Verstappen takes pole for Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

Red Bull's Dutch driver Max Verstappen celebrates in the Parc Ferme of the Yas Marina Circuit after he took the pole position during the qualifying session of the Formula One Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Saturday.  — AFP
Red Bull's Dutch driver Max Verstappen celebrates in the Parc Ferme of the Yas Marina Circuit after he took the pole position during the qualifying session of the Formula One Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Saturday. — AFP

Abu Dhabi - The Dutchman bests title rival Lewis Hamilton in qualifying at the Yas Marina Circuit



by

Ashwani Kumar

Published: Sat 11 Dec 2021, 6:12 PM

Last updated: Sun 12 Dec 2021, 12:02 AM

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen has given wings to his maiden title hopes by securing the pole position for the season-ending Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Saturday.

In a highly competitive qualifying session, the Dutchman set the winning time of 1:22:109 followed by defending champion Lewis Hamilton (+0.371), McLaren’s Lando Norris (+0.822), on the reconfigured Yas Marina Circuit.

Verstappen was sensational in his final run of Q3 and assisted to perfection by the Red Bull’s strategy of teammate Sergio Perez giving him a tow on the long straight. The Mexican, to his credit, finished fourth (1:22.947), ahead of Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz and Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas.

Sunday’s Grand Prix will only be the second such instance of two title rivals coming to the final race tied on points at 369.5. But Verstappen has an advantage of securing more race wins at nine to Hamilton’s eight, which means if neither of the drivers score a point, Verstappen will become the champion. Title contenders, in a similar situation, have collided in the past and these two, too, have bumped into each other on the track, over the course of this season.

For now, however, Verstappen is delighted to dictate the 58-lap race on the Yas Island’s 5.281-km circuit.

“It’s an amazing feeling. We definitely improved the car in qualifying. We got what we wanted. I felt good on both tyres. So, we’ll see,” Verstappen said about using both the soft and the medium compound tyres.

Hamilton said that he pushed to the limits but couldn’t compete with the time set by Verstappen.

“Max did a great lap today. We couldn’t answer to that lap, but we’re in a good position with our tyres. The last lap was nice and clean. I just couldn’t go any quicker,” the 36-year-old seven-time world champion said.

Asked if Perez giving him a tow was discussed prior to the qualification, Verstappen revealed that it was a team strategy to beat Mercedes’ pace in the final run.

“It was nicely executed as well. Checo (Perez) is a great teammate,” the 24-year-old said.

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner noted that the slipstreaming tactic was part of the game plan.

“It was the only way to match these guys (Mercedes) on the straights. That tow, Checo working with his teammate, absolutely perfect team work today. I think that’s one of Max’s best laps of the year.”

Perez, whose qualifying got compromised, was happy for Red Bull.

“I wish I could have been P3, but it is still a great team result.”

While Mercedes will be starting on medium compound, Red Bull will be on soft tyres. While soft will give Verstappen a flying start, the fast corners will lead to degradation. Race strategy with single or double pit-stops could well be the deciding factor.

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said that though they are on the back foot, it will be a long race.

“We will have a slight disadvantage from the start and the first six or seven laps if (Verstappen) goes fast. We can go longer. He’s (Hamilton) going to hunt him (Verstappen) down. We are on the back foot. This is a long race, and this is Lewis Hamilton in the car.”

Meanwhile, Norris said he has the best seat on the circuit to watch the two title rivals go at each other.

“I kind of want to stay where I am and just watch, I don’t want to get too involved and cause any controversy,” the 22-year-old said.

Apart from the title challengers, there is a battle going on between the Ferrari and McLaren drivers with Charles Leclerc (158), Norris (154) and Carlos Sainz Jr (149.5) for the fifth spot behind Bottas (218) and Perez (190).

Kimi Raikkonen, in his final qualifying race, didn’t progress to Q2 stage, and finished 18th.

Hamilton has won five times in Abu Dhabi and Verstappen once last year. It will be a battle of nerves and strategy between two great rivals as the UAE Capital hosts one of the biggest sporting events.

ashwani@khaleejtimes.com


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