Abu Dhabi GP | Hamilton dials into qualifying for season-finale pole

Lewis Hamilton secures pole for the season-ending Abu Dhabi GP.

The lights came on around Yas Marina as the sun set in Abu Dhabi, leaving Lewis Hamilton to glisten under the stars with pole position secured for the season-finale. Preventing another nail being hammered into his championship hopes coffin. But Rosberg in second keeps the nail in place.

Over the course of the first seven Abu Dhabi Grand Prix‘s, pole position has only gone on to take the win twice. A win percentage of just 28.57, whereas second on the grid has taken the flag in first four times (or 57.14%). The only other victor being Kimi Raikkonen from fourth on the grid back in 2012.

Nevertheless, ending the year sat on pole position is a reward for any driver. And with the Formula One World Driver’s Championship still on the line for Rosberg or Hamilton, bragging rights and momentum is a good feeling to take into the race.

Going into qualifying for Hamilton, though, was not a smooth transition. With Lewis unhappy with the feeling from his brakes in final practice, leading to the team changing all four brake discs and pads. Despite Hamilton being faster than Rosberg in every session so far, and top overall across Friday.

Q1

Hamilton carried his practice pace straight into qualifying as he took to the top early on. Leading his championship-leading team-mate by just over a second with their first flyers on the ultra-soft tyres. Rosberg, though, claimed two mistakes on his lap resulted in the large gap.

Daniil Kvyat, however, had been first to post a time in Q1 as he broke the silence in Yas Marina. His time, though, was far off the pace soon being set and the Russian found himself engulfed by the bottom six.

As Kvyat fell, Button rose. Celebrating what is likely to be his final weekend as a Formula One racer by moving top of the leaderboard, as the ‘retirement’ word creeps more and more into his vocabulary.

The large gap at the top also meant Sebastian Vettel could split the Silver Arrows at his first opportunity. Taking second on the board, eight-tenths down on Hamilton.

A gap Verstappen could not then slot into as he crossed the line one-tenth down on the Ferrari. Initially ahead of the other, before Raikkonen put a string of laps on the board before bettering his team-mate’s time.

Like Raikkonen, Kvyat put a string of early laps next to his name as he looked to improve. But when the track fell silent and old tyres were swapped for new, the Russian remained deep inside the bottom six.

A bottom six consisting of Wehrlein, Palmer, Kvyat, Sainz, Ericsson and Ocon as the chequered flag began to wave and Button moved further clear of the drop zone for ninth.

Ericsson, on the other hand, could not improve and was the first man confirmed out in Q1. While Ocon improved to better his team-mate and take 17th.

Wehrlein, though, responded. Taking 16th place for Manor and nestling just within a Q2 place alongside Palmer in 15th. Places Magnussen, Sainz and Kvyat could not take away from them.

Q2

Fastest in Q1 and fastest down the pit lane, Hamilton hit the empty track as the green light came on. Blitzing the long straights and snaking sections to post the benchmark. A 1:39.382, quick enough to edge Rosberg by a tenth despite the German being two-tenths up through sector two.

Like Rosberg, Raikkonen reduced the lead Hamilton held over the field in Q1 to take third place a further tenth back. Edging his team-mate by six-tenths as Vettel lingered eight-tenths off the pace.

Countering the norm, out came Red Bull. Taking on the super-soft tyres rather than ultras for their first Q2 run. The less mechanical grip on offer, though, failed to hold Verstappen back as he crossed the line just half a second down on Hamilton.

Ricciardo, on the other hand, was a further half second back. Leaving him just three-tenths up on Hulkenberg as Force India comfortably led their Constructors’ Championship rivals, Williams.

For Williams, their lead driver was the out-going Felipe Massa. But the Brazilian bowing out of Formula One after 15-years in the sport was failing to keep his nose clean one last time as Hamilton found himself caught behind a slow-moving Massa as Lewis made his way back to the pits.

Massa, however, picked up his pace as he aimed to move up from ninth place. With Bottas also finding time but unable to move ahead of Felipe.

With the chequered flag also waving, Bottas’ time was all he could do. But as Alonso gained, Bottas lost out, with Fernando snatching a Q3 place.

Button, though, would not start his probable final Grand Prix in the top 10 with his team-mate and Massa as the Briton could only improve for 12th place. Behind Bottas, but ahead of the Haas’ duo as Gutierrez improved to out-qualify Grosjean in the Mexican’s final race for Haas.

Q3

Three-from-three was the aim for Hamilton, in search of pole position in the desert. And like in Q1 and 2, he took his out-lap easy to keep as much life in his tyres as he could. Even at the expense of time through the opening zone.

Hamilton, though, had company this time despite being the first man out again. Somewhat luckily for him, though, being followed by Hulkenberg did not cause Lewis to push harder than he wished and was still able to take his desired calm out-lap.

The calm pace he cruised at remained true and he was down on Rosberg, and Raikkonen, come the end of the opening sector. But as life fell from his rival’s tyres, his remained strong. Blitzing sectors two and three to overturn the margin and claim provisional pole.

Rosberg, too, overturned his deficit on Raikkonen in sector one in order to secure second place. But Raikkonen’s pace remained strong throughout the lap and again ended his run ahead of Vettel.

Run two, and the final qualifying showdown of the year, again saw Hamilton lead his rivals out of the pits as he prepared to post his final qualifying time.

With his method harnessing results so far, another slow out-lap and a slow first sector followed. With Rosberg posting a purple sector time to lead by a tenth.

Sector two, however, was advantage Hamilton as he flipped Rosberg’s lead to take the tenth lead into the final sector. Another Hamilton sector and pole was his by three-tenths of a second. Lewis’ 12th pole of the year.

Improvements were coming throughout the lead order, with Kimi improving to ensure he would end the hour as the lead Ferrari. On the other hand, though, Raikkonen did not end the hour as Mercedes’ lead challenger as Daniel Ricciardo shot up to snatch third.

Ricciardo’s gains meant Ferrari’s former lead over Red Bull was gone and the Rosso Corsa cars were no split by the ‘Bulls. Instead, the ‘Bulls were split by the Prancing Horses after a mistake at turn 11 by Verstappen meant he was unable to improve.

As for Alonso, the Spaniard ended qualifying ahead of Massa for ninth. Putting his McLaren between the Williams/Force India Constructors’ Championship fight.

Hamilton will be hoping Ricciardo, and one more driver, can put their cars between him and Rosberg in the race. As a podium finish for Rosberg, no matter where Hamilton crosses the line, crowns Nico as World Champion for the first time.

Pos Driver Team Time Gap
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1’38.755 POLE
2 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1’39.058 0.303
3 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 1’39.589 0.834
4 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1’39.604 0.849
5 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1’39.661 0.906
6 Max Verstappen Red Bull 1’39.818 1.063
7 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1’40.501 1.746
8 Sergio Perez Force India 1’40.519 1.764
9 Fernando Alonso McLaren 1’41.106 2.351
10 Felipe Massa Williams 1’41.213 2.458
11 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1’41.084 2.329
12 Jenson Button McLaren 1’41.272 2.517
13 Esteban Gutierrez Haas 1’41.480 2.725
14 Romain Grosjean Haas 1’41.564 2.809
15 Jolyon Palmer Renault 1’41.820 3.065
16 Pascal Wehrlein Manor 1’41.995 3.24
17 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 1’42.003 3.248
18 Kevin Magnussen Renault 1’42.142 3.387
19 Felipe Nasr Sauber 1’42.247 3.492
20 Esteban Ocon Manor 1’42.286 3.531
21 Carlos Sainz Jr. Toro Rosso 1’42.393 3.638
22 Marcus Ericsson Sauber 1’42.637 3.882