ABU DHABI 13 December 2020: The Yas Marina Circuit has been a Mercedes stronghold for the last six years – in that time the Silver Arrows have taken every single pole and every single victory in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
But yesterday that run – in terms of poles at least – came to an end when Max Verstappen pulled out a superb lap to snatch top spot on the grid from Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton under the lights.
It’s Red Bull and Verstappen’s first pole of the season, and comes in the very last race weekend of 2020, setting up a mouth-watering Grand Prix. Can the Dutchman hold off the two Mercedes behind him once the lights go out to start the race? Max Verstappen delivered a magical lap in qualifying to snatch a shock pole position for the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the Red Bull driver getting the better of Mercedes for the first time in 2020 with the top three separated by just 0.086s The Dutchman’s qualifying started badly as he flatspotted his first set of tyres and then struggled for performance in the first segment. But he got better and better as the session went on under the lights at Yas Martina to take the first non-Mercedes pole in Abu Dhabi since 2013, said Wam.
It ended Mercedes run of being one-two in every Q3 session at Abu Dhabi in the turbo hybrid era, Verstappen’s stunning middle sector making the difference to put him on P1 at a track where he has never led a lap in his Formula 1 career.
Valtteri Bottas, who was told by team boss Toto Wolff on team radio “all you have Valtteri”, slotted into second, pipping his Mercedes team mate Lewis Hamilton, who was making his racing return after missing the last race having tested positive for Covid-19 in Bahrain.
McLaren’s Lando Norris delivered one of the best laps of his career to go fourth quickest, just 0.25s off pole, with Red Bull’s Alex Albon having a smoother weekend to take fifth as he fights for his future at the team beyond the end of this season.
Carlos Sainz was sixth, running an older engine than his McLaren team mate which it is believed is costing him around two tenths of a second per lap, ahead of AlphaTauri’s Daniil Kvyat, who continues his very strong end to a campaign which might be his last in F1.
Lance Stroll was the best-placed Racing Point in eighth, with his team mate Sergio Perez starting from the back after a host of engine component changes – and that spices up the battle for P3 in the constructors’ championship as their lead over McLaren is just 10 points.
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and the other AlphaTauri of Pierre Gasly rounded out the top 10 in 2020’s final qualifying session.