Valtteri Bottas claimed pole position for the season finale Abu Dhabi Grand Prix with a scintillating lap that his teammate Lewis Hamilton was unable to match as Mercedes were clearly the better car on the night at the pristine Yas Marina Circuit.
Bottas played second fiddle to Hamilton up until qualifying when the Finn found an extra bit in his penultimate run in Q3, popping a jaw-dropping 1:36.231 on a fast cooling track under floodlights.
Bottas said afterwards, “Things were getting better and better for me. I managed to find time here and there, it was all under control and I felt very good in the car. The first Q3 lap was really good so I’m really happy. I was so gutted in Brazil getting pole and missing the win. I have a clear target for tomorrow,”
Hamilton had it all to do on his final run and was up by nine-thousandths of a second after the first two sectors, but trying too hard in the final sequence of bends saw his Mercedes get out of shape and costing him time. He will start the race from second.
Hamilton summed up, “What a lap. He had an incredible qualifying session and congratulations to him. We have a great crowd here today and I gave everything. I think I lost a little bit of pace going into qualifying but Valtteri did great. I’m really pleased for him.”
Next up was Sebastian Vettel in the Ferrari, but the Reds simply had no answer on the night to the Silver Arrows. The German was a half second down on the pole-winning time.
Vettel said, “I’m getting better and I think it was a good session. A bit of a shame to be that far back but tomorrow, race pace I think we can be a bit closer but they’ve been very strong. Valtteri had a mega lap so congratulations to him. It should be a fun race.”
Surprise of the session was Daniel Ricciardo who delivered a storming lap on his Q3 run, one of the few drivers to go faster in the final stanza of the session and doing enough to split the Ferrari duo to claim fourth place on the timing screens. It was a mega-effort by the Aussie.
Ricciardo told reporters, “We were there but not as quick as we thought we could be. Q3 run one was a pretty bad lap and I felt we understood why and we put a good one together in the last run and was good, jumped a Ferrari. Second row is close enough to fight tomorrow. The podium is certainly an opportunity. We’re close and all I need is a good start and then we’re there.”
Kimi Raikkonen looked feisty early on in the session, but in the end was again unable to match his teammate’s pace. He was fifth fastest, two tenths down on Vettel and three-quarters of s second shy of the top time.
Sixth fastest was Max Verstappen who struggled to find the sweet spot in Q3 he ended three tenths off Ricciardo’s best and a full second adrift of Bottas.
Verstappen said, “The session was bad. The whole weekend I was struggling with the car balance and just not happy with it. Sometimes you have to accept it’s one of those days where it’s not going to be your day. You are fighting the car a lot. We tried to do the best possible job but that was sixth today.
Best of the rest was Nico Hulkenberg, seventh fastest albeit two seconds off the benchmark lap time on the night, but enough to leapfrog the Force India pair of Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon in eighth and ninth respectively.
Felipe Massa, in his final F1 qualifying, did a good job to wrestle the Williams into the top ten in Q2, bumping his nemesis Fernando Alonso out of Q3 with his final run in the process. He will start his last grand prix from 10th on the grid barring penalties.
In Q1, four-time champion Hamilton was one of the first on track and he quickly grabbed top spot with a lap of 1:37.473. He was eclipsed, however by Mercedes team-mate Bottas who edged ahead with a lap of 1:37.356 as Hamilton improved marginally in P2. Räikkönen took third for Ferrari ahead of team-mate Vettel with Ricciardo fifth ahead of team-mate Verstappen.
Perez took seventh ahead of Vandoorne and Hulkenberg. Behind them Sainz was 10th ahead of Ocon. As the final runs began the top 11 stayed garage bound.
At the other end of the spectrum, the men in the drop zone ahead of the final runs were Stroll in P16 followed by the Saubers of Wehrlein and Ericsson and the Toro Rossos of Gasly and Hartley.
And following the chequered flag only Stroll managed to escape the cut. The Williams driver’s lap of 1:39.503 elevated him to 15th place with Haas’ Grosjean eliminated by just over a hundredth of a second in P16 ahead of Gasly, Wehrlein, Ericsson and Hartley.
In Q2 it was Hamilton who set the pace. Bottas was the first to cross the line but traffic in Q3 saw the Finn set a time of 1:36.977. Hamilton was following and when he crossed the line he took P1 with a time of 1:36.742. Vettel slotted into P3 ahead of Räikkönen and Ricciardo with Hulkenberg seventh ahead of Verstappen.
In the final runs the top five positions remained the same but Verstappen found an improvement to edge ahead of Hulkenberg, while behind the Dutchman, Perez, Ocon and Williams’ Massa made it through in 10th place.
The Brazilian’s time of 1:38.565 meant that he slipped through just seven-hundredths of a second ahead of former Ferrari team-mate Fernando Alonso who was eliminated in 11th place ahead of Sainz, Vandoorne, Magnussen and Stroll.
While Mercedes clearly had the upper hand, it was not Hamilton who set the pace in the first runs of Q3 but Bottas. The Finn extracted the maximum from himself and his car to post a time of 1:36.231. It was a benchmark Hamilton failed to match in either his first or final run and thus Bottas took his fourth career pole position ahead of the 2017 champion. Vettel took third place, over half a second down on Bottas.
It was Ricciardo, though, who made the biggest improvement in the session. The Australian’s first run left him in sixth place, two-hundredths of a second behind team-mate Verstappen and complaining about the tyres he had run on his first flyer.
Ricciardo was the last man out of the garage in the final runs but he made the lap count improving by more than seven-tenths of a second to jump to fourth place with a lap of 1:36.959.
Räikkönen was left with fifth place ahead of Verstappen, while Hulkenberg took seventh place for Renault. Perez qualified eighth ahead of team-mate Ocon and Massa qualified for his final grand prix in 10th place.
Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Yas Marina Circuit – Qualifying Result