Max Verstappen ensured he will start the championship-deciding Abu Dhabi Grand Prix from the best possible position after comfortably beating Lewis Hamilton to pole.
Red Bull orchestrated a slipstream for their title contender with Verstappen’s team mate Sergio Perez giving him a tow along the back straight. It proved unnecessary as Hamilton was unable to get within three tenths of his rival in second place.
Lando Norris took a surprise third on the grid for McLaren, ahead of Sergio Perez. Carlos Sainz Jnr will start fifth for Ferrari, one place ahead of Valtteri Bottas in the second Mercedes.
Midway through the session, Mick Schumacher struck the bollard on the inside of the final corner, knocking it onto the racing line on the exit. The debris was then collected by the McLaren of Lando Norris, which dragged it further down the circuit. With the obstacle posing a potential hazard, the session was red flagged to allow the bollard to be retreived by the marshals.
When the session restarted moments later, Sebastian Vettel was in danger of being eliminated from Q1 for the second weekend in succession. His endeavour to progress was frustrated when he appeared to be impeded by Esteban Ocon on the exit of the final corner. The incident was noted by the stewards and Vettel was able to improve on his next lap.
A frustrated Vettel then encountered Carlos Sainz Jnr on his final run. Despite these dramas, he secured a place in Q2, while the stewards also ruled no investigation was needed for the Sainz incident.
Vettel’s progression meant that both Williams drivers were at risk of being eliminated. Nicholas Latifi only just missed out on Q2 in 16th place, while George Russell failed to improve on his final effort despite going faster than anyone down the long back straight and had to settle for 17th.
“Tyres were nowhere, absolutely nowhere,” he rued after his final qualifying run for Williams. “We could have gone fast-slow-fast. We had the pace.”
In his final qualifying session of his Formula 1 career, Kimi Raikkonen was knocked out in Q1 in 18th place. As it so often has in 2021, the back row of the grid was occupied by the two Haas drivers of Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin, respectively.
Drivers eliminated in Q1
|18||Kimi Raikkonen||Alfa Romeo-Ferrari||1’24.779|
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As both the sun and the track temperatures began to drop around the Yas Marina circuit, the majority of the field took to the track with medium compound tyres on their cars.
Hamilton produced what appeared to be a remarkable lap of a 1’23.185 on the yellow-marked compound, until it was almost exactly matched by Verstappen and then Bottas, whose first efforts were within a tenth of Hamilton’s time.
Both Ferraris looked to secure passage to Q3 by using the pace advantage offered by the soft tyres. Carlos Sainz Jnr appeared to make that plan pay off for the team when he instantly went quickest of all, with Leclerc moving to fourth fastest.
Verstappen’s second effort on his medium tyres was ruined when he locked up heavily under braking for the first corner, running wide and immediately reporting a flat spot on his left-front tyre. He aborted the run and pitted, before being sent back out on the soft tyres with Red Bull not wanting their championship contender to start the race on a compromised set of tyres or risk elimination as the track surface began to yield more grip.
With just over two minutes of the session remaining and drivers setting up for their final runs, a heavy traffic jam formed in the third sector. Hamilton used a fresh set of medium tyres to improve his best time, before the Red Bulls of Verstappen and Perez went quickest on the softs – ensuring the championship rivals would be taking different strategies into tomorrow’s deciding race.
Fernando Alonso caught Daniel Ricciardo at the end of his final lap and was unimpressed with the McLaren compromising his last sector. He became the first driver eliminated in 11th, ahead of Pierre Gasly in 12th after the AlphaTauri complained of cold brakes after being forced to slow in the traffic of the final sector.
Lance Stroll was the next driver knocked out in 13th, ahead of Antonio Giovinazzi and Sebastian Vettel the last driver out in 15th. The stewards confirmed the two incidents involving Ricciardo and Alonso, and Gasly and Vettel, would be investigated after qualifying.
Drivers eliminated in Q2
|13||Lance Stroll||Aston Martin-Mercedes||1’24.066|
|14||Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo-Ferrari||1’24.251|
|15||Sebastian Vettel||Aston Martin-Mercedes||1’24.305|
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As the most crucial qualifying session of the season began, Red Bull sent both their cars out onto the circuit first, with Perez ahead of team mate Verstappen.
As the pair rounded the turn six and seven chicane, Perez lifted off along the subsequent straight and allowed Verstappen a slipstream heading into turn nine. It proved an effective tactic, as Verstappen set provisional pole of a 1’22.109, over half a second faster than his rival Hamilton.
Perez’s second lap, his first genuine attempt, was good enough for him to go third, ahead of Bottas in fourth – but only after Norris complained the Red Bull had got in his way in the final sector.
Hamilton was the first driver to start his final qualifying effort in the dying moments and despite improving on his previous time, it was nowhere near close enough to challenge Verstappen’s provisional pole time, ensuring that the Red Bull driver would take the crucial advantage at the start of tomorrow’s race.
Red Bull’s hopes of having Perez start directly behind his team mate on the grid were dashed when Norris jumped up to third on the grid with a strong final lap, with Perez having to settle for fourth. Mercedes would likely be more disappointed by Bottas only able to take sixth on the grid, being beaten by the Ferrari of Sainz.
Leclerc will start seventh in the second Ferrari, ahead of Yuki Tsunoda, Esteban Ocon and Daniel Ricciardo rounding out the top 10.
Top ten in Q3
|1||Max Verstappen||Red Bull-Honda||1’22.109|
|4||Sergio Perez||Red Bull-Honda||1’22.947|
|5||Carlos Sainz Jnr||Ferrari||1’22.992|
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2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
- The omission in the FIA’s Abu Dhabi report which may store up trouble for the future
- How F1’s greenest debutant defied his doubters and left as its most experienced racer
- Latifi condemns “extreme” social media abuse and death threats over Abu Dhabi GP crash
- Why Mercedes believe they would have won an appeal but still lost the title
- Verstappen’s title-winning last-lap pass on Hamilton was “very painful” due to cramp