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Abu Dhabi GP: Max Verstappen beats Lewis Hamilton to stunning pole for Formula 1 title decider

Advantage Max Verstappen for Sunday's title showdown as he beats Lewis Hamilton to pole by 0.3s at Yas Marina; Verstappen's fastest lap utilised the tow from team-mate Sergio Perez; Lando Norris third for McLaren; Verstappen and Hamilton on front row for winner-takes-all race on Sunday

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Sky Sports F1's Karun Chandhok compares how Max Verstappen took pole position in Abu Dhabi Qualifying from Lewis Hamilton.

Max Verstappen will start on pole ahead of Lewis Hamilton for the winner-takes-all Abu Dhabi GP title decider after a masterful and unexpected performance in qualifying from the Dutchman and Red Bull.

Trailing Hamilton and Mercedes coming into qualifying and for much of the hour-long shootout, Verstappen was very much the outsider heading into the critical Q3 finale but he and Red Bull then combined raw pace with clever teamwork to outpace Hamilton in second by a whopping 0.371s.

Verstappen's fastest lap, a 1:22.109, was posted at the start of Q3 when utilising the 'tow' from team-mate Sergio Perez, as the Mexican sacrificed his own lap to give the championship contender a slipstream and straight-line speed advantage.

Attempting to respond, Hamilton was half a second down on his first lap before improving slightly at the end of Q3, neither of his laps using the tow. However, highlighting Red Bull's improvement, Verstappen's second solo effort also would have been enough for pole before he backed out.

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Max Verstappen gets the tow from team-mate Sergio Perez through the straights before the Mexican pulls aside before the final sector in Qualifying.

"Oh yes!" roared Verstappen on team radio as the title showdown took another twist. "Didn't expect that one but amazing job guys!"

"That was a fantastic lap from him," accepted Hamilton. "We just couldn't compete with that time."

It means the championship protagonists, who are locked level on points, start on the front row together for Sunday's race, which is live on Sky Sports F1, Sky Sports Main Event and Sky Showcase from 1pm.

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Whoever finishes ahead of the other in the top eight will be F1 2021's champion, though if they are still level at the end of Sunday Verstappen will emerge victorious due to the countback on race wins.

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Watch and listen to Max Verstappen's pole lap at the Abu Dhabi GP Qualifying.

Behind them on the grid will be Lando Norris in the McLaren as, in another qualifying surprise, he beat the second Red Bull and Mercedes to third on the grid. Norris was eight tenths down on Verstappen but a few hundredths faster than Perez.

But in another blow on a disappointing day for Mercedes, Valtteri Bottas only managed sixth behind Carlos Sainz for Ferrari.

Abu Dhabi GP Qualifying Result - Top 10
1) Max Verstappen, Red Bull
2) Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes
3) Lando Norris, McLaren
4) Sergio Perez, Red Bull
5) Carlos Sainz, Ferrari
6) Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes
7) Charles Leclerc, Ferrari
8) Yuki Tsunoda, AlphaTauri
9) Esteban Ocon, Alpine
10) Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren

'Magical' Verstappen takes control of decider | But does Hamilton have race edge?

Though Verstappen topped first practice, all pole signs were pointing towards the form driver in the championship fight, in terms of wins at least, as Hamilton and Mercedes stormed clear ahead of qualifying. But in the twilight Yas Marina conditions, Red Bull fixed in on a setup while Verstappen slowly built himself up to deliver when it really mattered.

"This guy just delivered something magical," enthused Sky F1's Nico Rosberg, the 2016 world champion, after Verstappen lit up the timesheets with a superb Q3 lap typical of his 2021 season.

"We're witnessing absolutely historic greatness,"

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Red Bull's Max Verstappen gives his thoughts after his amazing pole lap in Abu Dhabi.

Maximising Red Bull's low-downforce approach with the slipstream, Verstappen was fast on the straights and also remarkably kept up with the Mercedes through the twisty final sector of the lap.

It gives him what could be a crucial pole, given six of the last Abu Dhabi pole-sitters have gone on to win the race, albeit on a different track configuration. If that happens on Sunday, a maiden title would be Verstappen's.

One to go: How it stands in the title chases

Drivers' Points
1) Max Verstappen 369.5
2) Lewis Hamilton 369.5
1) Mercedes 587.5
2) Red Bull 559.5

It was a slight surprise to see Mercedes not adopt a similar strategy, though Hamilton still has plenty of optimism for the final showdown, not just because he has a front row but also because they may well have a big strategy advantage.

Hamilton will start on the medium tyre, which is thought to be the optimum race tyre, come lights out while Verstappen will be on the faster yet less durable softs - a decision enforced by a small error from the Dutchman in Q2.

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Lewis Hamilton says he hopes picking medium tyres will make the difference the F1 finale in Abu Dhabi.

Verstappen and Red Bull had opted for the mediums like Mercedes in the middle portion of qualifying, though - pushing on his second lap after a decent opener - Verstappen locked up into the first corner and flat-spotted his tyre.

With no fresh mediums left in his allocation, that forced Red Bull onto a soft-starting strategy, which Perez will also be on as he needed to fit that rubber on to get through to Q3.

Christian Horner insisted Red Bull were "50-50" about going for that strategy anyway although fellow team boss, Toto Wolff of Mercedes stated: "I would much rather start on the medium.

"We will have a slight disadvantage on the start I guess. "But we can go longer, we can go for an aggressive undercut also and try to control track position."

Abu Dhabi GP Qualifying Timesheet

Driver Team Time
1) Max Verstappen Red Bull 1:22.109
2) Lewis Hamilton Mercedes +0.371
3) Lando Norris McLaren +0.822
4) Sergio Perez Red Bull +0.838
5) Carlos Sainz Ferrari +0.883
6) Valtteri Bottas Mercedes +0.927
7) Charles Leclerc Ferrari +1.013
8) Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri +1.111
9) Esteban Ocon Alpine +1.280
10) Daniel Ricciardo McLaren +1.300
Out in Q2
11) Fernando Alonso Alpine 1:23.460
12) Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri 1:24.043
13) Lance Stroll Aston Martin 1:24.066
14) Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo 1:24.251
15) Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin 1:24.305
Out in Q1
16) George Russell Williams 1:24.338
17) Nicholas Latifi Williams 1:24.423
18) Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo 1:24.779
19) Mick Schumacher Haas 1:24.906
20) Nikita Mazepin Haas 1:25.685

Decider in the Desert: Verstappen vs Hamilton in epic finale

And so it all comes down to this: Verstappen vs Hamilton in the Decider in the Desert to determine the destiny of the 2021 Formula 1 world championship crown.

Nine months and 21 races after it all began with a gripping duel for victory under floodlights in Bahrain, the championship protagonists are back square on points and ready to duel one more time.

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Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen's thrilling championship battle finishes with a winner-takes-all Abu Dhabi GP. Watch live on Sky Sports this weekend.

Sky Sports F1 has all the angles covered to provide the most comprehensive live service for one of the biggest weekends in the sport's recent history after one of the fiercest driver and team championship battles of all time.

The race is live on Sky Sports F1, Sky Sports Main Event and, making them available for all Sky TV customers, Sky Showcase too.

  • The Abu Dhabi GP starts at 1pm on Sunday, with build-up from 11.30am

Sky Sports F1's live Sunday schedule

8.50am: F2 Feature Race Live

11.30am: Abu Dhabi GP: Grand Prix Sunday Live


3pm: Abu Dhabi GP: Chequered Flag Live

4.30pm: Ted's Notebook Live

5.30pm: Abu Dhabi GP highlights

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