Verstappen on pole as Abu Dhabi continues to surprise


Ahead of today's qualifying session, the air temperature is 27 degrees C, while the track temperature is 33 degrees.

Russell, Norris, Piastri, Albon, Leclerc, Verstappen, Ocon, Sargeant, Tsunoda, Zhou, Perez, Hamilton, Gasly, Alonso, Stroll, Bottas, Hulkenberg, Ricciardo, Magnussen and Sainz.

That, for one reason or another, was the order in this morning's session, and what wouldn't we give to see something similar for the grid tomorrow.

Be it the conditions, traffic, the lack of running yesterday or set-up issues it was a session that posed more questions than answers and consequently we feel we are heading into the unknown.

Indeed, looking through the order there is no real pattern, with plenty of disparity even between teammates.

At Red Bull, due to his problems earlier, the suspension on Verstappen's car has beeb changed.

Though he has the title secured (again) as we saw with his pitlane antics yesterday, Verstappen is hungry for more success, while there remains the little matter of runner-up in the constructors' and fourth in the drivers.

It should be an interesting hour.

The lights go green but it is a couple of minutes before the sound of an engine fills the air, eventually it is the Mercedes in the back of Sargeant's car that breaks the deadlock.

He is followed by Verstappen, Ricciardo, Albon, Tsunoda and Hulkenberg.

Soon, all bar Sainz and Russell are on track.

Sargeant posts a 24.722, but this is immediately beaten by Verstappen (24.160).

As Sargeant has his time deleted, Albon goes second ahead of Ricciardo and Hulkenberg.

As Norris goes second, Perez goes fifth.

Leclerc goes third with a 24.556, as Ocon goes ninth.

Sainz goes seventh, as Zhou and Hulkenberg have their times deleted.

Hamilton can only manage 13th and teammate Russell 9th.

Stroll goes 14th and Alonso 15th as the early stages of the session turn out to be every bit as strange as we expected.

Verstappen is quickest, ahead of Norris, Leclerc, but then come Albon, Tsunoda, Perez, Sainz, Ricciardo, Russell and Bottas.

Sargeant is first out for the final assault, ahead of his Williams teammate. However, on the out lap Albon overtakes the American.

"Track evolution will be around four-tenths," Albon is informed.

Albon improves to second with a 24.298 as Sargeant goes fourth (24.532).

However, once again his time is deleted.

Alonso leads a massive queue at the pitlane exit... and understandably there are a lot of unhappy drivers.

"I'm going to lose another minute here," says Sainz.

Hulkenberg goes fourth and Hamilton fifth, while Russell goes third and Gasly eighth.

Stroll goes fifth, Tsunoda second as the track continues to evolve.

Ricciardo goes tenth, Alonso eleventh and Bottas 15th.

Ocon goes 12th, Sainz 15th and Perez second (24.209), thereby demoting the Ferrari driver.

"Too much traffic," complains Sainz, as Verstappen has his time deleted but remains quickest.

Second quickest is Perez, ahead of Tsunoda, Albon, Russell, Norris, Stroll, Hulkenberg, Hamilton and Leclerc.

We lose Sainz, Magnussen, Bottas, Zhou and Sargeant.

Sainz convinced that he was slowed down on purpose, especially in Turn 5.

Albon is first out for Q2, followed by Hamilton, Russell, Stroll and Verstappen.

Soon, all bar Norris are on track, Verstappen the only driver on fresh rubber.

Albon crosses the line at 24.965, as Hamilton responds with a 24.826 and Russell a 24.460.

On those fresh softs Verstappen goes quickest (23.740), as Tsunoda goes third and Ricciardo sixth.

Leclerc goes fourth, Alonso fifth, but both are demoted when Perez goes second (24.116) only to be demoted himself by Norris (23.920).

A 24.278 sees Piastri go fourth, ahead of Russell, Tsunoda, Leclerc and Alonso.

As in Q1, Hulkenberg has his time deleted and therefore drops to 15th.

Albon heads out again, followed by Hulkenberg, Ricciardo, Leclerc and Gasly.

Albon improves to fifth with a 24.439, which draws a round of applause from his team.

Hulkenberg goes 4th with a 24.213, as Ricciardo goes seventh and Leclerc third.

Gasly goes fourth, Tsunoda sixth and Stroll ninth.

Ocon goes ninth, Alonso sixth, Hamilton tenth and Russell fourth, which is bad news for his Mercedes teammate.

Knowing he is safe Piastri aborts his lap.

Quickest is Verstappen, ahead of Norris, Leclerc, Russell, Gasly, Perez, Alonso, Tsunoda, Hulkenberg and Piastri.

We lose Hamilton, Ocon, Stroll, Albon and Ricciardo as the disparity between teammate witnessed in FP3 continues.

"There's something not right with this car," says the seven-time world champion. Indeed, on-board replays show him really struggling with his car.

Check out our Saturday gallery from Yas Marina here.

Verstappen is first out for Q3, followed by Hulkenberg, Tsunoda, Norris and Alonso.

All stick with used rubber... no pun intended, bar Verstappen.

Verstappen crosses the line at 23.445, while Hulkenberg goes second with a 24.435.

Tsunoda posts a 24.270 but Norris responds with a 23.816.

Perez goes third and Alonso sixth, but both are demoted by Piastri who goes third with a 23.949.

Leclerc can only manage 8th (24.496), but is demoted to ninth when Russell posts a 24.152 to go fourth.

Replay shows Perez going wide in Turn 1. "What was that out of 1," he asks, "horrendous drivability!"

"We are struggling so much on scrubbed tyres," sighs Leclerc. "It is so weird."

Verstappen is currently quickest, ahead of Norris, Piastri, Russell, Perez, Tsunoda, Hulkenberg, Alonso, Leclerc and Gasly.

Norris leads the final assault, ahead of his McLaren teammate, Alonso, Leclerc and Verstappen. The Red Bull driver was keen to get out first, but Leclerc and the McLaren pair beat him to it.

Norris goes purple in S1, 0.002s quicker than Verstappen. However, he makes a mistake later in the lap and hits the kerb. He fails to improve his time, unlike teammate Piastri who posts a 23.782.

Leclerc goes second with a 23.584 as Verstappen fails to improve.

Tsunoda goes fifth, Hulkenberg seventh and Perez fifth.

Despite being quickest in the final sector, Russell can only manage fourth, while Perez has hit time deleted and drops to ninth. Gasly also has his time deleted.

The stewards are investigating an impeding incident involving Piastri and Gasly, the Australian alleged to have impeded the Alpine driver in Turn 4.

So, Verstappen has pole and will start ahead of Leclerc, Piastri, Russell, Norris, Tsunoda, Alonso, Hulkenberg, Perez and Gasly.

Hamilton is eleventh, ahead of Ocon, , Stroll, Albon, Ricciardo, Sainz, Magnussen, Bottas, Zhou and Sargeant.

"It was a difficult session, extremely tight this weekend," admits Piastri. "A bit of a messy one, lots of mistakes.

"My final lap had a small mistake but it was a big ask to make the front row," he adds. "I went into qualifying having not done a clean lap all weekend. Q1 messy, Q2 got it together finally, Q3... happy with that, close but not quite close enough."

"Considering the weekend we've had until now, I did not expect it at all," smiles Leclerc. "The last lap, I had to put everything together.

"In Q1 and Q2 I was worried about going through, and in the end a front row which is amazing."

"Very weird," says Verstappen, "the whole weekend has been a bit of a struggle.

"We improved the car for qualifying, and I was very happy to be on pole. I have no clue how good we will be in the race, normally we are quite decent.

"It's been a very special season," he adds, in a masterpiece of understatement.

Check out our Saturday gallery from Yas Marina here.

Article from Pitpass (

Published: 25/11/2023
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