Lewis Hamilton has started on the front row of the grid for all of the Abu Dhabi Grands Prix to date and tomorrow he starts from pole position ahead of Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel, while championship contender Fernando Alonso slipped back to 7th place, a disaster for his hopes of gaining ground on Vettel in the title race.
It was Hamilton’s sixth pole of the season and the 25th of his career. He was on swashbuckling form, showing the speed that McLaren are likely to miss next season when he joins Mercedes. Team mate Jenson Button was 6/10ths slower in sixth place in what is clearly a very strong McLaren car on this circuit. A 21st GP win for Hamilton tomorrow will take him past Mika Hakkinen in the all time winners list.
Interestingly the pole time was almost two seconds slower than last season, showing the effect of the exhaust blown diffuser on this track last season.
It was a good recovery after the underperformance of the McLaren team since the Singapore Grand Prix.
“I’m very excited, the first time for a long time to be ahead of the Bulls,” said Hamilton. “But I know it will be tough in the race. These guys are always quick on the first few laps. I hope we are strong enough to fight them, The car feels beautiful here, it just suits the track.”
Vettel was dramatically told to stop the car on his slow down lap after qualifying. It was something Renault asked them to do, according to the team.
It wasn’t a great day for the Red Bulls, which juggled a number of setbacks, but seeing Alonso so far back on the grid will be a significant consolation.
The track temperature dropped by 11 degrees between Free Practice 3 and the start of qualifying.
In Q1, held in fading light, the lap times were faster than in the practice session, with Hamilton setting the fastest time, ahead of Rosberg, who used the soft tyre to set the time.
Sebastian Vettel came into qualifying on the back foot after losing time in FP3 with brake issues. It wasn’t smooth running for him in qualifying either as he touched a wall early on in Q1. He ended Q1 7/10ths of a second slower than Hamilton on the medium tyre. The McLarens once again seemed to be working better on the harder tyre.
Jean-Eric Vergne was eliminated again after he spun in the final corners of his hot lap. Despite his contract renewal he is still struggling with qualifying.
In Q2 as the floodlights came on stronger, everyone went across to the soft tyre. Vettel played himself in slowly and found 4/10ths of a second improvement over his medium tyre time, double the gain Hamilton found on his first lap. Hamilton improved on his second flying lap to edge out Webber by 3/10ths.
Hamilton again was fastest, with Webber and Vettel behind, while Button was struggling on the soft Pirelli tyre in 9th place. Alonso was in the hunt, just a tenth slower than Vettel.
A great lap by Rosberg at the end of Q2 took him into 7th place bumping Hulkenberg out of the top ten.
Into the final Q3 session, after the first runs Hamilton started to stretch his legs, almost half a second faster than Vettel after the first run. Webber was third, Alonso fourth and Rosberg fifth.
Maldonado did a stunning final lap a 1m 41.226 which took him to fourth ahead of Alonso and Webber. It was Maldonado at his breathtaking best, similar to the performance he put in during qualifying in Singapore.
Raikkonen also improved to move ahead of Alonso, who had a poor final run and was unable to improve, he slipped to 7th place, crucially behind Maldonado, Raikkonen and Button, with Yas Marina circuit so hard to pass on, he will have a mountain to climb in the race.
“We did the maximum. I did 1, 41.5 in Q2 and Q3, that’s the maximum from the car,” said Alonso.
The race strategy for tomorrow is not clear yet, with one stop and two stops both options. The track surface is a little more abrasive than India, so it could be finely balanced and it all adds to the drama ahead of this vital race.
The drivers’ championship cannot be sealed on Sunday, but Red Bull can win the Constructor’s title tomorrow. To do so they need to be at least 86 points ahead of Ferrari after the race, five less than they have in hand tonight. Red Bull Racing would become the first F1 constructor ever to win its first three constructors’ titles in consecutive seasons.
ABU DHABI GRAND PRIX, Yas Marina Circuit, Qualifying
1. Lewis Hamilton McLaren 1m40.630s
2. Mark Webber Red Bull 1m40.978s + 0.348
3. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1m41.073s + 0.443
4. Pastor Maldonado Williams 1m41.226s + 0.596
5. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1m41.260s + 0.630
6. Jenson Button McLaren 1m41.290s + 0.660
7. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m41.582s + 0.952
8. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m41.603s + 0.973
9. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m41.723s + 1.093
10. Romain Grosjean Lotus 1m41.778s + 1.148
11. Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1m42.019s + 1.118
12. Sergio Perez Sauber 1m42.084s + 1.183
13. Paul di Resta Force India 1m42.218s + 1.317
14. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1m42.289s + 1.388
15. Bruno Senna Williams 1m42.330s + 1.429
16. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 1m42.606s + 1.705
17. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1m42.765s + 1.864
18. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1m44.058s + 2.561
19. Heikki Kovalainen Caterham 1m44.956s + 3.459
20. Charles Pic Marussia 1m45.089s + 3.592
21. Vitaly Petrov Caterham 1m45.151s + 3.654
22. Timo Glock Marussia 1m45.426s + 3.929
23. Pedro de la Rosa HRT 1m45.766s + 4.269
24. Narain Karthikeyan HRT 1m46.382s + 4.885