Verstappen thrilled to net pole with ‘final send of the season’, as Horner says ‘he can always surprise you’
“It’s been a long season in terms of Saturday afternoons,” said Red Bull boss Christian Horner at Yas Marina of his team's qualifying record this year. But there was finally some Saturday joy for Red Bull in 2020, as Max Verstappen became the first non-Mercedes-powered runner to take pole position this season, at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Verstappen, who's started 13 times in the top three previously this season but never on pole, had looked on the pace all weekend, going fastest in Free Practice 1 and 3 – although there was always a lingering feeling that Mercedes, having taken every pole position at Yas Marina since 2014, were simply keeping the powder dry.
But a stunning final effort from the Dutchman in Q3 saw him beat Valtteri Bottas by 0.025s with a lap of 1m 35.246s, meaning Verstappen claimed his first pole position since the 2019 Brazilian Grand Prix.
“I said before I went to qualifying it’s going to be the final send of the season and we did that so very happy with that,” said a delighted Verstappen. “It was quite a tricky qualifying in the beginning, to get your laps in, especially at this track, the last sector, there are so many corners where you can make a mistake. But luckily everything came together in that final lap.”
Verstappen’s pole was also Red Bull’s first at Abu Dhabi since 2013. And with that having been the year that Red Bull last won at Yas Marina too – the intervening six victories all going Mercedes’ way – Verstappen certainly wasn’t ruling out the Silver Arrows in Sunday’s race, with Lewis Hamilton third on the grid, while Verstappen, Bottas and Hamilton are all due to start on the medium compound tyres.
“We’ll try to do our best, try to keep them behind,” said Verstappen of the Mercedes threat, with his Red Bull team mate Alex Albon set to start P5 on the soft tyre. “They’re still very fast but it seems like we have quite decent top speed, so hopefully that will work out for tomorrow.”
Meanwhile, Red Bull boss Horner was ebullient about the “phenomenal performance” of Verstappen in qualifying, with the Dutchman having missed out on pole at the previous Sakhir Grand Prix by just 0.056s – and with Verstappen having jokingly carried off the third-placed driver chair from the press conference room during Thursday’s media sessions, so often has he sat on it this year.
“So many times this year, we've sat in that third place seat,” said Horner ahead of the post-qualifying press conference. “But he's just strung together a brilliant lap at the end there and it's so tight, less than a tenth between the top three cars. He was gutted to miss out last week, and to put that lap in here, to get that pole, is a phenomenal performance.
“You know you can bank on him,” added Horner of his lead driver. “You know he's going to give it everything, you know that he can always surprise you and he's done that today… It's important to convert it tomorrow into a great result, so just for everybody in the whole team, they've all worked so hard under such difficult conditions this year… and it epitomises everything when you see it come together like that.”