'It's 1-0 Red Bull' admit Mercedes, as Hamilton says he couldn’t answer Verstappen pole lap in Abu Dhabi
Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff admitted that Red Bull’s Max Verstappen had scored something of a crucial goal against them on Saturday by taking pole position for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, a race which will see either Hamilton or Verstappen emerge as champion.
The Dutchman, aiming for his first-ever drivers’ title, will start P1 on Sunday having taken pole by over three-tenths in front of Hamilton, who shares the front-row with a P2 start on Sunday. That led Mercedes boss Wolff to admit: “It's 1-0 for [Red Bull] today. They got the tyres in the perfect window in the last run. The tow [that Sergio Perez gave Verstappen] functioned flawlessly and that's why they're on pole.”
Hamilton agreed as he said: “Max did a great lap today. We just couldn’t compete with that time at the end there, but it was looking really strong through practice.”
Furthermore, the seven-time champion added that he had little in the way of an “answer” to his rival’s time and admitted that the Dutchman “deserved” P1 on the grid for Sunday.
“We just couldn’t answer to that lap – that was a fantastic lap from him. But we’re in a good position, I’d like to think, with our tyres tomorrow, and I hope we can have a good race… He fully deserved the pole.”
Verstappen’s first, and ultimately fastest, run in Q3 was aided by the aforementioned slipstream from Perez, the Mexican towing his team mate down to Turn 6 and again down to Turn 9.
But that kind of teamwork, according to Hamilton, is not something that Mercedes had previously discussed doing.
“No, it wasn't discussed,” he said, when asked if the team had considered the tactic. “We've never, ever really done that, so…”
What might work in the Silver Arrows and Hamilton’s favour, according to Wolff, is the fact that Hamilton is starting Sunday’s race on medium tyres to Verstappen’s softs, with Verstappen having flat-spotted his mediums in Q2.
“From P2, I'd much rather be starting on the medium,” said Wolff. “We will have a slight disadvantage on the start I guess, and the first six, seven laps, if he [Verstappen] drives fast.
“If he manages [his pace] then that's not a big advantage for [Red Bull], but we can go longer; we can go for an aggressive undercut also and try to control track position. So overnight we will be running lots of programmes and algorithms.”
Wolff, however, did admit that Red Bull’s long-run pace had left him “worried”, with our Friday data showing them with an advantage over Mercedes.
Hamilton, meanwhile, even went so far as to suggest that Verstappen may have deliberately flat-spotted his medium tyres in Q2 to start on the softs, in an interview you can watch in the video above.
But looking on the bright side, he told the media: “I’m still on the front row, we’ve got the difference obviously between the tyres but I’m grateful I can see where he is, and we can try and navigate from there.”
The defending champion starts second on Sunday while team mate Valtteri Bottas begins his final race for Mercedes in P6, with the Silver Arrows 28 points ahead in the constructors' stakes.