Abu Dhabi GP: Max Verstappen pips Leclerc to pole for finale as Sainz, Hamilton toil

Henry Valantine
Max Verstappen in his pit box at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Max Verstappen leaves the Red Bull pit box.

Max Verstappen pipped Charles Leclerc to pole position for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, with Oscar Piastri getting his McLaren onto the second row.

George Russell took fourth for Mercedes and Lando Norris ranked fifth for McLaren, though will be ruing a piece of oversteer on his final lap that could have left him higher up the grid come Sunday.

It was tougher going for Carlos Sainz and Lewis Hamilton however, with Sainz knocked out in Q1 while the seven-time World Champion qualified P11 for the second race in a row in his Mercedes.

Max Verstappen pips the rest for Abu Dhabi season finale

The sun had set over Yas Marina as the final qualifying session of 2023 got underway, with the last pole position of the year up for grabs. It’s an important one, too, as the polesitter has won the last eight editions of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

The track was cooling all the time in the night in Abu Dhabi so it took several minutes for the drivers to emerge in Q1, but once they did so the mission remained simply to not be in the bottom five places once the first 18-minute session elapsed.

Logan Sargeant, Zhou Guanyu and Nico Hulkenberg saw their first runs deleted for going beyond track limits and Lewis Hamilton needed to improve after going 13th fastest on his first flying lap.

Both Aston Martins were also a second off the pace, but the closeness of the field at that point left them down in 14th and 15th, setting up a tight finale to Q1 and a lottery for who would get through.

Sargeant improved to fourth with a 1:24.532, but saw his time deleted again for going off at Turn 1 for the second time in the session, which confirmed a 100% record for Alex Albon in the qualifying battle against his team-mate, out-qualifying him 22-0 in the 2023 season.

The biggest name to drop out in Q1, however, was Carlos Sainz. While he was only 0.578s off Verstappen’s Q1 benchmark, the close field saw him qualify P16, blaming traffic on his lap for not optimising his lap.

Both Alfa Romeo drivers also dropped out, along with Kevin Magnussen, but after his big crash in FP2 on Friday, Sainz will have to perform a strong recovery on Sunday to make up the lost ground.

Some drivers opted to start Q2 on used tyres, with the Verstappen new tyres on their first run as he clocked a 1:23.740, the fastest lap of the weekend to date to fly to the top of the standings, with only Lando Norris able to get within two tenths of the reigning World Champion on the first run.

The final runs would prove pivotal once again for making it through to the top 10, but Lewis Hamilton was the one to drop out this time around – with George Russell being the one to put his team-mate into the drop zone after improving to P4.

Esteban Ocon, Lance Stroll, Alex Albon and Daniel Ricciardo were the others to miss out on the final Q3 of the season, but there was hardly anything separating the drivers heading into the final part of qualifying.

PlanetF1.com recommends

F1 2023: Head-to-head qualifying and race stats between team-mates

Top 10: The drivers with the highest win percentages in F1 history

A 1:23.445 from Verstappen saw him claw even more time in the first part of Q3 to lay down a gauntlet to his rivals in the early part of the session, with the World Champion wanting to finish on a high in Abu Dhabi in qualifying.

Some drivers were on used tyres on their first runs once again though, making it a final-lap shootout for pole position around Yas Marina on Saturday night.

Norris and Piastri were first up for McLaren, with a slide from Norris as he put the power down through Turn 12 making him lose time, while Piastri put himself marginally ahead of his team-mate.

Behind them, Charles Leclerc put his Ferrari onto the front row, but while Verstappen could not improve his first time, Perez was still to cross the line – but it was P5 for the sister Red Bull, before a time deletion dropped him to ninth.

Russell was the last to cross the line for Mercedes, he had been fastest in two of the three free practice sessions, but could only manage fourth come the chequered flag.

But while it was close, the reigning World Champion pipped the rest once again on Saturday in Abu Dhabi.

Abu Dhabi Grand Prix 2023: Qualifying classification

1 Max VERSTAPPEN Red Bull 1:23.445
2 Charles LECLERC Ferrari +0.139
3 Oscar PIASTRI McLaren +0.337
4 George RUSSELL Mercedes +0.343
5 Lando NORRIS McLaren +0.371
6 Yuki TSUNODA AlphaTauri +0.523
7 Fernando ALONSO Aston Martin +0.639
8 Nico HULKENBERG Haas +0.663
9 Sergio PEREZ Red Bull +0.726
10 Pierre GASLY Alpine +1.103
11 Lewis HAMILTON Mercedes 1:24.359
12 Esteban OCON Alpine +0.032
13 Lance STROLL Aston Martin +0.063
14 Alexander ALBON Williams +0.080
15 Daniel RICCIARDO AlphaTauri +0.083
16 Carlos SAINZ Ferrari 1:24.738
17 Kevin MAGNUSSEN Haas F1 Team +0.026
18 Valtteri BOTTAS Alfa Romeo +0.050
19 Guanyu ZHOU Alfa Romeo +0.421
20 Logan SARGEANT Williams NO TIME SET

Read next: Toto Wolff responds to warning after Las Vegas outburst: ‘When I’m provoked, I punch back’