ABU DHABI: Red Bull’s Max Verstappen grabbed the year’s final pole spot, refusing a front-row lockout to rivals Mercedes in Saturday’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix season-ending qualifying.
A spectacular one-minute, 35,246-second lap under the floodlights at the Yas Marina track was created by the Dutchman, who had led a one-two for Red Bull ahead of teammate Alexander Albon in final practise.
Verstappen’s time was 0.025 seconds faster than Valtteri Bottas, who continued to place his Mercedes on the front row by moving team leader Toto Wolff over the team radio.
World champion Lewis Hamilton was third and 0.086 seconds off the mark, back in the car after his Covid-19-enforced absence in Sakhir.
The display of Verstappen along the 5.5km long loop won him just the third pole of his career and his first since the Brazilian Grand Prix last year.
It was just the second time this season that Mercedes had been refused pole and the first time this year that a non-Mercedes driven car would start from the top, with Lance Stroll starting on pole for Turkey’s Mercedes-engined Racing Point.
It ended the series of six consecutive pole positions in Abu Dhabi by the Brackley-based team.
Mega, mega lap,” team boss Christian Horner said on the radio to Verstappen.” “That’s this year’s first non-Mercedes pole.”
At the end of a tough season, Verstappen was pleased.
The entire year when you’re behind, being closer sometimes gets a little stressful,’ said the 23-year-old. “Extremely pleased with today.”
Lando Norris was fourth for McLaren, behind the top three, ahead of Albon and teammate Carlos Sainz, who was sixth in his last Woking-based team qualifying before switching to Ferrari.
Daniil Kvyat, also able to drive for AlphaTauri in his last race, was seventh ahead of Stroll. For Ferrari, Charles Leclerc was seventh, however due to a suspension for causing a crash in the last race in Sakhir, the Monegasque would slip three positions on the grid.
For AlphaTauri, Pierre Gasly rounded out the top 10.
In the second phase of his last qualifying session for Ferrari, Sebastian Vettel was knocked out. The German was 13th, heading to Racing Stage, which will be called Aston Martin next year.