Verstappen grabs dramatic pole from Hamilton in Abu Dhabi decider

Max Verstappen grabbed a dramatic and potentially decisive pole position ahead of title rival Lewis Hamilton going into the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

The Mercedes package had looked the far superior all weekend going into Saturday qualifying. And when the Dutchman flat spotted his medium tyres in Q2, it certainly looked like advantage Mercedes, Hamilton posting his fastest time on the medium compound Pirelli tyre.

It meant that Red Bull Racing was forced to switch strategy, Verstappen putting on a set of red banded soft tyres to confirm his Q3 start. And then a stroke of tactical genius, Sergio Perez giving his teammate a tow, punching a hole in the air and giving Verstappen a nice slipstream to nail his pole position lap.

Hamilton tried to respond on his final flyer but couldn’t best Verstappen’s time, meaning that Sunday’s race is perfectly set up with the title rivals on differing strategies. The soft tyre will wear faster, meaning Verstappen will have to pit first on a potential two stop strategy.

“It is an amazing feeling, I think we definitely improved the car again in qualifying because so far this weekend was a bit on and off but incredibly happy with this,” commented pole sitter Verstappen. “Of course it’s what we wanted but it’s never easy, especially with their form the last few races but now I’m just looking forward to it tomorrow because that’s what’s the most important.

“I felt good on both tyres so of course naturally now in the evening it’s a bit cooler so should be a bit easier for the soft tyres, but we’ll see tomorrow. Of course it’s very important to have a good start but from there onwards we’ll just try to do our race, try our very best and we’ll see where we end up.”

Although Verstappen will start Sunday’s race from the best possible position, he will have a very hungry seven-time world champion breathing right down his neck and possibly with the advantage in race strategy.

“Firstly, Max did a great lap today, so we just couldn’t compete with that time in the end there,” said Hamilton. “It was looking really strong through practice, but we couldn’t answer to that fantastic lap from him. But we’re in a good position I’d like to think with our tyres tomorrow and I hope that we can have a good race.

“You saw the first lap and I lost a little bit of time in the last and Turn 5. But the last lap was nice and clean, I just couldn’t go any quicker, so I don’t know if it’s tyre prep or whatever it may be in terms of the out lap but nonetheless, I couldn’t beat that time he did today, he fully deserved the pole. I’m still on the front row, we’ve got the difference between the tyres, and I am grateful to see where he is. We can navigate from there.”

Hamilton will have Verstappen firmly in his sights but the same could be said of third placed Lando Norris, who could also throw a significant spanner in the works with his renowned fast starts, the McLaren driver starting ahead of the second Red Bull of Sergio Perez, Carlos Sainz and Valtteri Bottas.

Next on the grid comes Charles Leclerc as Yuki Tsunoda, Esteban Ocon and Daniel Ricciardo round out the top ten starters for Sunday’s dramatic finale.

Fraser Masefield

Sports news and features writer, web editor and author.