Max Verstappen sensationally snatched pole position from Valtteri Bottas for the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, thwarting a sweep of 2020 qualifying sessions by Mercedes power units.
Verstappen pinched pole from the Finn by just 0.025s but without setting a purple sector at any split. It’s the first pole for the Red Bull Racing driver since last year’s Brazilian Grand Prix, and it makes Honda the first engine manufacturer other than Mercedes to start from the head of the grid this season.
The Dutchman dedicated his third career pole to his team at the end of a grueling season during which the RB16 has at best inconsistently matched the Mercedes for pure pace.
“It’s a long season for everyone, especially a lot of races in a row,” he said. “I think this was a good final qualifying for everyone in the team.
“For sure we are very happy with it. The whole year when you’re behind, getting closer, it’s getting sometimes a bit frustrating — but I’m very, very pleased with today.”
Bottas received a rare radio message from team boss Toto Wolff telling him to give “all you have” ahead of his final flying lap, and despite usurping teammate Lewis Hamilton in the order, the Finn was clearly disappointed to miss out on a sixth pole of the year.
“We couldn’t get the soft tires to work as they should,” he said. “Looking at the result, I don’t think we got 100 percent out of a single lap with the tires.”
Verstappen can still take second place in the drivers standings from Bottas if he outscores the Mercedes driver by 17 points.
Hamilton was fastest in the first sectors but fell an agonizing 0.086s shy of pole on his return race following recovery from COVID-19. The reigning champion admitted he took time to find to adjust back into the car after skipping last weekend’s race but paid credit to Verstappen’s strong form this season.
“Really grateful to be back here with the team,” he said. “It’s definitely been a difficult weekend, I would say, just getting back into the rhythm.
“Congratulations to Max — great way for him to seal a year of great performance. But we’re going to give them a good run tomorrow.”
Lando Norris was the standout performer of the midfield to qualify fourth for McLaren and just 0.251s off pole. He beat Alex Albon in the second Red Bull Racing car, the Thai driver 0.325s slower than his teammate in what could be his last weekend racing in Formula 1.
Carlos Sainz qualified sixth in his final race for McLaren, combining with Norris to give the team the best possible chance to overhaul the 10-point deficit to Racing Point for third in the constructors standings.
The team’s quest is aided by AlphaTauri’s Daniil Kvyat qualifying seventh ahead of Lance Stroll in the highest-placed Racing Point car in ninth. His teammate, Sergio Perez, will start from second-last with a grid drop for using too many power unit parts.
Charles Leclerc qualified ninth for Ferrari ahead of AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly.
Esteban Ocon outqualified outbound Renault teammate Daniel Ricciardo for the first time this season in a dry qualifying session, the pair set to start 11th and 12th on the grid.
Sebastian Vettel was a disappointed 13th in his final qualifying session for Ferrari, the German lamenting that he couldn’t meaningfully improve on his Q1 time.
Antonio Giovinazzi was 14th and 2.7s off the pace after having his fastest time deleted for exceeding track limits.
Perez qualified 15th after opting against setting a lap owing to his back-of-grid penalty engine penalty that will have him start from 19th on the grid ahead of the similarly penalized Kevin Magnussen.
Kimi Raikkonen was beaten to Q2 by teammate Giovinazzi by half a second, consigning him to 16th. Magnussen was 17th fastest for Haas but will start last thanks to his power unit penalty.
George Russell was 18th fastest for Williams, the Briton complaining of out-of-control tire temperatures throughout the session. Haas rookie Pietro Fittipaldi was 19th and an encouraging 0.3s slower than Magnussen in just his second F1 weekend.
Nicholas Latifi was slowest of all in 20th in the other Williams after a clumsy spin out of the last corner.