The final race of the season requires a final qualifying session and when you are at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, you’d better bring your A game because Mercedes has dominated at the Yas Marina circuit in last five years.
Could Ferrari or Red Bull challenge Mercedes for Pole Position? Would Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas make best use of his brand new power unit for pole? It is a power unit rumored to have updates slated for the 2020 version and some suggest it could be worth two tenths.
The track’s evolution as the sun sets is also a factor as track temperatures decrease during the session and getting the tires to operate at their optimum is not easy.
With 16 minutes left in the session, Red Bull led the teams out on track with Alex Albon followed by Kimi Raikkonen’s Alfa Romeo. The cars were all jockeying for position and the teams were radioing the drivers about the possibility of a tow down the long straights meaning the slipstream may play a factor for some.
Albon set the time to beat at 1:36.699s but it wasn’t long before McLaren’s Lando Norris, Carlos Sainz and ultimately Red Bull’s Max Verstappen eclipsed his time. It was Lewis Hamilton who took the top spot as Sebastian Vettel spun on the final corner to begin his first hot lap. The corner was deemed in yellow flag condition but Hamilton did set the fastest final sector time.
Vettel collected himself and made his first attempt and slots in with fastest just behind his teammate, Charles Leclerc. Lewis and his teammate Valtteri were split by Max Verstappen in what could be a foreshadow of the race to come.
Bottas jumped up to 2nd with a couple of minutes left but the track was in the process of evolving and temperatures lowering which prompted all of the teams to send their cars out late in the session.
Out in Q1- Kubica, Russell, Raikkonen, Giovinazzi, Grosjean
With 13:30 left in the Q2 session, the teams all began to come out on track on Medium compound tires. Uniquely, and perhaps due to their lack of pace which seemed to manifest in Austin, Ferrari were out on the Soft compounds.
Lewis Hamilton took initial top spot with a 1:35.634s just ahead of Max Verstappen but that was shot-lived as Vettel split the par on his Soft tires and then Vettel and Verstappen were both jumped by Charles Leclerc. Regardless, Hamilton was still quickest even on the Medium tires.
With 5 minutes left, Valtteri Bottas jumped to 2nd quickest jus behind his teammate and he did son not he Medium tires. More concerning was both Toro Rosso cars languishing in the knock-out zone while the Renault’s were still in the top 10. It’s important because just 8 points separate them in the constructor’s championship.
With 2 minutes left, the cars came out for their final run in Q2. Lando Norris, languishing down in 12th, needed to find three tenths in his McLaren to get himself into Q3. He managed to jump up to 8th forcing both Toro Rosso’s out in Q2.
Leclerc jumped up to the top on Medium compounds while his teammate, Vettel was still on Softs. Ferrari will split their strategy on Sunday with Charles starting on Mediums and Sebastian starting on Softs.
Out in Q2- Stroll, Perez, Gasly, Kvyat, Magnussen
Q3 started with the Sun in full repose and the track evolution continued to cool the surface as the teams wasted little time in getting out on track. The Ferrari’s and Mercedes were both out on brand new soft tires.
The top spot was taken by Hamilton followed by his teammate, Bottas, then Leclerc and Vettel. It was Max Verstappen who split the Mercedes duo taking second spot behind Hamilton. A sobering radio message to Leclerc showed that Ferrari were losing 6 tenths in the third sector which shocked Leclerc for good reason.
The unraveling story of the qualifying shootout between the McLaren drivers was favoring Carlos Sainz who led teammate Lando Norris in 7th and 8th. Both Carlos and Lando were tied with 10 pole performances each. Who would take the 11th ? The Renault’s were last in 9th and 10th.
The final runs were stunned with Charles Leclerc did not make it to the start line in time accusing his teammate of slowing down too much. Vettel’s ragged first sector meant that it would come down to Mercedes and Red Bull.
Lewis led Valtteri ahead of Max for the top three while Vettel couldn’t jump Leclerc leaving him down in 5th. Lewis’s pole lap was also a track record. All of the setup changes and different racing lines that Lewis worked on during the Free Practices sessions paid off. It was Lewis’s first pole position since the German Grand Prix.
Meanwhile, Lando Norris has beaten his teammate, Carlos Sainz, in qualifying 11 to 10.
Valtteri Bottas will start from the back of the grid which moves Max onto the front row and two Ferrari’s on the second row.
|2||Max Verstappen||Red Bull/Honda||0.360s|
|5||Alexander Albon||Red Bull/Honda||0.903s|
|8||Carlos Sainz Jr.||McLaren/Renault||1.680s|
|10||Sergio Perez||Racing Point/Mercedes||2.276s|
|11||Pierre Gasly||Toro Rosso/Honda||2.310s|
|12||Lance Stroll||Racing Point/Mercedes||2.324s|
|13||Daniil Kvyat||Toro Rosso/Honda||2.362s|
|16||Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo/Ferrari||3.335s|
|17||Kimi Raikkonen||Alfa Romeo/Ferrari||3.604s|