If you were watching the Free Practice session, you’d get the impression that Mercedes look like the car to beat in the Abu Dhabi grand Prix and despite not claiming pole position, that still could be the case given the tire difference, race strategy and overall race pace but if there was a chance to change the narrative, Red Bull and Max Verstappen certainly wrote their own story on Saturday’s qualifying session.
The session had a slight twist in that Max Verstappen looked set to start on the same Medium compound as Lewis Hamilton but a second run in Q2 created a flat spot and he made a final run on the Soft compound, along with his teammate Sergio Perez, meaning both Red Bull’s would will start of Soft tires while both Mercedes will start on the Medium compound.
Whether that choice was planned or made for them with the flat spot, it’ shard to know but the real surprise came in Q3 when Max was able to take pole by 0.371s over Legs Hamilton’s Mercedes and both were on the Soft compound tires. Could that simply be that the Mercedes doesn’t like the Soft as much as it does the Medium or was there genuine pace in the Red Bull that has revealed itself in Abu Dhabi when it hasn’t been present in the last three races?
Mercedes long-run pace looks good and on Medium tires, they should have a decent strategy for Sunday while Red Bull’s hope will be the they can take advantage of the Soft tires to get a good start but then also make them last as long as possible. Could the choice of Soft tires force Red Bull into a 2-stop race with a pit lane delta of 23s? That may be a very challenging strategy to overhaul the Mercedes.
It’s not over yet and despite a good pole position for Verstappen, there is a lot of work to do yet and Mercedes will not go quietly. Much depends on the tire performance, the start and how the strategies play out on top of any potential clashes between the two title contenders.
Abu Dhabi Qualifying Results:
|1||Max Verstappen||Red Bull-Honda||1m23.322s||1m22.8s||1m22.109s|
|4||Sergio Pérez||Red Bull-Honda||1m23.35s||1m23.135s||1m22.947s|
|5||Carlos Sainz Jr.||Ferrari||1m23.624s||1m23.174s||1m22.992s|
|13||Lance Stroll||Aston Martin-Mercedes||1m24.061s||1m24.066s|
|14||Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo-Ferrari||1m24.118s||1m24.251s|
|15||Sebastian Vettel||Aston Martin-Mercedes||1m24.225s||1m24.305s|
|18||Kimi Räikkönen||Alfa Romeo-Ferrari||1m24.779s|