Lewis Hamilton congratulated Max Verstappen for securing his first pole position since the 2019 Brazilian Grand Prix over a year ago as the Red Bull driver edged out Mercedes in qualifying for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, with only 0.086secs splitting the top three. The Dutchman went just 0.025s quicker than Hamilton’s team-mate Valtteri Bottas with a superb effort at the Yas Marina Circuit.
It is the first time F1’s hybrid engine era that Mercedes have not started on pole in Abu Dhabi at the season-ending race.
Verstappen’s pole is also Red Bull’s first of the season and only the second time Mercedes have not fronted the grid in 2020 after Lance Stroll’s pole at the Turkish Grand Prix.
The 23-year-old has claimed just his third pole from 119 races since starting out in F1 in 2015.
But despite Mercedes missing out and seeing his wait for a 99th pole delayed to next season, Hamilton was delighted for Verstappen and is “excited” for Sunday’s race as a result.
The 35-year-old Brit missed the Sakhir Grand Prix a week previous after testing positive for coronavirus, with Williams driver George Russell stepping into his W11 in Bahrain.
The seven-time world champion admits even just one race away had a significant impact on his rhythm but has vowed to take the fight to Red Bull in the final race of the campaign.
“Honestly I am really grateful to be back with the team and to try and close out a strong season we have had,” Hamilton declared.
“It has been a difficult weekend getting back into rhythm even though it has only been a couple of weeks off. It just felt like I had lost the momentum.
“Even though it’s only a couple of weeks off it just felt like you’d lost that momentum and I’ve really struggled with the balance this weekend.
“But still I gave it my all and congratulations to Max. It’s a great way for him to seal a year of great performance. We will give them good run for their money tomorrow.
“It is always nice to start first but this makes it even more exiting. I’m definitely excited to see how I can turn it around.”
Pole-sitter Verstappen meanwhile declared: “Very happy with that. It was quite a tricky qualifying, there are so many corners where you can mistake but luckily everything came together on that final lap.
Elsewhere, Lando Norris starts fourth in the McLaren as his team look to beat Renault to fourth place in the constructors’ standings, with their rivals failing to get either of their two cars into Q3.
Abu Dhabi Grand Prix starting grid in full
1 – Max Verstappen, Red Bull
2 – Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes
3 – Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes
4 – Lando Norris, McLaren
5 – Alex Albon, Red Bull
6 – Carlos Sainz, Red Bull
7 – Daniil Kvyat, AlphaTauri
8 – Lance Stroll, Racing Point
9 – Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri
10 – Esteban Ocon, Renault
11 – Daniel Ricciardo, Renault
12 – Charles Leclerc, Ferrari*
13 – Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari
14 – Antonio Giovinazzi, Alfa Romeo
15 – Kimi Raikkonen, Alfa Romeo
16 – George Russell, Williams
17 – Pietro Fittipaldi, Haas
18 – Nicholas Latifi, Williams
19 – Sergio Perez, Racing Point*
20 – Kevin Magnussen, Haas*
Grid place penalties explained
Charles Leclerc – Three-place penalty for Sergio Perez collision
Sergio Perez – Exceeded maximum number of power unit components
Kevin Magnussen – Exceeded maximum number of power unit components