Verstappen pips Mercedes duo to claim Abu Dhabi pole

Berlin: Red Bull’s Max Verstappen stunned world champions Mercedes by grabbing pole position for the season-ending Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix on Saturday.
Verstappen topped a thrilling final shoot-out in the day-to-night session with less than nine-hundredths of a second separating him from third-placed world champion Lewis Hamilton, with Valtteri Bottas second in the other Mercedes.
Verstappen clocked 1 minute 35.246 seconds on the 5.554-kilometre Yas Marina Circuit for his first pole of the season and third overall.
It is the first time since 2013 that Mercedes have not claimed pole in Abu Dhabi, and only the second time this season in 17 races that they will not start from first place on the grid.
The Dutchman Verstappen was more than happy to have finally beaten Mercedes when it mattered. “The whole season, behind, behind and getting closer it’s a bit frustrating. But very, very pleased with today,” he said.
“It’s a long season for everyone, with a lot of races in a row. I think this was a good final qualifying for everyone in the team and for sure we are very happy with that.
“It seems like we have a decent top speed this weekend. Hopefully, this will work out for tomorrow.” Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko told Sky TV that pole was “is an important sign that all our work was worth it.”
Hamilton had set the fastest time in his return from a positive coronavirus test which saw him miss last week’s race in Bahrain, but first Bottas and then Verstappen were even faster.
“It’s definitely been a difficult weekend, just getting back into a rhythm. 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,” Hamilton said.
“I’m definitely excited to see how I can turn it around,” he added, looking ahead at Sunday’s race.”
Hamilton has already clinched a record-equalling seventh world title but will want to end another sensational season in style with an 11th win which would be a 96th overall.
Last week’s winner Sergio Perez meanwhile had no timed lap in Q2 but has to start from the back of the grid because of too many power unit changes in his final race for Racing Point.
George Russell, who had taken Hamilton’s place last weekend and could have won in Sakhir if Mercedes hadn’t committed a major pit stop mistake and a puncture occurred later, was brought back down to earth back at his Williams team as he placed 18th on Saturday.
Alexander Albon will start fifth, behind the impressive Lando Norrisin McLaren, as he looks to save his Red Bull career while Sebastian Vettel will begin his farewell to Ferrari from 13th. — dpa