Verstappen denies Perez tow only reason he took pole in Abu Dhabi as he looks ahead to crucial title showdown
Max Verstappen topped qualifying at the Yas Marina Circuit with an emphatic display on Saturday evening to put himself in pole position for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and the championship fight. But the Red Bull driver denied that a tow from team mate Sergio Perez was the sole reason he had clinched P1 over title rival Lewis Hamilton.
Verstappen set the benchmark of 1m22.109s to take pole by more than three-tenths over Mercedes rival Hamilton in the United Arab Emirates, thanks partly to an impressive show of Red Bull teamwork which saw Sergio Perez give his team mate a slipstream along the long back straight and the run-up to Turn 9.
However, while the Dutchman was thankful for his team mate’s tow, he downplayed the possible advantage he gained from it: “It was discussed before quali so yes it was very nice, nicely executed as well, but it’s not [the reason] whatever the gap was. I might have gained a tenth towards Turn 9; it’s not a massively long straight.
“But nevertheless, I mean, Checo’s a great team mate and a real pleasure to work with. So also, a big 'thank you' to him,” he added, after Perez claimed P4 on the grid, one spot behind McLaren's Lando Norris.
The championship contender was on course to improve on his second Q3 flying run before backing out in the final few corners, and admitted that the tow was far more pronounced on his first flying run.
“Yes, for sure on that first run it was very nice and then on my second run I had a very good exit out of seven so I actually didn’t even lose time in that straight on my own following the cars, but for sure, in that first run, it was a nice tow.”
Team Principal Christian Horner provided further insight into how Red Bull used the tow to match Mercedes on the straights and out-qualify them.
“We discussed the slipstream this morning,” he said. “We lowered the downforce, it was the only way to match [Mercedes] on the straights. Q2 came more towards us, and then both runs in Q3 were exceptional. That tow, Checo working with his team mate; absolutely perfect teamwork today. I think that's one of Max's best laps of the year,” he said.
However, Verstappen will run a contrary strategy to Hamilton on Sunday as the Red Bull driver switched to soft compounds for his fastest Q2 lap after locking up on mediums – although he was unfazed by the prospect of starting on the red-walled tyres.
“Well naturally it wasn’t [the plan] because I wanted to try and start on the medium but I flat-spotted that one. But I felt good yesterday on my long run on the soft so it wasn’t really a difficult decision to make to say: ‘Okay let’s just focus on the soft,’” he said.
Looking ahead to the crucial championship decider that will see Verstappen win if he outscores Hamilton on Sunday, the Dutchman concluded: “This is, of course what we wanted, but it’s never easy, especially with their [Mercedes’] form in the last few races. Now I’m just looking forward to tomorrow, because that’s of course the most important.”
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