Verstappen aiming to apply pressure to Mercedes in bid for victory
Max Verstappen will enjoy his first ever front-row start at Yas Marina at the 2019 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, lining up alongside pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton once Valtteri Bottas has been demoted to the back of the grid with engine penalties. And having beaten Mercedes last time out in Brazil, Verstappen was intent on repeating the trick at the final race of the year - even if the deficit to the Silver cars looked big in qualifying.
Verstappen qualified 0.360s adrift of Hamilton, as Mercedes maintained their 100% record of their cars taking P1 and P2 in qualifying at Abu Dhabi since 2014 – although their ‘front-row lock-out’ record in the same time period will come to an end, given that Bottas is set to start the race at the back after taking a raft of engine penalties.
And Verstappen believed that, in terms of one-lap performance, he’d extracted all he could from his Red Bull RB15 on Saturday evening.
Mercedes are always very dominant here. But it’s still good to start from the front row
“There was not much I could do better I think,” said Verstappen, whose team mate Alex Albon will start Sunday’s race in P5. “Qualifying was pretty decent. We gave it all, it was just not enough.
“It’s never a perfect lap, but it was good,” he added. “I was just driving to the limits. We seem to lack a bit of grip compared to [Mercedes]. Especially they are very quick in the last sector… They are always very dominant here on this track. We tried to be as close as we could. Unfortunately we were just lacking a bit too much in that last sector.
“[But] overall, pretty happy. Still good to start on the front row but I would have liked to actually qualified there.”
Despite the qualifying deficit, Verstappen will be cheered by Red Bull’s excellent race pace in recent Grands Prix, which saw the Dutchman take a comfortable win last time out at Interlagos.
What won’t cheer him, however, is Mercedes’ record of five race wins in Abu Dhabi in the past five attempts, while our analysis of long-run pace from Friday appeared to give the Silver Arrows a half second per lap advantage over Red Bull, and a 0.6 advantage over Ferrari.
But starting from the front row, Verstappen revealed that he was planning to make the difference by putting Hamilton under pressure early doors.
“I don’t think it’s going to be easy, but we’re going to give it a good try as a team,” said Verstappen, “try and put them under pressure and see what happens.
“You also have to be realistic, and I think Mercedes is very quick… [But there’s] still a lot of chances for tomorrow so we’ll see what happens.”
Verstappen will be hunting down Red Bull’s first win in Abu Dhabi since Sebastian Vettel triumphed in 2013, with the Dutchman going after his fourth victory of the year in what’s already been his most successful season win-wise in Formula 1.