Lewis Hamilton has qualified on pole position for the twelfth time this season and the fourth time in a row for the title decider in Abu Dhabi. That’s the good news for the defending champion and the bad news is that his teammate and challenger is in P2. But another driver down the grid could very well shake up the race tomorrow, and it isn’t Max Verstappen!
Going into the session Hamilton knew that he would realistically have to get pole to have a chance of winning the title. Add that to the fact that Rosberg has claimed pole at the Yas Marina for the last two years and the pressure was very much on Lewis’ shoulders. If he was feeling the pressure he wasn’t showing as he had topped both Friday practice sessions ahead of his teammate, Nico Rosberg.
However, the Mercedes men struggled, by their standards, in FP3 earlier this morning. Hamilton was fourth and Rosberg fifth which got some questioning whether we could see a Singapore 2015 style upset this weekend. If that was the case it would very much suit Rosberg as Hamilton has to finish on the podium to have any chance of the title, regardless of what the German does.
Q1 got underway with clear orange skies as the sun was setting at the Yas Marina circuit. Unsurprisingly there was absolutely no threat of rain in the desert, very much the polar opposite to Brazil.
As the green light was illuminated Lewis Hamilton was taking no prisoners and immediately laid down his marker with a 1:39.487, over a second faster than anybody else. Rosberg, by contrast, had a very scruffy lap, making several mistakes and ending up only P6 when all was said and done.
Toro Rosso have had a nightmare weekend with barely any running on track in free practice due to consistent tyre and setup problems. Sadly for them this continued into qualifying with Kvyat in P17 and Carlos Sainz all the way down on the last row of the grid in P21!
That opened up the door for Jolyon Palmer’s Renault and Pascal Wehrlein’s Manor to claim their places in Q2. Great efforts from the pair of them.
Other than that it was the usual suspects out in Q1 as the Sauber’s, Ocon’s Manor and Magnussen’s Renault went for an early interview.
Q2 got underway and after the first runs the top 10 looked to be set with the Mercedes’, Ferrari’s, Red Bull’s, Force India’s and the Williamses appearing to be safely into Q3.
But nobody expects the Spanish inquisition!
Fernando Alonso had other plans to what many expected and flew around the Marina to take P10 in his McLaren at the expense of Bottas.
Daniel Ricciardo was also the only driver to set a lap on the Super-soft tyres (the middle compound this weekend) in Q2 and will be able to run longer than most in the top 10 tomorrow.
Darkness descended in the UAE as Hamilton was again eager to get a quick lap in Q3 before everybody else and actually waited at the end of the pit lane for the green light to come on. The British driver’s opening gambit was a 1:39.013 which was three tenths ahead of Rosberg and it was appearing as though the world champion had the measure of his teammate around this track.
The Red Bull’s and the Ferrari’s tried their best to challenge the Mercedes cars but the Silver Arrows had the advantage around this track as they have for almost every circuit this season.
When it was time for the drivers’ second runs Rosberg improved by a couple of tenths but Hamilton also bettered his previous lap. A 1:38.755 was enough for pole position and the best chance he has to defend his world title. Rosberg was comfortably in second place but perhaps crucially Daniel Ricciardo is right behind the German in P3 and on the harder tyres. You can bet that if Ricciardo shows Nico his nose into turn one that he will jump out of the way, he can’t risk a retirement.
Hamilton has claimed his 61st pole position as he edges closer to the top of that record table, he’s only seven off of the all time record. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if he beat Michael Schumacher’s record some time in 2017.
By qualifying in second Nico Rosberg became the first driver to qualify on the front row for every race of a season since Damon Hill back in 1996. That was also the first and so far only time that a son of a world champion became a world champion as well. Will we see a second occurence of that tomorrow?
Whoever wins the title tomorrow I think I speak for most F1 fans when I say that we want a good race tomorrow. There’s nothing worse than a drab F1 title decider but thankfully there hasn’t been many of those over the years:
F1’s best final race deciders: http://ltmsport.com/best-final-race-deciders/
P1: Hamilton – 1:38.755
P2: Rosberg +0.303
P3: Ricciardo +0.834
P4: Raikkonen +0.849
P5: Vettel +0.906
P6: Verstappen +1.063
P7: Hulkenberg +1.764
P8: Perez +1.764
P9: Alonso +2.351
P10: Massa +2.458
P11: Bottas – 1:41.084 (Q2)
P12: Button – 1:41.272
P13: Gutierrez– 1:41.480
P14: Grosjean – 1:41.564
P15: Palmer – 1:41.820
P16: Wehrlein – 1:41.995
P17: Kvyat – 1:42.003 (Q1)
P18: Magnussen – 1:42.142
P19: Nasr – 1:42.247
P20: Ocon – 1:42.286
P21: Sainz – 1:42.393
P22: Ericsson – 1:42.637