Lewis Hamilton broken the track record at the Yas Marina Circuit to take an emphatic pole position for Mercedes at the F1 season finale.
The world champion’s time, 1 minute 34.779 seconds, was enough beat teammate Valtteri Bottas by 0.2s, but the Finn will be forced to start from the back of the grid with a litany of penalties for making two unscheduled power unit changes this weekend.
Hamilton’s pole not only equals Bottas’s tally of five poles for the year, but it’s also the Briton’s first since July’s German Grand Prix, and Hamilton paid tribute to the Mercedes team’s work ethic to turn the tide back in his favor.
“It’s been such a long slog trying to get this pole position,” Hamilton said. “We just kept out heads down, continuing to try.
“We never give up. There’s always room to improve. There’s been a lot of growth in this whole year for so many people in the team … just constantly looking for those small milliseconds.
“It’s been a special car and it’s the last time I’ll get to qualify with it, so I’m glad I did it proud today.”
Bottas knew coming into qualifying that he would be starting from last place thanks to his power unit failure during the Brazilian GP requiring a near complete new motor — and the team had to install another new engine on Saturday after a hydraulic leak during practice — but with second in the drivers’ standings secure, he was allowed to partake in qualifying regardless with nothing to lose.
The Finn said he would aim for the podium in a no-holds-barred race.
“I believe [a podium is achievable],” he said. “Anything is possible.
“We have a good car and some days it’s even better than Saturdays for us. We’ll give it all.”
Max Verstappen qualified third for Red Bull Racing and so will inherit a front row start from Bottas. However, the Dutchman said his 0.36s deficit to Hamilton’s benchmark was the closest his car could manage and remained pessimistic about his prospects in the race.
“I think today was the best we could do,” he said. “We all know that Mercedes is quite dominant here.
“We tried everything we could … we’ll just wait and see what happens tomorrow.”
Charles Leclerc beat Ferrari teammate Sebastian Vettel to fourth and fifth at the end of the session, the pair around half a second off the pace, but the Monegasque appeared to complain that he’d been backed up by the German in preparation for their final laps, causing him to miss the checkered flag.
Vettel, however, was himself making space behind Red Bull Racing’s Alex Albon and was in any case unable to improve to threaten the sister machine, while Albon qualified sixth and 0.4s further back.
Lando Norris qualified seventh at the head of the midfield, beating McLaren teammate Carlos Sainz 11-10 in their intra-team qualifying battle in his rookie F1 season.
But it wasn’t a perfect result for the team, with Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo splitting the pair in eighth. Sainz followed in ninth, the trio covered by just 0.023s.
Nico Hulkenberg qualified 10th for what looks set to be his final grand prix, 1.9s off the pace.
The battle to escape Q2 was extremely tight. Sergio Perez qualified 11th but was just 0.2s shy of progression, while only 0.2s covered the drivers from the Mexican down to 15th.
Pierre Gasly was just 0.035s behind Perez to qualify 12th, splitting him from Lance Stroll in the sister Racing Point machine in 13th.
Daniil Kvyat qualified 14th, less than 0.1s slower than Perez and with a 0.1s advantage over Kevin Magnussen — the Haas driver the slowest of Q2, in 15th.
Romain Grosjean was knocked out at the first hurdle by 0.3s, in a messy session for the Frenchman. He first complained of a lack of grip early in Q1 — he’d been forced to use a different-spec car after his Friday practice crash with Bottas — and was balked by Kvyat in the pit lane as he embarked on his final flying lap. The stewards were set to investigate the incident at the end of qualifying.
Alfa Romeo teammates Antonio Giovinazzi and Kimi Raikkonen qualified 17th and 18th respectively, while George Russell beat outbound teammate Robert Kubica to 19th and 20th to clean-sweep the year’s intra-Williams qualifying battle 21-0.