RACE DEBRIEF

    Max Verstappen took a crushing pole position – with the help of a tow from Red Bull team mate Sergio Perez – to seize the advantage over rival Lewis Hamilton for the title-deciding Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

    The Dutchman clocked a brilliant 1m22.109s on his first run to take a 10th pole position of the season, with Hamilton 0.371s off the pace to end up second with Lando Norris a surprise third place.

    Red Bull sent Perez out on track first in Q3, ahead of Verstappen, with the Mexican towing Verstappen down the long straight before bailing out of the way before Turn 9 and sacrificing his own lap.

    Verstappen made the most of the boost to slot into provisional pole, with Hamilton locking up at the hairpin and ending up nearly half a second adrift.

    FORMULA 1 ETIHAD AIRWAYS ABU DHABI GRAND PRIX 2021

    Abu Dhabi 2021

    Qualifying results

    POSITION TIME
    1 Max Verstappen VER Red Bull Racing 1:22.109
    2 Lewis Hamilton HAM Mercedes 1:22.480
    3 Lando Norris NOR McLaren 1:22.931
    4 Sergio Perez PER Red Bull Racing 1:22.947
    5 Carlos Sainz SAI Ferrari 1:22.992

    Mercedes sent their cars out first for the second run, but with Hamilton ahead of Bottas as they turned down the opportunity to try a tow. Hamilton improved, but he was behind in all three sectors and instead will start on the dirty side of the front row alongside his title rival in P2.

    However, like his team mate Bottas, Hamilton will start on the more durable medium tyre that should allow him to run deeper into the race before stopping. The Red Bulls, however, will start on the soft tyres, Verstappen moving to that rubber after he flat-spotted his medium tyres in Q2.

    Perez will start fourth, ahead of a very quick Carlos Sainz, who appeared to have made big gains after a difficult Friday, with Bottas down in sixth in his final Grand Prix for Mercedes ahead of a move to Alfa Romeo.

    Charles Leclerc was seventh, ahead of Yuki Tsunoda – who could have been higher, having sat third before having his lap deleted for track limits – with Esteban Ocon and Daniel Ricciardo completing the top 10.

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    2021 Abu Dhabi GP Qualifying: Schumacher and Norris hit bollard at Yas Marina

    As it happened

    Q1 – The two Mercedes cars dominate, as Russell exits

    Red Bull sent Verstappen and Perez out early doors but it was their title rivals Mercedes who set the early pace with Hamilton and Bottas comfortably slotting into first and second, with Verstappen 0.414s off.

    The session was then red flagged after a Haas knocked over a bollard, which Norris then ran over, with a marshal then dispatched to collect it before the running got back under way.

    Ferrari sent Sainz and Leclerc out on softs, as their initial runs on the mediums weren’t strong enough to guarantee safety, while Vettel was annoyed when he felt he was baulked by Ocon as he battled to get out of the drop zone.

    Up front, Hamilton bolted on a set of fresh tyres and went fourth tenths quicker, with Bottas then slotting into second as Mercedes flexed their muscles.

    Vettel escaped from the drop zone, but the Williams duo of Nicholas Latifi and George Russell could not follow suit. Kimi Raikkonen’s final qualifying session ended early as he ended up 18th, with Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin closing out the classification.

    Knocked out: Latifi, Russell, Raikkonen, Schumacher, Mazepin

    2021 Abu Dhabi GP Qualifying: Ocon blocks Vettel on flying lap

    Q2 – Red Bull and Mercedes choose differing strategies

    Mercedes and Red Bull sent their respective cars out on mediums and though Hamilton went quickest, Verstappen slotted into second by just 0.004s – the duo evidently much more evenly matched on the yellow-walled tyre.

    But on the second timed run, Verstappen locked up into Turn 1 and picked up a flat-spot. That forced the Red Bull back to the pits – and with not a lot of time remaining, they swapped to the softs. Was that always the plan? Red Bull boss Christian Horner told Sky “that lock-up wasn’t ideal, so it sort of forced our hands”.

    Verstappen promptly went fastest, with team mate Perez – also running the softs – slotting into second. Hamilton was third with Bottas sixth – both on mediums – as they were separated by the Ferrari duo of Sainz and Leclerc.

    At the other end of timesheets, Ricciardo scraped through by 0.012s at the expense of Alpine’s Fernando Alonso. Pierre Gasly made a surprising exit, the Frenchman outpaced by his rookie team mate Yuki Tsunoda, with Lance Stroll also knocked out.

    Antonio Giovinazzi’s final race with Alfa Romeo – and possibly in F1 – will start from 14th, with Vettel completing the drop zone.

    Knocked out: Alonso, Gasly, Stroll, Giovinazzi, Vettel

    2021 Abu Dhabi GP Qualifying: Red Bulls commit to starting Sunday’s race on soft tyres

    Q3 – Perez tows Verstappen to pole position

    Verstappen set the early benchmark, helped in part from a tow from Perez which the Dutchman said was worth around 0.1s. Hamilton had no answer to that, with the seven-time world champion locking up and slotting into second.

    Hamilton improved next time around – but it still wasn’t good enough, giving Verstappen his second successive pole position in Abu Dhabi, and with the title contenders lining up on the front row together for the first time since Austin.

    Norris earned his best start since taking pole in Sochi seven races ago with third, with Perez putting two Red Bulls in the top-four at Yas Marina for the first time in the turbo-hybrid era.

    Fifth was Sainz’s best-ever start in Abu Dhabi in what is his 10th third row start of the year, ahead of Bottas, who secured his worst Q3 performance since Russia.

    Tsunoda recovered from having his first lap deleted to take eighth, as he outqualified team mate Gasly for the first time in a conventional session to end the year with six Q3 appearances in the final seven races. Tsunoda will also start the race on mediums, having gone through Q2 on that tyre.

    Ocon was ninth, securing the qualifying head-to-head with team mate Fernando Alonso 12-10, with Ricciardo outperformed by Norris for the fourth race in succession.

    2021 Abu Dhabi GP Qualifying: Ocon battles through traffic 'carnage' at Yas Marina

    The key quote

    “It’s of course an amazing feeling,” said polesitter Max Verstappen. “I think we definitely improved the car again in qualifying because so far, this weekend was a bit on and off, but incredibly happy with this. 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.”

    What’s next?

    It’s advantage Verstappen, as he starts on pole in Abu Dhabi for the second successive year, but his title rival Hamilton is alongside him – and on the more durable medium tyre. Sunday’s final race of a dramatic season begins at 5pm local time.