at 23.880.

Ocon can only manage 11th while the Ferraris are 10th (Sainz) and 12th.

Perez improves to third, ahead of his teammate with a 23.577 as Vettel can only manage 15th. Verstappen improves to 23.322, just 0.056s off Hamilton's best.

Gasly goes 6th but has his time deleted and drops back to 10th. Moments later Tsunoda goes 5th (23.747).

A 23.553 sees Norris go fourth, ahead of Perez.

A bollard has been dislodged by Schumacher and the session is red-flagged in order that it can be removed.

The session resumes at 17:14 with 6:25 remaining.

Giovinazzi is first out, followed by the Ferraris.

An incident involving Ocon and Vettel has been noted, the Alpine driver appearing to have impeded the four-time champion while he was on a flying lap.

Sainz improves to ninth and Leclerc sixth.

Vettel, along with Raikkonen, Latifi and the Haas pair comprise the drop zone, with Russell, Stroll and Giovinazzi hovering.

Hamilton goes quickest in S1 while Bottas posts a PB. The world champion maintains his pace in S2, as does his teammate. At the line Hamilton posts a 22.845 while Bottas responds with a 23.117.

Tsunoda goes fourth (23.428) and Gasly fifth (23.489), though both are demoted when Perez posts a 23.350 to go fourth.

A late improvement sees Stroll go 13th, and Alonso 11th.

Leclerc goes sixth and Sainz ninth.

Missing the cut, Russell feels the team got its strategy wrong. "We had the pace, we had the pace," he insists.

Quickest is Hamilton, ahead of Bottas, Verstappen, Perez, Tsunoda, Leclerc, Gasly, Norris, Sainz and Ocon.

We lose Latifi, Russell, Raikkonen, Schumacher and Mazepin.

Hamilton heads the queue as Q2 gets underway, the Briton followed by Bottas the AlphaTauris and the Bulls.

"This compound's (medium) going to need a bit more work," Hamilton is told.

As more drivers head out most are on mediums, only the Aston Martins opting for softs.

Hamilton sets the benchmark with a 23.185, while Verstappen responds with a 23.189, just 0.004s separating the pair. Bottas goes third (23.246), ahead of Tsunoda, Norris and Perez.

Leclerc, Sainz, Ricciardo, Ocon and Alonso, like the Aston opts for the red-banded rubber.

Stroll goes seventh (24.076) on the softs, currently the quickest driver on the red-bended tyre.

Tsunoda and Vettel both go wide at Turn 1.

Alonso goes fifth and Ocon sixth, as Sainz goes top with a 23.174. "A very good lap," he is told, "apart from that Turn 9."

"Ugh, flat-spot, massive," complains Verstappen after locking-up in Turn 1.

Leclerc goes fourth with a 23.202, thereby demoting Bottas to fifth.

Stroll and Vettel are first out for the final run, the pair subsequently joined by the Ferrari duo.

Verstappen heads out on softs, will he post a time or merely abort the lap?

As the clock ticks down Leclerc heads a mobile traffic jam that includes Hamilton. "It's like a race out there," says Sainz as Hamilton passes Leclerc to head the queue.

There is a brief double yellow in S3 but it shouldn't affect anyone other than Vettel who caused it.

Hamilton goes quickest with a 23.145 as Perez looks set to improve also. Indeed the Mexican goes top (23.135) on the soft.

Gasly fails to improve on 12th, while Ocon goes 8th and Norris 7th.

Quickest of all in the final sector only, Verstappen goes quickest with a 22.800.

Ricciardo makes it by the skin of his teeth, while teammate Norris is seventh.

Quickest is Verstappen, ahead of Perez, Hamilton, Sainz, Leclerc, Bottas, Norris, Tsunoda, Ocon and Ricciardo.

We lose Alonso, Gasly, Stroll, Giovinazzi and Vettel.

Replay reveals a very angry Alonso after losing out as a result of that traffic nightmare. At point, it was so bad, Vettel stopped his car, hence the waved double yellows.

Needless to say the incident will be investigated.

Check out our Saturday gallery from Yas Marina, here.

Perez leads the queue at the end of the pitlane, just ahead of his teammate. As ever, softs are the order of the day.

"Get on with things, don't hold Max up," the Mexican is told. "Let Max do his thing and let him catch us up."

Verstappen sets a blistering pace in S1 but Hamilton goes quicker. The Dutchman maintains his pace in S2, crossing the line at 22.109.

Norris posts a 23.392, Norris a 23.011 and Hamilton a 22.660, 0.551s down on his title rival.

Bottas can only manage fourth (23.192) while Perez is down in ninth (40.178), having sacrificed his firth run by giving his teammate a tow in S2. Next time around the Mexican improves to third with a 22.968, this time benefitting from tow from Verstappen.

Behind the big four, it's Sainz, Leclerc, Norris, Ocon, Ricciardo and Tsunoda who had his time (23.011) deleted for exceeding the limits at Turn 16.

With 3:25 remaining they head out, again Hamilton leads the way. As before, Perez leads Verstappen out on to the track.

Hamilton begins his final flyer. He posts a PB in S2, but at the line he fails to improve. The crowd roars.

Tsunoda goes sixth, while Verstappen aborts his lap knowing he has already secured pole.

Norris goes third and Perez fourth, while Ricciardo can only manage tenth.

So, Verstappen will start from pole, albeit on the softs, ahead of Hamilton, Norris, Perez, Sainz, Bottas, Leclerc, Tsunoda, Ocon and Ricciardo.

Alonso will start eleventh, ahead of Gasly, Stroll, Giovinazzi, Vettel, Latifi, Russell, Raikkonen, Schumacher and Mazepin.

That said, the stewards are investigating those Q2 incidents and it is entirely possible we'll see some penalties handed out.

Like Verstappen, all the leading ten, bar Hamilton, Bottas and Tsunoda will start on the softs.

Not for the first time this season we have an upset, for surely nobody was expecting Verstappen to be starting from pole tomorrow.

"I don't know really," says Norris. "I went for pole, it didn't quite work out, still a little bit off.

"I'm a bit nervous," he admits looking ahead to tomorrow, "I kind of want to stay where I am and just watch, I don't want to get too involved and cause any controversy."

"Max did a great lap today," says Hamilton, "we just couldn't compete with that time at the end there. We couldn't answer to that lap, but we're in a good position with our tyres tomorrow. The last lap was nice and clean, I just couldn't go any quicker."

"It's an amazing feeling," grins Verstappen. "We definitely improved the car in qualifying, we got what we wanted. I'm just looking forward to tomorrow, that's the most important. I felt good on both tyres, so we'll see."

"We discussed the slipstream this morning," reveals Christian Horner, "we lowered the downforce, it was the only way to match these guys on the straights.

"Q2 came more towards us, and then both runs in Q3 were exceptional," he adds. "That tow, Checo working with his team mate, absolutely perfect team work today. I think that's one of Max's best laps of the year."

"We'd much rather start on the medium," insists Toto Wolff, "we will have a slight disadvantage from the start and the first six or seven laps if Max goes fast. But we can go longer, we can go for an aggressive undercut.

"I'm also worried for tomorrow because their long runs were much better on Friday."

While we said earlier that we believed Red Bull to be focussing on the race rather than pole, we stand by that, indeed we feel that the team was forced into changing strategy and the switch to soft.

On Friday Verstappen looked strong on the softs, and though the Bulls long run pace was good yesterday, it remains to be seen how it all irons out on Sunday.

Of course, at a time the F1 machine is working overtime in terms of hype, what better scenario than Verstappen claiming pole ahead of his rival, but starting race on a different compound.

Something tells us that this drama is far from over, let's just hope that tomorrow is as entertaining as this afternoon and as devoid of silliness.

Check out our Saturday gallery from Yas Marina, here.

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Published: 11/12/2021
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