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F1 - Verstappen claims pole for Abu Dhabi title-decider ahead of Hamilton

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Max Verstappen will start the title-deciding Abu Dhabi Grand Prix from the front of the grid after claiming his 10th pole position of the campaign,beating title rival Lewis Hamilton by almost three tenths of a second as Lando Norris finished third for McLaren.

Verstappen ran early in Q1 and the Dutch driver quickly moveds to the top of the timesheet with a lap of 1:23.680. Red Bull team-mate Sergio Pérez slotted into P4 with a lap of 1:24.253 that put him behind the AlphaTauri cars of Pierre Gasly and Yuki Tsunoda.

Mercedes driver Hamilton and Bottas then appeared and title-contending Hamilton jumped to top spot with an opening flying lap of 1:23.266. Bottas then shuffled Verstappen down to third with a lap of 1:23.367.

Soon after there was a brief red flag when one of the Haas cars clipped a bollard in the final corner and the debris ended up on the racing line on the corner exit where McLaren driver Norris then ran over it.

The session restarted with six minutes left on the clock and in the final runs Hamilton improved to 1:22.845 to head Q1 in front of Bottas who ended the segment in P2 with a time of 1:23.117. Verstappen closed out the segment in third place thanks to an improved time of 1:23.332, just 0.018s ahead of Pérez who finished fourth ahead of Tsunoda.

Eliminated at the end of the session were Williams drivers Nicholas Latifi and George Russell in P16 and P17 respectively, the Alfa Romeo of Kimi Räikkönen in P18 and the Haas cars of Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin in 19th and 20th places.

In the second segment both Red Bull and Mercedes sent their drivers out on medium tyres. Hamilotn set the benchmark at 1:20.185 but Verstappen opened with a good lap on the yellow-banded tyres to slot into second place, just 0.004s behind his rival. Sainz then popped up with a lap of 1:23.174 on softs to take top spot, and as he did so Verstappen reported that he had flat spotted one of his medium tyres.

Not wanting their driver to start the race on a damaged set of mediums, Red Bull switched Verstappen to softs for his final run. It was a move mirrored by Pérez, whose opening time was only good enough for P10.

And good laps by both saw Verstappen take top spot in Q2 with a lap of 1:22.80, with Pérez three tenths of a second further back in P2. Red Bull will therefore start the race on soft tyres. Behind them Hamilton and Bottas took third and fourth and will start on mediums.

Eliminated at the end of the segment were Alpine’s Fernando Alonso in 11th place ahead of Gasly, whose brake problems continued, Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll, the Alfa Romeo of Antonio Giovinazzi and the second Aston of Sebastian Vettel.

In Q3, the Red Bull drivers worked together well in the opening runs of Q3 with Pérez providing Verstappen with a crucial tow before backing off to let the championship leader surge past and set a blistering time of 1:22.109.

That left the Dutch driver in provisional pole ahead of Hamilton, but the support provided by Peerez left the Mexican left the Mexican in sixth place. Vestappen responded by providing a tow on the Mexican’s second lap and Peerez jumped to an eventual fourth place on the grid behind Norris who sprung a surprise by putting his McLaren into third place.

The opening run pace from Veratappen was so strong that in the final runs there was no response from Mercedes and Hamilton was forced to settle for second place, 0.371 adrift of the Dutch driver.

With Norris putting in a good final flying lap to edge Pérez to fourth, fifth place in qualifying went to Carlos Sainz. The Ferrari driver also put in a good final lap to finish four hundredths of a second ahead of Bottas. Charles Leclerc qualified seventh in the second Ferrari ahead of AlphaTauri’s impressive Yuki Tsunoda, Alpine’s Esteban Ocon and the second McLaren of Daniel Ricciardo.


2021 FIA Formula 1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – Qualifying
1 Max Verstappen Red Bull/Honda 1:22.109  7 231.541
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:22.480 0.371 0.452 7 230.499
3 Lando Norris McLaren/Mercedes 1:22.931 0.822 1.001 7 229.245
4 Sergio Pérez Red Bull/Honda 1:22.947 0.838 1.021 7 229.201
5 Carlos Sainz Ferrari 1:22.992 0.883 1.075 6 229.077
6 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1:23.036 0.927 1.129 6 228.956
7 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1:23.122 1.013 1.234 6 228.719
8 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri/Honda 1:23.220 1.111 1.353 6 228.449
9 Esteban Ocon Alpine/Renault 1:23.389 1.280 1.559 6 227.986
10 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren/Mercedes 1:23.409 1.300 1.583 6 227.932
11 Fernando Alonso Alpine/Renault 1:23.460 0.660 0.797 6 227.792
12 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri/Honda 1:24.043 1.243 1.501 7 226.212
13 Lance Stroll Aston Martin/Mercedes 1:24.066 1.266 1.529 7 226.150
14 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo/Ferrari 1:24.251 1.451 1.752 8 225.654
15 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin/Mercedes 1:24.305 1.505 1.818 8 225.509
16 Nicholas Latifi Williams/Mercedes 1:24.338 1.493 1.802 8 225.421
17 George Russell Williams/Mercedes 1:24.423 1.578 1.905 7 225.194
18 Kimi Räikkönen Alfa Romeo/Ferrari 1:24.779 1.934 2.334 8 224.248
19 Mick Schumacher Haas/Ferrari 1:24.906 2.061 2.488 9 223.913
20 Nikita Mazepin Haas/Ferrari 1:25.685 2.840 3.428 9 221.877