Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton has successfully claimed the final pole position of the year, pipping his team mate Valtteri Bottas to the top spot in the floodlit qualifying session for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix by just under two tenths.
It’s Hamilton’s fifth pole of the season and 88th in his F1 career, but only his first since the German Grand Prix prior to the summer break.
However it won’t be a Mercedes 1-2 on the grid, as Bottas will start tomorrow’s race from the back after being forced to take a second new power unit this weekend, leaving Red Bull’s Max Verstappen to pick up the vacant front row spot alongside Hamilton on Sunday.
Ferrari locked out the second row despite Charles Leclerc missing out on a final run due to congestion as cars vied to leave it late to find space to make their last push laps.
- 2019 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – Qualifying results
As might be expected from the desert setting, Yas Marina Circuit had obligingly served up dry, sunny and very warm conditions for the final weekend of the 2019 Formula 1 season, despite taking place at the end of November. The sun was starting to set over the grandstands as the drivers embarked on their last qualifying session of the year, which was to be held in twilight conditions under the floodlights. Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas had dominated Friday’s running but Red Bull had pipped final practice thanks to Max Verstappen.
Q1: Mercedes flex their muscles as Haas, Alfa and Williams struggle
First out on track was Red Bull’s Alexander Albon, with the Haas cars of Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen and the two Alfa Romeos of Kimi Raikkonen close behind, all on the soft compound tyres. After that there was a steady stream of cars rolling off pit lane including the two Williams of George Russell and Robert Kubica.
Albon’s first effort of 1:37.699s opened the proceedings and he remained on top of the timesheets until his team mate went 1.309s quicker, with the McLarens of Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris also acquitting themselves well to slip into second and third. They were soon demoted a place by Charles Leclerc’s maiden run of the evening which put the Ferrari into second just nine hundredths slower than Verstappen.
By contrast, Sebastian Vettel’s first effort saw him immediately spin on cold tyres at the start of his push lap. He was still recovering as Lewis Hamilton arrived on the scene to go top with a new benchmark of 1:36.231s. Bottas’ own response was good enough for third place albeit almost a quarter of a second off his team mate. Left with the track to themselves, both Silver Arrows then found more time with their next efforts and Hamilton successfully raised the bar for the competition to 1:35.851s.
Vettel’s next effort was good enough to put him into fifth place while Albon found more speed to pop up to second. Both drivers were now well clear of the elimination zone, which was occupied by Raikkonen, Grosjean, Russell, Giovinazzi and Kubica after the first runs, with Magnussen on the bubble in 15th. For those drivers, everything now depended on their final run of the first round.
Raikkonen briefly emerged from the danger zone into 14th, but he was soon pushed back down by better times from Magnussen, Grosjean and Giovinazzi. Racing Point’s Lance Stroll briefly looked likely to be eliminated, but he then found more pace to go 12th while his team mate Sergio Perez leapt into the top six with his latest push. When the dust settled, Magnussen found himself still in 15th but that meant he was through to Q2 – unlike Grosjean, Giovinazzi, Raikkonen, Russell and Kubica.
Although disappointed to miss out on the second round, Russell could at least claim one significant success as the only driver on the grid to maintain a perfect 21-0 qualifying record over his team mate in 2019.
Q2: Leclerc pips Hamilton and Bottas, all three set to start on medium tyres
Albon was first out again at the start of the second round, although somewhat to his bemusement and slight annoyance. He aas gambling on medium tyres for his first run. That selection was echoed by his team mate and also by Hamilton, while the rest of the front runners all stuck to the safer soft compound for their latest laps.
Albon’s time of 1:36.718s was a full second slower than Hamilton’s immediate riposte, and even Verstappen couldn’t get near the six-time champion’s level as he complained of a lack of rear grip on the Red Bull. Finally the Ferraris on soft tyres got within touching distance of Hamilton: Leclerc was second quickest and just 0.063s behind, with Vettel slotting into third ahead of Verstappen, Sainz and Albon.
Bottas was the last man to set a time in the round, and while the medium tyres didn’t work quite for the Finn was still able to produce a mighty final sector to go second, just four hundredths behind his team mate. It seemed as though it was job done for the Silver Arrows in terms of tyre strategy for Sunday’s race, although they were both back out again for another run on softs to guard against unpleasant surprises.
In fact in turned out that there was one surprise to come, with Leclerc deposing Hamilton for the top spot with a lap of 1:35.543s after a late switch to join the Mercedes drivers on the medium compound. Otherwise the top five remained unchanged, while Sainz improved to sixth ahead of Albon and Norris successfully injected himself into the top ten in eighth ahead of the Renaults of Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg.
Missing out on the final top ten pole shootout round were the two Racing Point drivers and Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly and Daniil Kvyat, while Magnussen was slowest in that run putting him into 15th place of the grid for Sunday’s start.
Q3: Hamilton and Bottas top qualifying after Leclerc misses out on final run
With the skies now fully dark, Mercedes and McLaren were quick to get moving when the lights at the end of pit lane went green to get Q3 underway. Vettel was the first of the Ferraris to get underway, with Leclerc slightly delayed by the Ferrari pit crew checking the SF90 for any damage after the Monegasque took a bit of a hit on the kerbs during the final run of Q2. This time Albon was among the last to head out, while Ricciardo opted to remain in the garage and pin his hopes on a single late run.
Back on softs for the occasion, Hamilton laid down the gauntlet with a 1:34.828s which was a full 0.360s ahead of Bottas, Leclerc and Vettel. Verstappen was looking happier to be back on the red-walled tyres, and moments later succeeded in splitting the two Mercedes to provisionally put himself on the front row in second place but still over three tenths off Hamilton’s formidable effort.
After briefly regrouping on pit lane, it was time for all ten drivers to make their final qualifying runs of the season. Ricciardo found himself a nice gap in which to conduct his only run of the round which was good enough to put him into seventh just behind Albon and ahead of the two McLarens of Sainz and Norris with Hulkenberg slowest.
Elsewhere, jockeying for space slowed the field and resulted in Leclerc failing to cross the line after the chequered flag, thwarting his hopes of a making a final run and consigning himself to fourth. Meanwhile both Mercedes went quicker, Hamilton improving to 1:34.779s and Bottas up to second albeit with a grid penalty to serve on Sunday meaning that Verstappen will still start on the front row.
There was also a late improvement from Norris to move him into seventh ahead of Ricciardo. With Sainz only ninth quickest, it meant that the younger driver has claimed the honours in the qualifying battle of the McLaren team mates by 11-10.
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