Securing the first non-Mercedes-powered pole position of the season, Max Verstappen brought some much-needed excitement to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Saturday.
We’ve said it before on this site, and I’m sure we’ll say it again: thank god for Max Verstappen.
Say what you will about his racecraft, or his tendency to get himself in trouble when in front of a microphone, but you can’t deny the boy is fast.
0.025 seconds is all that separated him from Valtteri Bottas, with Lewis Hamilton a further 0.061s adrift. Margins that tight are ridiculous at the best of times, but on a track of this length it’s even more unbelievable. Approximately 1.5 meters separated Verstappen from Bottas at the finish line, and considering the gulf in the other direction between the performance of the Mercedes car and Red Bull, that’s a testament to how good the Dutchman is.
Of course, now the question is how Verstappen will fare on Sunday. Once again his teammate did him no favours, qualifying fifth and thus leaving the Dutchman to fend-off Hamilton and Bottas on his own. He’s already performed one miracle this weekend – does he have it in him for another?
Hell of a performance from McLaren when they needed it most. They came into the weekend looking very much like the third-fastest team against Racing Point and Renault, and yet they go into the race with as much a chance of overhauling the former in the standings as they do fending-off the latter.
If this is to be Daniil Kvyat’s last Formula 1 race, it looks like he will go down swinging. P7 and nearly three-tenths faster than teammate Pierre Gasly is testament to the quality that will be lost when he isn’t on the grid next year.
Props also to Esteban Ocon for getting just his second qualifying win over Daniel Ricciardo of the season. Between this and his P2 in Sakhir, he has plenty of cause for confidence heading into next season – and against Fernando Alonso, he’ll certainly need it.
Sunday race strategy preview, courtesy of Pirelli
The optimal race strategy for the 55-lap Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is a one-stopper, starting on the P Zero Yellow medium for 18 laps and moving onto P Zero White hard for 37 laps (or vice-versa). It’s also possible to do a one-stopper starting on the P Zero Red soft for 14 laps and then going onto the hard for 41 laps, but this is slightly slower in terms of overall race time.
A two-stopper is slower, especially because track position is crucial at Yas Marina, with the track being hard to overtake on and a complicated pit lane exit that adds to the time loss. The way to do it would be two soft stints of 12 laps each (one at the start and the other one as last), plus one 31-lap hard stint.
Red Bull driver Max Verstappen claimed pole position for the season-closing Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, using the P Zero Red soft in C5 compound (the softest of the range) to go fastest of all in qualifying for the first time since Brazil 2019. Less than a tenth of a second separated the top three, while Verstappen was also fastest in FP3.
Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull, Renault and the McLaren of Carlos Sainz headed out on the medium tyre in Q2, with both Mercedes, plus Verstappen, Sainz and Leclerc setting their best Q2 times on that compound. They will all therefore start the race on the yellow tyre tomorrow, but Leclerc has a grid penalty that drops him out of the top 10 on the grid.
Temperatures were reasonably cool for Abu Dhabi, with ambient temperatures of 23 degrees centigrade and track temperatures of 29 degrees centigrade at the start of qualifying, dropping by one degree over the course of the session.