Lewis Hamilton was denied a hat-trick of top spot starts when title rival Max Verstappen beat him to pole position for Sunday’s 2021 Formula 1 title-deciding showdown at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
After topping qualifying in Saudi Arabia and before that in Qatar, a third in a row was not to be. Hamilton will start from second on the grid.
The Red Bull driver left his best for last which left Hamilton three tenths shy on his final run in Q3, Verstappen’s lap was special and the reigning World Champion knew it, there was also respect: the pair fist-bumping as they swapped places for the Tv interviews.
Speaking in parc amid boos that eventually turned to cheers during the interview, Hamilton was gracious in defeat and acknowledged: “Max did a great lap and we just couldn’t compete with that time at the end there. It was a fantastic lap from him.”
Hamilton: I’m still on the front row, with the tyre difference and I’m grateful I can see where he is
Considering what is at stake in what is F1’s Race of the Century at Yas Marina Circuit tomorrow night, Hamilton was unflustered: “We’re in a good position, I’d like to think, with our tyres and I hope that we can have a good race.
“On the first lap of Q3, I dropped a bit of time in the last corner and Turn 5, but my final lap was nice and clean, I just couldn’t go any quicker. 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 so he deserved the pole.
“I’m still on the front row, with the tyre difference and I’m grateful I can see where he is, so we can try and navigate from there,” added Hamilton referring to the fact that Verstappen’s Red bull will be shod with Pirelli soft tyres for the start of the race.
While the Red Bull’s turned out with mediums for Q3, their intent to start the race with the yellow band Pirelli tyres, but Verstappen flat-spotted his set when going for an unnecessary second lap at the end of Q2.
In the other Mercedes, Valtteri Bottas qualified sixth for his final race with Mercedes, a disappointing result for the Finn who has been Hamilton’s wingman in the past, but appeared AWOL on Saturday when it mattered.
Bottas: With different tyre strategies it’ll be an interesting race
The Finn was not happy afterwards: “I was hoping for more, it was a tricky Quali – a good Q1, decent Q2 but by Q3, I couldn’t improve any more.
“My setup was definitely more focused on the race rather than Quali so as the grip levels increased, I couldn’t improve my times and hit a bit of a limit. I’m happy with my setup for tomorrow which should make it exciting.
“Also starting on the Medium tyre tomorrow opens up different strategy options, we can go long in the first stint if we want to but on the Soft, you can’t, so it’ll be an interesting race.
Overall, not the best result today but we can definitely make it up tomorrow, it’s game on,” added Bottas.
In the championship standings ahead of the 22nd and final round of the season, Hamilton and Verstappen are tied on points in the drivers’ standings while Mercedes have all but claimed their eighth successive title with a 28 point lead in the constructors’ championship race.
For Hamilton to claim his eighth F1 crown, his seventh as a Mercedes driver, he needs to outscore Verstappen in the race, anything less means the Red Bull will be champion by virtue of the fact that he has won one more race than Lewis, the score 9 to 8 in favour of Max.
The glittering Yas Marina stage is set for a proper ‘winner takes all’ scenario on what is sure to be a historic Sunday for the sport.
21 battles down, one to go 🤜🤛
We’re at the tail end of a truly unforgettable season
The Verstappen-Hamilton rivalry will surely go down as one of the most talented, iconic and fierce in F1 history 🤩#AbuDhabiGP 🇦🇪 #F1 pic.twitter.com/3QeyI7ZbIL
— Formula 1 (@F1) December 11, 2021