Abu Dhabi GP: Can Max Verstappen resist Mercedes and who will take third in 2020?
Verstappen on his first 2020 pole, with Bottas and Hamilton right behind him on the grid, for Sunday's season-ending Abu Dhabi GP, live at 1.10pm on Sky Sports F1; meanwhile, lucrative fight for third in constructors' standings heading for the wire between Racing Point and McLaren
By James Galloway and Matt Morlidge
Last Updated: 13/12/20 11:38am
Max Verstappen expects Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton to put him "under pressure" as Mercedes look to fight back against Red Bull at F1's Abu Dhabi GP season finale on Sunday.
Having started third facing an all-Mercedes front row on nine occasions in 2020, Verstappen has finally turned the tables in Abu Dhabi with Red Bull's first and only pole position of the year after winning an incredibly-close qualifying battle where the front three positions were separated by less than a tenth of a second.
Red Bull have rarely had a starting advantage over the world champions in the hybrid-turbo engine era - Saturday's pole was just their sixth in the last seven seasons - but Verstappen knows the battle at F1's season finale is only truly starting, particularly as Mercedes have both their cars in the top three.
- When's the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix live on Sunday?
- McLaren selling minority stake in team to US investors
- Watch the race for £9.99 with a NOW TV Day Pass
- Who starts where on the Abu Dhabi GP grid?
The Abu Dhabi GP is live only on Sky Sports F1 and starts at 1.10pm, with build-up from 11.30am.
"We will find out," Verstappen told Sky F1 when asked about his race prospects from a third career pole.
"They have two cars now behind me; they can do a bit of different strategies, they can try to put me under pressure, which for sure they will try to do.
"But I'm just going to have fun out there and try to have a good result."
Having struggled for grip in final practice, when Verstappen also set the pace, Mercedes were more comfortable on the medium tyre in qualifying than the soft, which was used for the Q3 shootout.
The front three all start on the medium compound for the race, with a mid-race switch to the hard tyre than predicted as part of a one-stop strategy.
"We have a strong car and will start the race on the mediums, so it's all still to play for," said Bottas. "I think it's going to be a good battle between Max, Lewis and myself and anything can happen as we've seen in F1 lately. I'm looking forward to an exciting season finale tomorrow and will fight hard to end the year on a high."
Seven-time champion Hamilton qualified third for what is, incredibly, just his second start off the front row in Abu Dhabi in the race's 12-season history.
Speaking after qualifying, Hamilton confirmed he was "not 100 per cent" fit after returning from coronavirus this week and said the 55-lap event "definitely won't be the easiest of races physically".
However, he made clear "it's by no means going to get in the way of me going out and give it my all".
The five-time Abu Dhabi GP winner added: "We are going to hopefully give them [Red Bull] a good run for their money.
"The start is going to be important, first few laps, those stints, yeah I'm definitely excited to try to figure out how I can turn it around."
Abu Dhabi's other big battle: Who will triumph in the fight for third?
The battle for third in the championship - up for grabs this season for the first time since 2015 with Ferrari off the pace - has been close and tough to predict all season, but Racing Point arrived in Abu Dhabi with a big, by midfield terms, advantage of 10 points following their victory and double podium last weekend in Bahrain.
McLaren, however, have ensured this fight is still very much come lights out today on with some brilliant, and unexpected, qualifying speed.
Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz sealed a superb fourth and sixth on the grid on Saturday - the Englishman just 0.2s off pole - with the added boost of Racing Point being down the order with Lance Stroll eighth and Sergio Perez, F1's newest race-winner, forced to start on the back row due to an engine penalty.
How it stands in the fight for third
|3) Racing Point||194|
That means if the grid positions stay as they are, McLaren would clinch third for the first time since the days of Hamilton and Jenson Button in 2012.
Norris, though, is wary - particularly of Perez's pace considering he won in Bahrain after running at the back.
"They're going to be coming through, they're going to be fast," Norris told Sky F1. "Sergio's been quite a bit quicker than Lance all weekend so if anyone's coming through it's going to be Sergio. Their cars are very quick."
Perez, who has his own aspirations of sealing fourth in the drivers' standings and is in the Racing Point car for the last time before leaving the team, admitted: "We have to make sure we get well into the points.
"We've put everything together for the race. We've put every single bit together for the race. We'll see what we'll be able to do but a lot of things can happen."
Renault, 22 points behind Racing Point, already needed a huge weekend to have a chance of sealing third and their hopes took a major blow on Saturday with both Esteban Ocon and Daniel Ricciardo failing to make Q3.
Although they will get free tyre choice, and each gain a grid position thanks to a penalty for Ferrari's Charles Leclerc, it appears it is a straight fight between Racing Point and McLaren for the pride, prestige and prize money third will bring. The difference between finishing third and fourth is thought to be in the region of £4m.