Abu Dhabi GP qualifying: 7 things you need to know as Hamilton takes pole
Here's what happened in the last qualifying session of 2019
It’s the end of term for the Formula 1 circus. After a long, hard year of 21 race weekends, we’re finally at the finishing line.
Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes may have already wrapped up the world championships, but before everyone packs up and goes home for the winter, there’s still the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix to be run.
Here’s how they fared in qualifying, and everything you need to know ahead of the last race of the season:
1. Hamilton finds his quali mojo
Astonishingly, given that Lewis Hamilton is the record holder for the most pole positions in F1 history by a huge margin over next-best man Michael Schumacher, until today the world champion was on a run of nine races without a pole – his last coming way back in the summer at Hockenheim.
That is his worst run since 2011, but today under the lights in Abu Dhabi, he put it all right to nail the final pole position available for the season.
"It's been a long slog trying to get back on pole,” he said after the session. “We've been working really hard and the other drivers have also been doing really well on Saturdays. But we never stop working, we never give up and we're always looking for those extra milliseconds.”
And you can bet the Brit will be going all out to ensure he caps off another amazing season with a victory on Sunday.
2. Bottas at the back
In the end Valtteri Bottas was less than two tenths of a second slower than his Mercedes team-mate Hamilton, slotting in with the second fastest time.
But the Finn won’t be starting on the front row tomorrow – thanks to an engine change he has picked up grid penalties, meaning he will be starting from the very back of the grid.
3. Verstappen vs Hamilton
With Bottas’ demotion to the back of the grid, it means we have the tantalising prospect of Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen starting alongside each other for Sunday’s race.
We were treated to a superb battle between the two at the last race in Brazil when the Red Bull man prevailed, but whenever these two end up on the same piece of track, drama usually follows. The first lap could be very interesting…
4. Ferrari fluff their lines again
The Scuderia never really looked like challenging for pole this weekend, but they once again seemed to shoot themselves in the foot when it came to strategy: Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc went out line astern for their final runs in Q3, but thanks to cars ahead of them dropping back to find space, the flag dropped ending the session before Leclerc could make it to the line, meaning he was not able to set a time.
It’s perhaps not cost them a huge amount at this race given that they were unlikely to take pole anyway, but for a team which must be looking to be serious title contenders next season, these kind of strategy mistakes are simply not good enough. Boss Mattia Binotto must address this over the winter if the Scuderia have any chance of breaking their title duck in 2020.
5. Clean sweep for George
This year has been an absolute shocker for the once-mighty Williams team. With the slowest car on the grid by a mile, the whole of 2019 has been a long, hard slog for the British privateers, but the one bright spot has been rookie driver George Russell.
The youngster has somehow remained upbeat and good-humoured throughout the year, despite the poor machinery at his disposal. In the face of such a terrible car, the only thing he could do was get his head down and try to beat his team-mate. And certainly in qualifying, he has delivered. After beating Robert Kubica again today, Russell has completed the clean sweep over his team-mate – 21 qualifying sessions, and the young Brit has been quicker in every single one.
Let’s hope Williams can give him a better car next year so he can show what he can do on a Sunday as well.
6. Norris wins the McLaren battle
Has there been a more closely matched pair than McLaren duo Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz this year?
Coming into this weekend, the two of them had 10 each, in terms of best qualifying performances. And it looked like Sainz would be taking the bragging rights for the season, after he was quicker in Q1 and Q2, but when it really counted in Q3, Lando found some speed and popped his McLaren in seventh, two places ahead of Sainz. That makes it 11-10 to the Englishman for 2019.
7. F1 return for Alonso?
It always felt like Fernando Alonso had some unfinished business with F1 when he left the sport at the end of 2018. Since then he’s been off winning Le Mans and driving in various other series, but this weekend he was back in the F1 paddock at Yas Marina, wearing McLaren team gear.
When asked what his plans were for the future, he teased fans by saying he would consider a return to Formula 1. “Maybe F1 in 2021,” he said with a smile.
Could he find a way back in to F1? And if so, could he win again? Only time will tell on both counts, but it certainly be entertaining to find out.
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