Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – Max Verstappen pulled out a fantastic lap to secure pole position for tomorrow’s championship deciding race.
After going fastest in the first practice session of the weekend, Verstappen couldn’t match the pace of his title rival, Lewis Hamilton in either of the other two practices or the first part of qualifying.
“I was very relaxed going into qualifying,” Verstappen told David Coulthard after qualifying. “I know I always do the best I can and I know my team always gives me the best possible car. We’ve been doing that already the whole year and again today, that worked really well.”
In Q2, the Dutchman locked up and flat spotted his medium tyres after setting a time just 0.004 seconds slower than Hamilton’s first run effort. As the drivers in the top ten on the grid have to start on the tyres that they set their fastest time in Q2 with, Red Bull didn’t want to leave their driver on compromised tyres and so they swapped him to the soft compound which Verstappen then set the best time of the session on.
“The plan was of course to be on the medium,” Verstappen told Sky F1. “We were always going to do that soft run, and then choose whether to abort or not, but of course I had a big flat spot on the medium so I had to change to the soft. I wasn’t too worried about that because I had a good long run on the soft as well so I’m expecting it to be good also tomorrow.”
The top ten shootout was where the Red Bull driver came into his own, on the first run his teammate, Sergio Perez, went out first and gave Verstappen a bit of a slipstream before ducking out of his way and the Dutchman set a 1:22.109, nearly seven tenths faster than anything else seen so far this weekend. On his second run, without a slipstream, Verstappen was equalling his time before Red Bull told him the pole was safe and he didn’t need to keep pushing.
Verstappen was understandably delighted to take the pole, as he did on his way to victory last year, saying: “Oh yes! ******* hell, I didn’t expect that one! Amazing job, guys!” over the team radio.
The Dutchman will start on the soft tyres while Hamilton, in P2, will be on the medium compound but Verstappen said his car felt good on both compounds and while the race will be run in hotter conditions the softs should be better at the start and track position is important.
“Incredibly happy with this,” he said in the post-qualifying interview. “This is of course what we wanted, but it’s never easy, especially with [Mercedes’] form in the last few races. Now I’m just looking forward to tomorrow, because that’s the most important.
“I felt good on both tyres. Of course naturally, now in the evening, it’s a bit cooler, so it should be a bit easier for the soft tyres, but we’ll see tomorrow. It’s very important to have a good start and from there onwards, we’ll just try our very best, and we’ll see where we end up.”
And telling Sky F1 that: “It’s always important to be first but especially at this stage of the championship you always want to be ahead.”