Qualifying for the season finale, the 2019 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix started just as the sun began to set over the Yas Marina circuit this afternoon, the floodlights around the track and the lights on the yachts in the harbour brightening up the night sky by the end of the first part of the session.
Lighting up the track was champion elect Lewis Hamilton, who set the fastest lap in 1.34.779, to secure what is surprisingly his first pole position since the German Grand Prix back in the summer. “That’s what I’ve been looking for! It’s been such a long road to try and get this pole position,” said the Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport driver as he stepped out of the cockpit. “Yesterday was quite wobbly so I had to regroup overnight and come back focused.”
“It was a very good Qualifying session for us. Qualifying hasn’t been the easiest this year, but it’s been something we’ve just been chipping away it. Yesterday was a bit difficult for me, I had to re-centre myself for today. But it’s the best thing when you get to Q3 and you pull out two good laps. A big thank you to the entire team for their continued effort. Even though we have both titles won, we continue to push and strive to be better and that’s so inspiring to me. It’s been an incredible journey with this car this year, so to finish the year off with a pole is a great feeling. It’s not even half the job done, but this result puts us in the best position possible for tomorrow when we’ve got to battle with the Ferraris and Red Bulls,” concluded Hamilton.
The timesheet shows that Valtteri Bottas was second fastest, but Hamilton’s team-mate starts from the back tomorrow because of PU penalties, which promotes third-placed Max Verstappen to the front row for Aston Martin Red Bull Racing.
The pace of the Mercedes will definitely be worrying its rivals overnight, as Hamilton’s lap was over half a second faster than Verstappen’s and the Silver Arrows long run pace was impressive and they are clearly dominant in the final sector of the track.
It was something of a scrappy session for Scuderia Ferrari Mission Winnow, with Sebastian Vettel surviving a harmless spin in Q1. Then in Q3, both he and team-mate Charles Leclerc found themselves backed up on their warm-up lap and the Monegasque driver failed by a matter of centimetres to start his final flying lap before the chequered flag came out. Nevertheless, he qualified fourth just ahead of Vettel, the only driver in the top six who will have to start on the Soft Pirelli tyres, as he used them to set his best time in Q2. This puts him at a slight strategic disadvantage, as he will inevitably have to pit earlier than those around him.
Alex Albon rounded off the top six, for Aston Martin Red Bull Racing while the rest of the top ten was split between the two teams lying fourth and fifth in the championship. Lando Norris won the mid-field contest for McLaren F1, seventh quickest ahead of the Renault F1 of Daniel Ricciardo. Behind them came their respective team-mates, Carlos Sainz and Nico Hulkenberg. The Renault team can now be quite optimistic about hanging onto fifth spot in the Constructors’ classification, as its drivers are further up the grid than Toro Rosso, their only rivals. The Bottas penalty means that eleventh fastest Sergio Perez will drove his SportPesa Racing Point into the tenth place slot on the grid tomorrow.
Also failing to make the cut into Q3 were the Red Bull Toro Rosso Hondas of Pierre Gasly, 12th fastest and Daniil Kvyat 14th, along with Perez’ team-mate Lance Stroll, 13th. Kevin Magnussen was 15th for Haas. As the natural light faded, so did the hopes of Haas’ Romain Grosjean, the Alfa Romeo duo of Antonio Giovinazzi and Kimi Raikkonen along with the ROKiT Williams pair of George Russell and Robert Kubica who got no further than Q1.
Track position is vital at the Yas Marina track, as overtaking is quite tricky, so it’s no surprise that a one stop strategy is reckoned to be the quickest route to the chequered flag. For those starting on the Medium tyre, the only pit stop to switch to the Hard compound can happen anytime between laps 10 and 18, while those on the Softs can be expected to come down pit lane three or four laps earlier, but a Safety Car could always shake things up a bit. So could the fact that it’s the last race of the year and the grid features 20 drivers with nothing to lose!