Lewis Hamilton will aim to finish 2019’s F1 season on a high after taking pole position for the final race at Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina circuit. It’s his first pole since July and the German F1. It’s also his 10th front row start at the track, and that puts him in equal first place for front row starts at any circuit. This pole takes him to 88 in total, which is 20 more than Michael Schumacher. It was a quick time, too, with 1:34.779, with his team mate Valterri Bottas second at 1:34.973. However Bottas will start from rear of grid after the rules that states substantial changes such as engine components have a penalty.
This elevated Red Bull’s Max Verstappen to the front row which means a potential clash off the line. His time, though, of 1:35.139, is 3/10ths slower and potentially means that both a very good start and a well planned strategy will be needed if he’s to close out the season with a win. Ferrari missed out again on the front row and once again it was the young lion in Charles Leclerc that beat the older former champion, Sebastian Vettel. The German had also spun in Q1, a trait seemingly becoming more common. The gap was 0.12 between the pair. Alexander Albon continues to impress as he improves, with his time of 1:35.682 just 3/10ths from Vettel and certainly within striking distance. Even more impressive is that his Q2 time was 6/10ths slower than his Q1!
Lando Norris found extra pace late in Q2 and did the same in Q3 to finish in 7th, which will be 6th after Bottas’ penalty. He was lucky to finish there or Daniel Ricciardo was unlucky as the Australian was 0.02 shy of the time of Norris. 1:36.436 and 1:36.456. Showing how close F1 can be and the frustration and heartbreak that comes with it, Carlos Sainz was less than a blink away at 1:36.459…Nico Hulkenberg, in his final F1 race for the forseeable future will start from P9 and Sergio Perez, who officially missed out on entering Q3, takes P10.
The rest of the field starts with a supremely annoyed Pierre Gasly, who responded with some choice words when advised of his position, followed closely by Lance Stroll and Danil Kvyat, whilst Haas had a shocker with both Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean well off. Grosjean’s issues were compounded by the car suffering some minor damage but enough to necessitate a new aero package that was being trialed scrapped with the end result seeing times go backwards. Grosjean said afterwards: “Yeah, you know what? We’ve got more on our hands and it’s going to be alright. Then we go into quali and the bloody thing is undriveable!” There had been a coming together between Grosjean and Bottas in FP3 which resulted in that damage.
The Alfas were also surprisingly off pace too, with Antonio Giovinazzi and Kimi Raikkonen left shaking their heads with times in the 1:38s. 2019’s tail gunners, George Russell and Robert Kubica round out the field.
Ferrari’s lackluster performance belies the fact that Sectors 1 and 2 were actually quick for the scarlet cars, but something in the setup held them back in the third sector. As Vettel wryly noted: ” We are struggling a lot in the final sector where there are some corners in which we are simply not quick enough. It’s probably not the best track for us, but we’ll see what we can do tomorrow.” Leclerc was held up in his runs and missed the flag to do a further run, with his thoughts being: “The lap I did on the first run for fourth place was good, but you can always do better. It’s a shame that we didn’t manage to get back out in time to do another lap. Though pole seems to have been out of reach today, I do believe that we had an opportunity to have a better result, but that’s just how it goes sometimes. Ahead of the race, we will mainly have to work on making improvements in the last sector. That’s where we lacked the most in terms of our performance.”
The ever mercurial Verstappen: “With Valtteri’s penalty I will start from the front row which will help in the race. The start will be important as overtaking is difficult around here but it’s a long race and we will of course be going for the win as always.”Hamilton succinctly sums up the sessions and the year with: “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 Ferrari’s and Red Bulls.”
The final word goes to the outgoing Nico Hulkenberg and his approach to the final race: “Have some fun. I’ve tended not to think so much this weekend, I leave that to other people. I just want to live it, enjoy it, get it done.”
The final race for 2019 starts at 17:10 local time.