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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 17 January 2021

Max Verstappen takes shock pole position at Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

Red Bull driver pulls off an astonishing lap to force Mercedes drivers Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton into second and third slots on the grid on Sunday

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen will be in pole position for Sunday's Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix after producing a startlingly quick lap during the final qualifying session at Yas Marina Circuit.

As darkness fell around the track, the Dutchman nudged Meercedes driver Valtteri Bottas into second spot after recording a one minute, 35.246-second time that saw the victor finish 0.025 seconds ahead of his nearest rival. It was the first non-Mercedes pole of the year in dry conditions.

Lewis Hamilton, who is racing for the first time since winning the championship after contracting the coronavirus, managed to improve on earlier patchy performances in the practice sessions to see himself in third spot for the race.

The top three were separated by only 0.086 seconds, but it was a major disappointment for Mercedes who missed out on pole for only the second time this year (with Lance Stroll of Racing Point causing the first blot on a largely unblemished season).

Bottas, for his part, must take some consolation with his second placing as he had achieved a seldom-seen victory over his more successful teammate.

Verstappen was predictably pleased with what he had achieved, this being his first pole position since 2019's Brazilian Grand Prix, and only the third of his career.

"I am very happy with that," he said. "It was a tricky qualifying, but luckily everything came together for me in that final lap.

“It’s a long season for everyone and this was a great final qualifying for the whole team. We are all very happy and it’s great to finally get there after being close many times in 2020.”

Red Bull's team principal Christian Horner was overjoyed with the result.

"Mega, mega lap," he was heard shouting into the radio as Verstappen tore across the line. There was jubilation in the team garage when the driver came back into the pits.

Verstappen's teammate Alex Albon managed to place a respectable fifth, after sticking doggedly to his purpose over the last two days.

This marks Red Bull's first pole in a season which has been dominated by Mercedes, so this is being seen by many as a major upset.

Hamilton was not shy about fighting hard in the admittedly closely-fought session. He had an early best lap deleted after what was considered exceeding track limits when he thumped over the kerbs.

His driving had clearly been affected by his enforced absence from last week's Sakhir Grand Prix in Bahrain due to a positive Covid-19 test, and doubts until the last minute about whether he could compete in Abu Dhabi at all.

He said he is still not feeling 100 per cent fit and has lost weight.

The Englishman, who has a record 95 F1 wins with 11 of them having been secured this season, remained upbeat about what might happen on Sunday.

"It has definitely been a difficult weekend in terms of getting back into the rhythm," said Hamilton.

"But I gave it my all and congratulations to Max. It is a great way for him to seal a year of good performances. Hopefully, we can give him a good run tomorrow.

"Of course, it is always nice to start first, but you cannot always do that, and that makes tomorrow exciting.

"The start is going to be important, and I am excited as to how I am going to turn it around."

Racing Point's Lando Norris also deserves credit after producing an impressive lap to take fourth place on the grid. This equals his previous best result in F1.

After Albon, the top 10 is rounded out by McLaren's Carlos Sainz Jr, Toro Rosso's Daniil Kvyat, Racing Point's Lance Stroll, Ferrari's Charles Leclerc, and Pierre Gasly, also with Toro Rosso.

Updated: December 12, 2020 08:05 PM

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