Abu Dhabi GP: Lewis Hamilton says Max Verstappen had 'fantastic' pole lap but remains optimistic for F1 decider
Toto Wolff: "I think he’s going to be angry, and that’s good. And motivated for tomorrow to just hunt him down." Verstappen on pole, Hamilton starting from second, for Sunday's Decider in the Desert live on Sky Sports F1 and Sky Showcase from 11.30am for 1pm race start
By James Galloway
Last Updated: 12/12/21 12:57pm
Lewis Hamilton is optimistic he remains in a "good position" heading into Sunday's decisive title-deciding Abu Dhabi GP despite losing out on pole position to title rival Max Verstappen.
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff, meanwhile, conceded after qualifying that it was "one-zero" to Red Bull in the Decider in the Desert but then declared: "This is a long race and... it's Lewis Hamilton in the car."
In yet another twist to a gripping season, Mercedes' apparent single-lap pace advantage around the revamped Yas Marina circuit from practice disappeared when it mattered most in qualifying as the impressive Verstappen delivered a dominant Q3 performance in his Red Bull to claim his 10th pole position of the year - but first in five races - from Hamilton, by three tenths of a second.
- Qualifying report & result: Stunning Verstappen lap takes decider pole
- The Decider in the Desert: When to watch the title showdown live on Sky on Sunday
- FIA's warning over racing conduct ahead of finale
Verstappen and Hamilton are tied on points at the top of the championship. Whoever finishes ahead of the other in the top eight is world champion, while Verstappen will take the crown on countback of wins if they are still deadlocked on points at the end of Sunday's 58-lap race.
"Max did a great lap today. We just couldn't compete with that time at the end there," said Hamilton, who starts from second place on the front row.
"It was looking really strong through practice.
"That was a fantastic lap from him. We're in a good position with our tyres for tomorrow and I hope we can have a good race."
Speaking to Sky Sports F1 soon afterwards, Hamilton said: "In an ideal world we were meant to be on pole. We thought we had the pace, but they were rapid right at the end.
"I'm not really that surprised because if you look at their pace on some the days there was bits of time that they were doing that they couldn't complete it. And you saw in the last race [in Saudi Arabia] he was almost four tenths up into the last corner, so their car is very, very strong at the moment.
"So it was kind of expected: today he didn't crash, he finished it, and it's the same as the last race."
Behind their big rival on the front row, but Hamilton and Mercedes potentially hold a strategic advantage for the decisive 58-lap race due to the fact they will start on the more durable medium tyres compared to the softs that Verstappen is locked into.
Red Bull's initial plan had also been to start on the yellow-marked mediums but Verstappen damaged his set with a lock-up at the start of a second push lap in Q2 and had to switch down to the red-marked softs.
Asked what this tyre difference will mean for the short run to the first corner on Sunday, Hamilton said: "It will be very, very hard to beat him, it's not very far down to Turn One, and he's on the soft tyre which usually gives you an extra four metres or something like that."
Hamilton, who has three other cars on soft tyres directly behind him, added: "The soft runners are going to be like busy bees of course, they are going to be around me a lot. It's not going to be as easy on the medium; but we'll see. I hope it's the better tyre for the long run, we'll wait and see."
Mercedes to plot approach for race-day turnaround
"Q1, Q2 was ours, it looked like a pretty easy run, and then suddenly you lose all the performance," remarked Wolff of a qualifying session where the balance of power at the front unexpectedly swung around between the title-contending teams.
The Mercedes team principal told Sky F1: "Today they got the tyres in the perfect window in the last run. The tow functioned flawlessly and that's why they're on pole.
"From P2 much rather starting on the medium. We will have a slight disadvantage on the start I guess and the first six-seven laps if he [Verstappen] drives fast.
"If he manages [the tyres] then that's not a big advantage for them. But we can go longer, we can go for an aggressive undercut also and try to control track position. So overnight they'll be running lots of programmes and algorithms to see where that ends."
Nonetheless, Wolff believes that outright pace rather than tyre strategy will determine the outcome of the race - and 2021's world champion.
"Who's going to be faster tomorrow will win the race irrespective of who starts on which tyre. We need to build on that, regroup, and hopefully come out on top tomorrow."
Asked by Sky F1 what he might say to Hamilton ahead of the race on the eve of his driver's quest to become the sport's first eight-time champion, Wolff said: "There is nothing you need to say.
"I think he's going to be angry, and that's good. And motivated for tomorrow to just hunt him down.
"We are on the back foot. Sometimes you need to see the positives and sometimes that's not bad as a starting point.
"This is a long race and, like Nico [Rosberg] said, it's Lewis Hamilton in the car."