First pole of 2020 for Verstappen and Red Bull

Date published: December 12 2020 - Michelle Foster

Max Verstappen Red Bull

It took Max Verstappen 17 Saturdays, but he finally claimed his first pole position of the 2020 Championship with P1 in qualifying for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

He set the pace in Saturday’s final practice but lost out to Lewis Hamilton in Q1 and Q2, leaving many to predict yet another Mercedes 1-2.

Mercedes had just that until Verstappen put in a blistering final flying lap to take pole position.

He clocked a 1:35.246 to beat Valtteri Bottas by 0.025s seconds. Hamilton was third.

As the sun set over the Yas Marina circuit, and 2020’s qualifying, three drivers went into Saturday evening’s session facing grid penalties: Charles Leclerc for his opening lap crash at the Sakhir Grand Prix, Sergio Perez and Kevin Magnussen for exceeding the limit on various engine parts.

Q1 saw the usual traffic complaints, although a slightly different one to normal with Max Verstappen flat-spotting his front right tyre as he locked up in the pit lane in reaction to another car, Nicholas Latifi, being released in front of him. The stewards announced they would investigate the incident.

Two drivers had times deleted with Hamilton making the list as he ran wide at Turn 20. “Check the floor, may have some damage”, was the Briton’s response to his ride along the sausage kerb. He went P8 on his first legal lap, with his team-mate Bottas P1 with a 1:35.6. Verstappen was second, 0.294s off the pace, with Perez P3.

Falling down to 11th, Hamilton headed out for a second run on fresh softs, clocking a 1:35.5 to set the pace, 0.171s up on Bottas with Charles Leclerc third in Q1.

Out went Kimi Raikkonen, Magnussen, George Russell, Pietro Fittipaldi and Latifi, who spun on his final hot lap.

Into Q2, McLaren put Lando Norris on the soft tyres and Carlos Sainz on the mediums. Both Mercedes drivers, the Red Bull team-mates, the Renault lads and even the two Ferraris also opted for the mediums, the preferred tyre to use at the start of the grand prix.

Hamilton led Bottas with a 1:35.4, 0.061s up, Norris was third ahead of Sainz and Verstappen. Alex Albon’s time, which had put him P5, was deleted for exceeding track limits at Turn 21, as too was Daniel Ricciardo’s.

Perez did not go out for an early run before venturing out on a set of softs. He was back in the pits after just one lap without a time on the board having scrubbed a set of tyres in preparation for the race.

Sebastian Vettel, in danger in 10th place, left the pits on a new set of soft tyres as too did everyone else except Verstappen and Leclerc, who stuck with the mediums.

Hamilton and Bottas finished 1-2 ahead of Verstappen and Albon, who will start the race on the soft tyres with the three ahead of him on the mediums, while Antonio Giovinazzi lost his time for running wide at Turn 21.

Out went Esteban Ocon, Ricciardo, Vettel, Giovinazzi and Perez.

The top 10 all bolted on soft tyres for the pole position shootout with Bottas surprisingly bagging the early advantage with a 1:35.415. Verstappen pipped Hamilton, who made a small mistake, to second by 0.031s with Albon provisionally in fourth place.

Heading out for a second run, Hamilton and Gasly came very close to contact into Turn 5 on their out-laps, thankfully avoiding one another. Bottas was given words of encouragement from team boss Toto Wolff: “All you have, Valtteri.”

That all had him crossing the line with a 1:35.271, 0.061s up on Hamilton’s improved time… and then came Verstappen.

Yet to cross the line as Mercedes looked to have nailed down the 1-2, Verstappen went purple in the middle sector on his way to a 1:35.246 and his first pole position of the 2020 Championship.

Bottas will join him on the front row with Hamilton and Norris on the second. Albon and Sainz are next in line ahead of Kvyat, Stroll, Leclerc and Gasly. Leclerc, though, will drop three places.

Times

1 Max Verstappen Red Bull 1:35.246
2 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 0.025s
3 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 0.086s
4 Lando Norris McLaren 0.251s
5 Alex Albon Red Bull 0.325s
6 Carlos Sainz McLaren 0.569s
7 Daniil Kvyat AlphaTauri 0.717s
8 Lance Stroll Racing Point 0.800s
9 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 0.819s
10 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri 0.996s
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 Racing 1:38.248
15 Sergio Perez Racing Point no time
16 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo Racing 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

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