Max Verstappen stormed to pole position for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, beating Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez and Ferrari rival Charles Leclerc as the sun went down and track action picked up during qualifying at the Yas Marina Circuit won.
Verstappen led with a time of 1m23.988s after the first Q3 heats and improved to 1m23.824s on his final lap, finishing two tenths clear of Perez while Leclerc was half a tenth further in third place.
Carlos Sainz followed teammate Leclerc in fourth, while Lewis Hamilton and George Russell placed their Mercedes cars in P5 and P6 respectively to ensure the top three teams of 2022 start the final race of the season in formation.
Lando Norris was one of the stars of qualifying as he finished seventh in his McLaren, ahead of Alpine rival Esteban Ocon – the two teams faced a showdown for P4 in the Constructors’ Championship.
Another man to cause cheers in the stands was Aston Martin driver Sebastian Vettel as he stormed to ninth place in his final F1 qualifying practice session, while Daniel Ricciardo (McLaren) rounded out the top 10, albeit with a penalty of three places on the grid for causing a collision with Kevin Magnussen in Brazil.
Red Bull race
Red Bull race
Fernando Alonso was unable to follow teammate Ocon into Q3 as he fell a few thousandths down in Q2 to finish P11 and just ahead of Yuki Tsunoda, who led AlphaTauri’s protégé with a solid session to end the season.
Mick Schumacher finished his last F1 qualifying run with Haas in 13th place as the wait continues to find out where he will go next, while Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll and Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu joined him as Q2 eliminators .
In Q1 and the first knockout phase, Magnussen returned to the ground after his spectacular pole position in changeable conditions in Brazil – the Dane was the first driver to miss the Q2 cut in P16.
He was joined on the sidelines by Pierre Gasly and Valtteri Bottas in the other AlphaTauri and Alfa Romeo machines, while Williams drivers Alex Albon and Nicholas Latifi – the latter also retiring from the sport – brought up the rear.
WHEN IT HAPPENED
Q1 – Magnussen rides from pole to the Q1 exit
There was much intrigue over the top spot at Yas Marina after Verstappen and Red Bull led Friday night’s second practice session ahead of Russell’s Mercedes and Leclerc’s Ferrari – despite the Dutchman using more soft tires than his rivals.
As the cars rolled out of the pit lane for the start of Q1 in conditions similar to FP2, it was Verstappen who set the early pace with a 1m24.754s, putting him just over half a tenth clear of teammate Perez and over three tenths the Ferrari of Sainz.
With the Mercedes pair Russell and Hamilton trailing the better part of a second, shared by Norris in his McLaren, Verstappen’s only concern at this point was his headrest as he radioed the Red Bull pit wall to report: ” I think it’s broken” and requesting checks.
As the drivers reappeared for the final heats, there were no changes at the sharp end of the timesheets, with Verstappen – who pitted rather than completing his second attempt – holding P1 ahead of Perez, Ferrari pairing Sainz and Leclerc and Norris.
Further back, Vettel was in the drop zone and threatening to retire on his final F1 qualifying appearance, but he delivered an inspired final lap to jump into sixth place and edge out Russell and Hamilton’s Mercedes cars as Zhou and Tsunoda finished the best 10
Outgoing Haas driver Schumacher made it into Q2 in 11th, followed by Ocon, Stroll and Ricciardo, while Alonso squeezed through after recovering from a unkempt first try where he caught a wild slide at Turn 9 .
After peaking at his pole last time out at Interlagos, Magnussen retired in Q1, along with Gasly, Bottas – the Alfa Romeo man who cursed on the way back to the pits when he lamented his tires ‘were not working’ — and William’s pair of Albon and Latifi.
Eliminated: Magnussen, Gasly, Bottas, Albon, Latifi
Q2 – Perez in the lead while Vettel secures a Q3 spot
Red Bull led again in Q2, but this time it was Perez who sat at the top of the timing screens as he undercut Verstappen’s pace-setting Q1 performance by three tenths en route to a 1m24.419s.
After a cautious start, Ferrari upped the pace as Q2 approached second and third with Leclerc and Sainz – the duo separated by just 0.004s while Verstappen settled for P4, a tenth down.
Hamilton was confused by Mercedes’ 0.355 off the front of the field as he finished fifth, while Norris shared the Silver Arrows again as he passed Russell to round out the top six positions.
Vettel delivered another smash at the end of Q2 to grab P8 and make it all the way to the pole position shootout despite frustrations with the traffic, with Ocon and Ricciardo – aside from his starting penalty – also progressing.
Alonso was unable to join teammate Ocon in Q3 in the other Alpine as he just missed out in P11 while Tsunoda, Schumacher, Stroll and Zhou the other riders failed at the second hurdle.
Eliminated: Alonso, Tsunoda, Schumacher, Stroll, Zhou
Q3 – Verstappen and Red Bull make their mark
Red Bull were quick out of the blocks again in Q3 as Verstappen clocked a 1’23.988 on his first run to take the lead from Sainz, Perez and Leclerc, while Hamilton and Russell watched in P5 and P6 respectively.
And as the drivers returned for their final effort, Verstappen only extended his lead by setting a 1m23.824 when Perez was able to jump onto the Ferraris to give Red Bull a front row exclusion.
While Verstappen and Perez were separated by just two tenths, just half a tenth separated the Mexican in P2 and Leclerc in P3, with Sainz, Hamilton and Russell falling out of pole duel on the crucial laps.
With the top three teams occupying the top six spots, Norris and McLaren were left to claim the Best of the Rest spot in P7, followed by Ocon’s Alpine, the similarly impressive Vettel’s Aston Martin and second McLaren by Ricciardo.
Ricciardo’s three-place grid penalty for Sunday night’s race means he drops to 13th for his last start with the Woking team, promoting Alonso, Tsunoda and Schumacher in the process.
“It was pretty up and down in qualifying. It started quite well. Q2 was a bit more chaotic. I don’t know why but I couldn’t get that grip with that set of tires – then in Q3 everything felt a bit more normal. Then we were a bit scared, the car stalled before the first race, so we had to restart everything,” said polesitter Verstappen.
“We went out and both laps were good. I’m really happy about that, but also very happy that both cars are on the front row because … of course we want to win the race, but we also want to finish second in the championship with Checo, so that’s definitely a great start for him morning.”
The 2022 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, which will end a riveting season under all-new technical regulations, is scheduled to start at 17:00 local time on Sunday. Visit the RACE HUB for more information.