• Verstappen leads Mercedes driver by 0.9sec with seven laps remaining • Verstappen now has 150 podium finishes from 226 races
Max Verstappen set the pace on the opening lap of qualifying for Sunday’s Formula One season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix to take pole position in the first meeting between Mercedes and Red Bull in the season’s finale.
Verstappen lapped the Yas Marina circuit in one minute 26.533 seconds, his fastest ever in his championship-leading Red Bull outfit. The 20-year-old Dutchman won the Italian Grand Prix at Monza last month and will be a strong favourite to take his first F1 crown at the oil-rich desert circuit.
Lewis Hamilton sets pace for Mercedes to extend record during season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Read more
Despite damaging the brakes on his RB13 in an afternoon spin and forcing a pit stop to replace the gearbox on his qualifying lap, Verstappen did not suffer any damage and emerged from his Mercedes machine alone on top with seven laps remaining. His Ferrari teammate Sebastian Vettel qualified third.
“I am obviously very happy,” said Verstappen. “It was a pretty good lap. It was certainly not my fastest lap at all but it was still enough to take pole position.
“The tyres don’t last, especially in Monaco and here – so everything goes into place when you need it and I managed to drive that lap.”
Lewis Hamilton had been fastest in both practice sessions but saw his advantage over Vettel reduced when Hamilton locked up his tyres on the first flying lap of final qualifying. The two drivers were then challenged by Verstappen, who appeared a step quicker than Hamilton.
Vettel had set the fastest lap in the opening qualifying session but ran wide at Turn Two in the second attempt and the Red Bull driver snatched pole from the German.
Hamilton said he had struggled with the effect of the drying track following downpours on Thursday and Friday, and kept pushing until he got into trouble.
He leads Vettel by 22 points with five races left after winning five times this season. Verstappen has 150 podium finishes from 226 races. Vettel said his focus would now be on regaining the advantage over his rival.
“I was not so confident about yesterday,” he said. “I struggled with the balance and unfortunately made some mistakes. But we qualified [in second] and can fight again for pole. We just need to keep fighting back, but it was a good drive.
“We will fight all the way to the end to see who wins tomorrow.”