ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton will begin alongside one another on the entrance of the grid on the title-deciding Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Every other entrance row wouldn’t have appeared proper forward of Sunday’s winner-take-all showdown, and given the efficiency of the 2 title rivals at latest races, it was by no means actually unsure.
Verstappen’s 0.3s advantage over Hamilton was a shock, nonetheless. All through follow and the primary two classes of qualifying, the Mercedes driver held the benefit. However when it mattered, when the stress was at its highest, Verstappen delivered.
“I am extremely proud of this,” he mentioned after getting out of the automobile. “That is in fact what we needed.
“It’s by no means straightforward, particularly with their type in the previous few races, however now I am simply trying ahead to tomorrow due to course that is an important factor.”
The whole lot it’s essential to find out about Verstappen vs Hamilton
Hamilton additionally rose to the event and delivered an excellent lap, however after the session he mentioned his automobile merely wasn’t quick sufficient to problem the Crimson Bull.
“The final lap was good and clear, I simply could not go any faster,” Hamilton mentioned. “I do not know if it is tyre prep or one thing when it comes to the outlap however nonetheless I could not beat that point that he did at this time. He absolutely deserved the pole.”
Verstappen was aided by a slipstream on the again straight from teammate Sergio Perez on his quickest lap, nevertheless it wasn’t a sufficiently big benefit to account your entire 0.371s hole. The pre-agreed, completely orchestrated instance of teamwork noticed Perez depart the pits first and punch a gap within the air alongside the quickest a part of the observe between Turns 7 and 9, which Verstappen was then in a position to exploit to scale back the drag performing on his automobile.
The tow elevated Verstappen’s velocity alongside the straight, however a fast look on the sector occasions on his quickest lap hints at one thing much more particular towards the tip of the lap. Within the center sector the place the slipstream passed off, Verstappen was 0.140s sooner than Hamilton, however he gained an extra 0.182s within the ultimate sector the place he was very a lot on his personal threading his automobile between the obstacles below the W Lodge.
“I believe that is one in every of Max’s greatest laps of the yr. Even on the next lap that we acquired him to again off on, he matched the time [without a tow],” Crimson Bull staff principal Christian Horner advised Sky Sports activities.
“We mentioned the slipstream this morning and we lowered the downforce [on the car], as a result of it was the one means of matching these guys [Mercedes] on the straights.
“The tow was in all probability value a tenth, a tenth or two, not half a second and I believe that his final sector, if you have a look at the extent of downforce he is acquired on is insane, completely insane.”
Verstappen’s reward for his efficiency on Saturday evening shall be a beginning place eight metres forward of Hamilton on Sunday’s grid and on a bit of tarmac affording extra grip than his rival’s. The racing line cuts diagonally throughout the start-finish straight on the Yas Marina Circuit, however by the point it reaches the entrance row it’s additional to the precise, that means there may be extra rubber on Verstappen’s aspect of the grid and extra grip.
If the race is as processional as earlier Abu Dhabi Grands Prix, these eight metres and the higher grid slot might be sufficient to safe Verstappen his first championship (the final six drivers to win in Abu Dhabi have performed so from pole). However given the narrative of the 2021 season to this point, a lights-to-flag victory appears unlikely.
The possibilities of an thrilling race are helped by the methods of Verstappen and Hamilton being offset from the beginning. On account of F1’s rule that requires the highest 10 drivers to start out the race on the identical set of tyres they used within the second session of qualifying, Verstappen will line up on the grid on gentle tyres whereas Hamilton begins on mediums.
Talking after the session, Verstappen revealed it wasn’t Crimson Bull’s plan to start out on the softs, however a lock-up at Flip 1 on his set of mediums in Q2 meant he did not wish to begin the race on that set in case the tyre was broken. What’s extra, the set he locked up was the one set of contemporary mediums he has accessible for the race, limiting his technique choices.
“Naturally it wasn’t the plan, as a result of I needed to start out on the medium however I flat-spotted that one,” Verstappen mentioned. “However I felt good additionally on the long term on the gentle, so it was not likely a troublesome resolution to make to then change to only specializing in the gentle.”
Hamilton was sceptical, suggesting Crimson Bull might need had gentle tyres in thoughts for the beginning all alongside.
“It is attention-grabbing,” Hamilton mentioned. “I am all the time type of sceptical with every little thing so it will be attention-grabbing after we return and have a look at the knowledge and onboard laps, it’s totally uncommon that individuals lock up in Flip 1 but when he really did lock up in Flip 1 then possibly whether or not or not we’re in a greater place when it comes to that tyre.
“Possibly they know one thing we do not and that gentle tyre was their plan on a regular basis. We struggled a bit extra on gentle tyre for the lengthy runs, so I believe we have the precise tyre, however we’ll see tomorrow.”
Verstappen’s softs are possible to supply a faster getaway from the road and higher efficiency on the opening lap, however as the primary stint develops the efficiency benefit ought to swing again in the direction of Hamilton’s mediums. Hamilton can even have extra flexibility on technique by beginning on mediums, permitting him to go longer into the race on the identical set of tyres if the Mercedes pit wall believes it can supply a bonus and try a one-stop race if Crimson Bull’s tyre selection leads them on to a two-stop.
“The 2-stop is all the time a viable variant when you assume that you could assault and go on a two-stop or you’ll be able to handle and attempt to make a one-stop which might be difficult on the finish,” Wolff mentioned. “I believe we have to see.
“We noticed fairly some degradation on the gentle tyres within the lengthy runs in follow, much less so on the mediums which makes it thrilling when it comes to the methods. However undoubtedly additionally for us, a one-stop appears good and a two-stop is certainly on additionally as a variant.”
Though he hasn’t began from pole place because the U.S. Grand Prix in October, Verstappen’s qualifying efficiency is not completely towards the run of type. On pure tempo, Verstappen ought to have began on pole every week in the past in Saudi Arabia however crashed on the ultimate nook of his ultimate qualifying lap when he regarded set to safe a 0.3s hole over Hamilton on that circuit.
On Sunday in Saudi Arabia, the tables turned as Mercedes was in a position to make higher use of its tyres over a race distance, giving Hamilton a transparent benefit by the tip of the race. In Abu Dhabi, Wolff mentioned Mercedes had deliberately sacrificed some qualifying efficiency with a purpose to make the automobile sooner within the race.
“We undoubtedly tried to as a result of we had been a lot underperforming on the lengthy runs [in final practice] that we went to extra the path that we had on Friday in making an attempt to protect the tyre,” Wolff mentioned. “However having mentioned that, we had been actually not aggressive towards the Crimson Bulls so no matter step we take we hope it will go in the precise path. There is not any assure it will be sufficient tomorrow and essentially the faster automobile goes to win tomorrow.”
After which there’s the query that has hung over the title decider since Verstappen and Hamilton arrived in Abu Dhabi earlier this week: Will the 2 title rivals collide on observe?
Undoubtedly, the prospect of on-track contact has been considerably overplayed within the days main as much as Sunday’s race and is not at all assured, however after three vital collisions this season at Silverstone, Monza and in Saudi Arabia, it might probably’t be dominated out.
On the idea of the season to this point, Verstappen is not going to quit his lead simply, that means Hamilton can anticipate to face a sturdy defence if he will get shut sufficient to problem the Crimson Bull for place. Added to that, in the event that they find yourself in a state of affairs the place each drivers fail to attain factors — i.e. the barrier or a gravel lure — Verstappen shall be topped champion by advantage of securing another race victory this season.
To pre-empt any try and win the title with a collision, FIA race director Michael Masi began the weekend by reminding all drivers that unsportsmanlike behaviour may lead to factors being deducted from tallies or a disqualification from the championship — thereby stopping Verstappen from merely driving Hamilton off the street to win. Nevertheless, making the excellence between intent and accident shall be a thankless activity for the stewards that can virtually actually result in additional controversy.
“I have not spoken with Lewis about that as a result of I believe the race director warned the drivers in regards to the doable penalties [of a collision],” Wolff mentioned. “I’ve little doubt that the drivers will race laborious as a result of it is for a Components One world champion, however I’ve confidence it is going to be very clear.
“Laborious however very clear, not pushing anyone off or kicking anyone. That is what this epic championship deserves as a ultimate.”
Whichever means it goes and no matter occurs, by Sunday night a big chapter of Components One historical past shall be made. It makes for totally compelling viewing.