Abu Dhabi Qualifying: Verstappen vs Leclerc and Mclarens

Abu Dhabi Qualifying: Verstappen vs Leclerc and Mclarens

Abu Dhabi Qualifying: Verstappen vs Leclerc and Mclarens

Max Verstappen took pole for the 2023 Formula 1 season finale, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, delivering the pace needed for his 32nd career pole after struggling earlier in practice.

The triple F1 Champion did not seem set for pole after the final practice session, but as is the case this year, he and Red Bull keep their best till last, and as a result secured pole for tomorrow’s grand prix.

While Lando Norris looked to have a good shot at pole, he had no answer to Verstappen’s pace, and to make things worse he lost the rear of his McLaren on his final run and that meant he couldn’t even make it to the front row on tomorrow’s grid.

That went to Charles Leclerc who delivered one of his magical laps, after the SF-23 seemed reluctant to perform and dragged it to take the second spot on the grid.

Oscar Piastri saved McLaren’s night and took the third spot, a bit of consolation for the Woking squad after Norris’ mistake.

However Piastri’s third place may be under threat, as he will be under investigation after qualifying for impeding Pierre Gasly.

What the top three said

Verstappen said after securing his 12th pole this season: “Very weird. The whole weekend so far has been a bit of a struggle.

“We definitely improved the car for qualifying and from lap one it all seemed a bit more together and we could definitely push more,” he added. “So of course very happy to be on pole.

“Around here already if you have little slides it can cost you a lot of lap time and that is what was happening in practice. But in qualifying it was a bit more connected.

“I have no clue how good we are going to be in the race, normally it’s quite decent. It has been a very special season, we have been enjoying it a lot and we are very proud what we have achieved so far this year,” the Red Bull ace concluded.

Leclerc insisted he was surprised with second place, he said after qualifying: “Honestly considering the weekend we’ve had until now, I did not expect it all.

“The last lap I knew I had to put absolutely everything together and the last corner was a little bit too much sliding, but I think everybody had that, so really happy with the second place.

“Q1 and Q2 I was worried to go through and at the end front row ,so it’s amazing,” he added.

Explaining how his pace improved in Q3, the Monegasque said: “For some reason our car is very peeky, whenever we are on scrub tyres, like the first run in Q3 it was a very good lap, but we were last.

“When we put on the new tyres everything comes alive it felt great and again, I did a great lap so really happy to be on the front row, but it’s a big surprise,” he concluded.

Third-placed Piastri was happy with his performance after the struggles of Las Vegas, but claimed it wasn’t easy, he said: “Difficult session. Extremely tight this weekend, a bit of a messy one.

“Pace has been there, just a lot of mistakes. The last lap, I made a bit of a mistake as well but it would have been quite a last corner to get to the front.

“Car is very quick this weekend. Nice turnaround from Vegas for us and happy to be in the top three,” he admitted.

As to what to expect from his final race as a rookie, the Australian said: “Not a clue. I don’t know!

“For everyone it’s going to be the same story. I think the most anyone has done is five laps in a row this weekend, so will be interesting to see how it pans out tomorrow,” he concluded.

Q3: Verstappen unchallenged

Verstappen posted the first timed lap in Q3 going to the top on new Soft tyres, all other driver on used ones, as the Red Bull driver saved his by running once in Q2.

Norris posted the second fastest time on his first try with Piastri behind him. Perez was fifth and complained to his team about a drivability problem out of Turn 1.

Leclerc was ninth after his first run and shocked as he told his team over the radio that his lap was “really good”.

After the first runs of Q3, the order was: Verstappen – Norris – Piastri – George Russell – Sergio Perez – Yuki Tsunoda – Nico Hulkenberg – Fernando Alonso – Leclerc – Gasly.

Out for the second and final runs, Verstappen seemed to forget for a second that he was not allowed to overtake, but he was trying to avoid Leclerc who had to brake to avoid an Alonso getting out of his garage.

With all done and dusted, Verstappen turned provisional pole into pole, with a 1:24.445, 0.139s faster than Leclerc who will share the front row with the #1 Red Bull on Sunday’s race.

Piastri was 0.337s off the pace in third, but as mentioned, in under investigation for impeding Gasly, and may end up losing his place to Russell who posted the fourth fastest time in Q3.

Norris’s mistake on his final lap meant he ended up fifth fastest, 0.371s off pole and 0.152s ahead of an impressive Tsunoda who was sixth fastest.

The Japanese driver put his updated AlphaTauri AT04 to good use delivering his retiring team boss Franz Tost the best farewell gift.

Alonso put his Aston Martin seventh on the grid over sixth tenths of the pace of Verstappen, and was 0.024s ahead of Hulkenberg who was eighth fastest.

Both Perez and Gasly had lap times deleted for exceeding track limits and will line up ninth and tenth respectively on starting grid of the final race of this season.


Q2: Lewis Hamilton is out…

The remaining 15 drivers soon set out on track to slug it out for the coveted ten places that will make up the Q3 group.

All drivers started setting their first lap times of Q2, several taking turns on the top position, until Verstappen posted his lap and was the first driver to dip into the 1:23s with a 1:23.740.

Worth noting that Verstappen was the only driver to set his time in the first run of Q2 on new Softs, while Hulkenberg had hos lap time deleted for exceeding track limits.

After the first run the order was: Verstappen – Norris – Perez – Piastri – Russell – Tsunoda – Leclerc – Alonso – Lance Stroll – Lewis Hamilton.

Verstappen remained in the garage as all other 14 drivers were back out on track to set their second runs in a final bid to make it into Q3.

The track kept improving by 0.3/0.4s after every five minutes of running, which meant the order got reshuffled after the second runs.

But one thing remained fixed and that was Verstappen at the top of the timing screens and lead Norris by 0.180s into Q2 followed by Leclerc in third, 0.229s off the leader’s time.

Another big name dropped in Q2, Hamilton was 11th fastest, missing the cut by 0.081s. It is the second Q2 elimination for the seven-time F1 Champion in a row after Las Vegas.

Esteban Ocon was 12th fastest in the Alpine, 0.032s behind Hamilton and 0.031s ahead of Stroll, 13th fastest in the Aston Martin.

Alex Albon’s heroics were over by Q2, 14th fastest and 0.699s off the pace, while Daniel Ricciardo was 15th fastest in the AlphaTauri.


Q1: Carlos Sainz gets eliminated

Under the floodlights of the Yas Marina Circuit, qualifying kicked off with temperatures of 27 degrees Celsius, while track temperatures were 33 degrees.

No queuing in the pitlane at the start of Q1, as drivers remained patiently in their garages.

Almost five minutes from the green light, Verstappen kicked off the action heading out first on the track with Perez following him out on the track.

Other drivers following namely Norris in the McLaren, AlphaTauri, Haas, Ferrari, Williams , Alpine and Alfa Romeo, while both Mercedes drivers and Piastri followed a few minutes later.

Verstappen went to the top of the screens after his first timed lap, while Norris goes second fastest, with Leclerc third.

Hamilton and Russell were 13th and ninth after their first runs, surprising given Russell’s form in FP3.

Logan Sargeant and Zhou Guanyu had their first laps deleted due to exceeding track limits.

The order after the first runs was: Verstappen – Norris – Leclerc – Albon – Tsunoda – Perez – Carlos Sainz – Ricciardo – Russell – Valtteri Bottas – Piastri – Ocon – Hamilton – Stroll – Alonso.

But with the track improving, second runs were definitely on the cards, to ensure a place in Q2, with Albon’s engineer informing him the track is evolving by 0.4s.

Sargeant and Albon were the first two drivers to start the second run of Q2 the latter posting the second fastest time, and soon all the drivers followed. No one was safe.

Sargeant had his second lap time deleted for the second time for exceeding track limits, while Verstappen was complaining about the cars being too slow out of the pits. But he cannot overtake this time.

However Verstappen’s first time stood firm and he didn’t need a second run, he posted a 1:24.160 to lead into Q2, 0.049s ahead of teammate Perez who was second fastest. Third was Tsunoda.

The first big casualty was Sainz who missed out by 0.138s to Gasly in 15th. The Spaniard complained about traffic on his final hot lap, and will line up 16th on tomorrow’s race grid.

Keving Magnussen was 17th fastest in the Haas, 0.026s behind Sainz, and 0.024s ahead of Valtteri Bottas in 18th.

Zhou and Sargeant were 19th and 20th respectively.