Max Verstappen charged to pole position for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, getting the better of Red Bull team mate Sergio Perez and Ferrari rival Charles Leclerc as the sun set and the track action ramped up during qualifying at the Yas Marina Circuit.
Verstappen led the way with a time of 1m 23.988s after the first Q3 runs and improved to a 1m 23.824s on his final lap, finishing two-tenths clear of Perez, with Leclerc half a tenth further back in third.
Carlos Sainz followed team mate Leclerc in fourth, while Lewis Hamilton and George Russell put their Mercedes cars P5 and P6 respectively to ensure that the top three teams from 2022 will start the final race of the season in formation.
Lando Norris was one of the stars of qualifying as he grabbed seventh in his McLaren, ahead of Alpine rival Esteban Ocon – the two teams set for a showdown over P4 in the constructors’ standings.
Another man to spark cheers in the grandstands was Aston Martin driver Sebastian Vettel, as he stormed to ninth during his final F1 qualifying session, while Daniel Ricciardo (McLaren) rounded out the top 10, albeit with a three-place grid penalty for causing a collision with Kevin Magnussen in Brazil.
Red Bull Racing
Red Bull Racing
Fernando Alonso could not follow team mate Ocon into Q3 as he fell a few thousandths short during Q2, winding up in P11 and just in front of Yuki Tsunoda, who led AlphaTauri’s charge with a solid session to see out the season.
Mick Schumacher ended his final F1 qualifying run with Haas in 13th, as the wait goes on to find out where he will head next, while Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll and Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu joined him as Q2 eliminees.
Q1 and the opening knockout phase saw Magnussen come back down to earth with a bump after his spectacular pole position amid changeable conditions in Brazil – the Dane the first driver to miss the Q2 cut in P16.
He was joined on the sidelines by Pierre Gasly and Valtteri Bottas in the other AlphaTauri and Alfa Romeo machines, with Williams drivers Alex Albon and Nicholas Latifi – the latter also bidding farewell to the sport – bringing up the rear.
AS IT HAPPENED
Q1 – Magnussen goes from pole to Q1 exit
There was plenty of intrigue over the front-running order at Yas Marina after Verstappen and Red Bull topped Friday evening’s second practice session, ahead of Russell’s Mercedes and Leclerc’s Ferrari – albeit with the Dutchman using softer tires than his rivals.
When the cars rolled out of the pit lane for the start of Q1, amid similar conditions to those experienced in FP2, it was Verstappen who set the early pace with a 1m 24.754s, putting him just over half a tenth clear of team mate Perez and three-tenths up on the Ferrari of Sainz.
With Mercedes pair Russell and Hamilton the best part of a second adrift, split by Norris in his McLaren, Verstappen’s only concern at this point surrounded his headrest, as he radioed the Red Bull pit wall to report that “I think it’s broken” and to request checks.
When drivers re-emerged for the final runs, there were no changes at the sharp end of the timesheets, with Verstappen – who headed back to the pits rather than complete his second attempt – holding on for P1 ahead of Perez, Ferrari pair Sainz and Leclerc, and Norris.
Further back, Vettel was in the drop zone and at risk of dropping out in his last F1 qualifying appearance, but he delivered an inspired final lap to jump up to sixth, edging out the Mercedes cars of Russell and Hamilton, as Zhou and Tsunoda completed the top 10.
Outgoing Haas driver Schumacher made it into Q2 in 11th position, followed by Ocon, Stroll and Ricciardo, while Alonso squeezed through after recovering from a scruffy first attempt, which saw him catch a wild slide at Turn 9.
After the heights of his pole last time out at Interlagos, Magnussen was eliminated in Q1, along with Gasly, Bottas – the Alfa Romeo man swearing on his way back to the pits as he lamented that his tires “didn’t work” – and Williams pair Albon and Latifi.
Knocked out: Magnussen, Gasly, Bottas, Albon, Latifi
Q2 – Perez on top as Vettel seals a Q3 spot
Red Bull again led the way in the Q2, but this time it was Perez sitting pretty at the top of the timing screens, as he shaved some three-tenths off Verstappen’s pace-setting Q1 effort en route to a 1m 24.419s.
After a low-key start, Ferrari upped their pace as Q2 drew to a close second and third place with Leclerc and Sainz respectively – the duo separated by just 0.004s, as Verstappen settled for P4, a tenth further back.
Hamilton was left confused by Mercedes’ 0.355s gap to the front of the pack as he took fifth, with Norris once again splitting the Silver Arrows as he pipped Russell to round out the top six positions.
Vettel produced another stunner at the end of Q2 to grab P8 and make it through to the pole position shootout, despite frustrations over traffic, with Ocon and Ricciardo – his grid penalty aside – also progressing.
Alonso was unable to join team mate Ocon in Q3 in the other Alpine, as he narrowly missed out in P11, with Tsunoda, Schumacher, Stroll and Zhou the other drivers to fall at the second hurdle.
Knocked out: Alonso, Tsunoda, Schumacher, Stroll, Zhou
Q3 – Verstappen and Red Bull make their mark
Red Bull were once again quick out of the blocks in Q3 as Verstappen pumped in a 1m 23.988s on his first run to lead the way from Sainz, Perez and Leclerc, with Hamilton and Russell watching on in P5 and P6 respectively.
And when the drivers came back out for their final efforts, Verstappen only strengthened his advantage by clocking a 1m 23.824s, as Perez got the jump on the Ferraris to give Red Bull a front-row lock out.
While two-tenths separated Verstappen and Perez, there was just half a tenth between the Mexican in P2 and Leclerc in P3, with Sainz, Hamilton and Russell cut adrift of the pole battle during the decisive laps.
As the top three teams occupied the top six positions, it left Norris and McLaren to grab the ‘best of the rest’ spot in P7, followed by the Alpine of Ocon, the similarly impressive Aston Martin of Vettel and the second McLaren of Ricciardo.
Ricciardo’s third-place grid penalty for Sunday evening’s race means he will drop to 13th for his final start with the Woking team, promoting Alonso, Tsunoda and Schumacher in the process.
“It was a bit of an up and down qualifying. It started off quite well. Q2 was a little bit more messy. I don’t know why, but with that tire set I couldn’t get that grip together – then in Q3 it all felt a little bit more normal. Then we had a little bit of scare, the car turned off before the first run, so we had to reboot everything,” said pole-sitter Verstappen.
“We went out and both of the laps were good. I’m very pleased for that, but also very happy that both cars are on the front row, because… of course, we want to win the race but we also want to finish second with Checo in the championship, so that’s definitely a great start for tomorrow.”
The 2022 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, which will bring an end to a captivating season under all-new technical regulations, is set to begin at 1700 local time on Sunday. Head to the RACE HUB for more information.