F1 Abu Dhabi Qualifying: Max stops a Mercedes quali clean sweep

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Max Verstappen Abu Dhabi F1 Qualifying 2020
(Photo by Kamran Jebreili – Pool/Getty Images) // Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

An electrifying end of the final F1 qualifying session of the season had Max Verstappen claiming his first P1 start of 2020 at Abu Dhabi. The Dutch Red Bull driver inched out both the Mercedes pair by a slim margin, with just a tenth covering the three. The result denied Mercedes the possibility of powering every single pole position this season at the very last hurdle.

Q1, by comparison, was uneventful with the drivers you’d come to expect being eliminated. The only things of note were Verstappen complaining about his hand being out of the cockpit in a bizarre bit of team radio and Hamilton having his time deleted. The returning Brit skidded down the sausage kerb on the penultimate corner, briefly sending him airborne. The excursion didn’t seem to create any lasting problems for Hamilton, who was the fastest man at the end of the 18 minutes.

Opposite fortunes for George Russell who had a crash landing back to Earth in Abu Dhabi back as he was eliminated in Q1. Russell still maintained his impressive record of outqualifying his teammate, with Latifi finishing the session last. Pietro Fittipaldi’s second race for Haas had him one place better than the Canadian in 19th but he had complained about traffic causing issues as he began his lap. 

In any case, the Brazillian will start from the back due to part penalties picked up on his/Grosjean’s car. Much to Crofty’s delight, as he loves his qualifying battles, Giovinazzi edged out Raikkonen 9-8 over the season. The Finn continued his run of poor Saturdays by ending the session in P16.

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For Q2, Sergio Perez had a rather unnecessary single lap in which he returned immediately to the pits in between the runs of everyone else. Last week’s victor will start from the back of the grid, but one place ahead of Fittipaldi, due to the parts he’s taken on his engine for his final race with Racing Point. 

Albon and Ricciardo were the early casualties of the track limit regulations from the stewards. A little bit of a frustration for Ricciardo who, alongside his Renault teammate, Ocon tried to get to the medium tyre to work for an advantageous strategy for Sunday‘s race. His running wide on the last corner meant he needed to go out again on softs.

But the red-walled Pirelli didn’t work for the Australian either. Ricciardo couldn’t go faster than his teammate, and both Renault drivers missed out on Q3. Ocon could go no faster than 11th and Ricciardo, 12th. Vettel ends his Ferrari career qualifying record in 13th. A lovely bit of symbolism, highlighting just how unlucky the German has been with the Scuderia. Giovinazzi was 14th in his second successive Q2 appearance. The Italian had a lap time deleted, however, dropping him a little further back than he could’ve been.

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The final session saw a head-to-head between the Mercedes and Red Bull pairings. Bottas took first blood. The Finn was the fastest man in the first runs ahead of Verstappen who took a provisional second place. Hamilton was just behind the lead Red Bull, and just ahead of the other with Albon keeping on pace, for once.  The top four were covered by under two-tenths of a second. Behind them was the McLaren pairing with Sainz ahead of Norris to be the best of the rest at the halfway point in Q3.

But the real drama was when the cars went out for the final qualifying runs of the year. Hamilton retook provisional pole from his teammate with a strong lap, but Bottas just went even faster, albeit by just six-hundredths of a second. However, the man to take pole position was Max Verstappen, who beat out Bottas by just two-hundredths. The slender margins marking how close the top three have been all season.

Abu Dhabi was the first time Mercedes power didn’t take a qualifying P1 this season, as well as the first time they haven’t taken pole at the Yas Marina track in the turbo-hybrid era. The headlines will be with Red Bull and Verstappen, and so they should be. But a shout out to Lando Norris who will start of the second row for Sunday’s race. He split the lead constructors by nudging Albon down to fifth place.

Norris’s outgoing teammate Sainz took sixth place for his last McLaren race. Daniil Kvyat, likely in his final F1 qualifying session, was seventh and is joined by Lance Stroll on row 4. Charles Leclerc and Pierre Gasly round out the top ten of The Abu Dhabi qualifying session.  

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