Abu Dhabi GP: Max Verstappen puts Red Bull on pole ahead of Valtteri Bottas, Lewis Hamilton
Mercedes denied a final pole position of a dominant 2020 as Red Bull's Max Verstappen finally gets first Saturday P1 of season; Lando Norris excellent fourth for McLaren; Watch final race of 2020 season on Sunday live only on Sky Sports F1 at 1.10pm, build-up from 11.30am
By James Galloway
Last Updated: 12/12/20 6:20pm
Red Bull's Max Verstappen finally seized his first pole position of the 2020 season at the final attempt to beat Valtteri Bottas and the returning Lewis Hamilton in a rare qualifying defeat for Mercedes at the Abu Dhabi GP.
In an unexpectedly close duel between Mercedes and Red Bull at the end of a season in which the former have dominated, Hamilton and then Bottas each took provisional pole in turn on their final laps - but Verstappen beat them both by fractions of a second via an exceptional final effort.
The Dutchman, who had only previously claimed two F1 poles in 118 races, uncorked a last lap of 1:35.246 to pip Bottas by 0.025s and third-placed Hamilton by a similarly-close margin of 0.086s.
- Full Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Qualifying results
- Sunday's Sky F1 live schedule for 2020's final race
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"I think that will be a bit of a shock to Mercedes," said Sky F1's Martin Brundle of the only non-Mercedes pole in the dry this year. "That's the first time they haven't been on pole here [Yas Marina] in the hybrid era."
A "very happy" Verstappen said: "The whole season, being behind and getting closer it's a bit frustrating. But very, very pleased with today."
Lando Norris, meanwhile, produced a standout performance of his own to take fourth on the grid on a big day for McLaren in their hopes of beating Racing Point and Renault to third in the Constructors' Championship on Sunday. Carlos Sainz was sixth in the sister car, with Norris securing overall qualifying honours (9-8) over his Ferrari-bound team-mate for both 2020 and their two years together.
"Two tenths off of pole is the big achievement today," noted Norris to Sky F1.
Racing Point, last week's shock race winners who hold third from McLaren by 10 points in the standings, will start with Lance Stroll in eighth and, owing to engine changes, Sergio Perez from the back row.
But Renault suffered a setback as both their cars were knocked out in Q2, although they will have a free tyre choice for Sunday's first stint and gain positions courtesy of Charles Leclerc's three-place grid penalty. Fifth-placed Renault trail Racing Point by 22 points and McLaren by 10 points.
Red Bull's Alex Albon had been in contention with the top three after the first runs of Q3 but slipped behind Norris to fifth. But, at sister team AlphaTauri, Daniil Kvyat kept his late-season momentum going by again outpacing Pierre Gasly in what is set to be his final race on the grid for at least the time being.
Kvyat will start seventh with Gasly ninth once a three-place grid penalty hanging over from Bahrain is factored in to ninth-placed Leclerc's result in the lead Ferrari.
With a fairy-tale finish to his Ferrari career always unlikely this weekend, Sebastian Vettel qualified an unremarkable 13th with his long wait for a Q3 return to extend into his new career at Racing Point/Aston Martin next year.
Abu Dhabi Qualifying: Top 10
1. Max Verstappen, Red Bull
2. Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes
3. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes
4. Lando Norris, McLaren
5. Alexander Albon, Red Bull
6. Carlos Sainz, McLaren
7. Daniil Kvyat, AlphaTauri
8. Lance Stroll, Racing Point
9. Charles Leclerc, Ferrari*
10. Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri
*three-place grid penalty
Red Bull finally overhaul Mercedes on a 2020 Saturday
Pole positions have proved few and far between for Red Bull since being usurped by Mercedes as F1's leading force in the hybrid-turbo engine era nearly seven years ago - and Verstappen's unexpected one here ended a run of 17 races without a Saturday P1 for both team and driver.
Although Verstappen had comfortably topped the earlier Practice Three session, that was in unrepresentative warmer daylight conditions ahead of Saturday evening's 'twilight' qualifying hour with Mercedes seemingly keeping performance back in their W11.
Hamilton and Bottas then finished first and second respectively in both Q1 and Q2, with Verstappen seemingly not having quite enough pace to be a pole factor.
But that all changed into Q3 with Verstappen splitting Bottas and Hamilton in the first attempts - both Mercedes and Red Bulls were separated by 0.156s at that point - before overhauling them in the decisive second.
"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," said Verstappen, who last claimed pole in Brazil last November.
"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."
For Hamilton - back in action this weekend after missing last week's Sakhir GP due to coronavirus - third place behind Verstappen and Bottas was his second-worst Saturday result of a remarkably consistent season.
"It's definitely been a difficult weekend, just getting back into a rhythm," said the seven-time champion. "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.
"It's always nice to seal first but it just makes it more exciting. I'm definitely excited to see how I can turn it around."
Abu Dhabi GP Qualifying Result
|1) Max Verstappen||Red Bull||1:35.246|
|2) Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes||+0.025|
|3) Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes||+0.086|
|4) Lando Norris||McLaren||+0.251|
|5) Alexander Albon||Red Bull||+0.325|
|6) Carlos Sainz||McLaren||+0.569|
|7) Daniil Kvyat||AlphaTauri||+0.717|
|8) Lance Stroll||Racing Point||+0.800|
|9) Charles Leclerc*||Ferrari||+0.819|
|10) Pierre Gasly||AlphaTauri||+0.996|
|Knocked out in Q2|
|11) Esteban Ocon||Renault||1:36.359|
|12) Daniel Ricciardo||Renault||1:36.406|
|13) Sebastian Vettel||Ferrari||1:36.631|
|14) Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo||1:38.248|
|16) Sergio Perez**||Racing Point||No time set|
|Knocked out in Q1|
|16) Kimi Raikkonen||Alfa Romeo||1:37.555|
|17) Kevin Magnussen**||Haas||1:37.863|
|18) George Russell||Williams||1:38.045|
|19) Pietro Fittipaldi||Haas||1:38.173|
|20) Nicholas Latifi||Williams||1:38.443|
|*3-place grid penalty|
|*back of grid starts|