Hamilton beats Rosberg to Pole for the Abu Dhabi Finale

Lewis Hamilton secured Mercedes’ 20th pole position of the season for the final Grand Prix around a testing Yas Marina circuit. The mixture of slow, tight technical corners and hard braking zones after long straights brought out some hyper-reactive driving. Ferrari went into Qualifying having been the surprise of FP3 with Vettel topping the time sheets earlier on.ย But Kimi Raikkonen managed to out-qualifyย his teammate.

In Q1, Toro Rosso wasted no time in getting out given their lack of running in Practice given their concern over tyre punctures. Romain Grosjean was out early too, he complained over radio early on about the feel of the car. Jenson Button’s first lap saw him top the time-sheet early on although the big three teams hadn’t set times.

Mercedes emerged later than usual but Hamilton and Rosberg were able to get through the first session with a single hot-lap despite the German going tooย deep into turn-eight. The Q1 duel between the Silver Arrows saw Hamilton pull a 1s advantage with a 1:39:487, eclipsing last year’s pole-lap.

Raikkonen suddenly went purple in sector-one, but this was due to a bit of driving in the run-off area. Vettel pulled an impressive lap out of the bag in Q1, just getting ahead of Rosberg and securing 2nd with 7 minutes to go.

The Red Bull duo completed their hot-laps deep into the session, Verstappen going 3rd and Ricciardo only managing 9th. Meanwhile, Raikkonen improved, managing to keep his Ferrari within the white lines of sector-one and going 2nd, ahead of Vettel, Verstappen and Rosberg.

Felipe Nasr improved his time and crept into 16th with 5 minutes remaining, but late improvements from Palmer, Wehrlein, Kvyat and Magnussen pushed the Brazilian’s Sauber down to 19th.

Jolyon Palmer and Pascal Wehrlein did enough to get through to Q2, in impressive showing from both. Those out of Qualifying early on were:

The lack of running in Practice saw a rare early exit for both Toro Rosso drivers. The modifications to the back of their car in order to prevent tyre failure proved too drastic for either driver to deal with. Magnussen and Ocon will both be disappointed that their teammates managed to get through to Q2 and Sauber look like they will have a frustrating race on Sunday.

In Q2, Mercedes emerged from the pits immediately. They lined up 1-2 on the Ultrasofts with Hamilton edging Rosberg by a tenth. The Red Bulls completed their first hot-laps on the harder Supersoft compunds, the implication being that they will try and make their first stint of the race longer given that the drivers must start the race on the tyre they complete their fastest Q2 time on. Impressively, Verstappen was only half-a-second behind Hamilton on the harder compound.

Raikkonen again looked strong, he was the only driver to get within two-tenths of the Mercedes drivers and got through the session in 3rd. Vettel was 5th, Ricciardo 6th.

After the first round of runs in Q2, Alonso, Guttierez, Grosjean, Palmer, Wehrlein and Button were in the drop zone. All drivers needed to find at least half-a-second to beat Valtteri Bottas’ 10th place time of 1:41:356.

In the final hot-laps, Alonso was the only managed to creep past Valtteri Bottas and secure 10th and his place into Q3 for McLaren. None of the other drivers were able to escape the drop-zone. Bottas will start the race tomorrow 11th, Button 12th, Guttierez 13th, Grosjean 14th, Palmer 15th and Wehrlein 16th.

Whilst Button will be disappointed with this at his final race, Felipe Massa will be happy to out qualify Bottas in his own final Formula One weekend.

Going into Q3 and the final top-ten shootout of 2016, Hamilton looked to have the momentum behind him as he retained the small advantage over Rosberg. The Brit’s opening time of 1:39:013 was quicker than Rosberg in 2nd by three-tenths. Kimi Raikkonen was again impressive in his opening lap, nailing 3rd and managing to outpace Ricciardo, Verstappen and Vettel. Outside the top-six, Hulkenberg was fractionally quicker than Sergio Perez, Alonso was 9th and Felipe Massa waited for the latter part of the session to complete his time.

In the last runs of Q3, Hamilton improved yet again with an emphatic 1:38:755 that proved enough to secure pole position. Rosberg did improve on his final run, securing P2 and managing to put his Mercedes on the front-row of the grid for every race of 2016.

Daniel Ricciardo pulled out a great final lap, just pipping Kimi Raikkonen to 3rd and putting a Red Bull ahead of a Ferrari team re-surged for the final race. Vettel finished 5th, behind the flying Finn, who has officially beaten the four-time World Champion in Qualifying over the season. Max Verstappen only managed 6th, with the Force India’s of Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez barely separable on the fourth-row. Fernando Alonso managed to out-qualify Felipe Massa’s Williams for 9th, but the Brazilian finds himself in a good position for points tomorrow.

The session sets up an interesting fight between Red Bull and Ferrari tomorrow, which is good news for Nico Rosberg, who will have everything crossed that the teams that challenge Mercedes occupy one another. Hamilton was again impeccable, he’s on for the win unless Rosberg can find a few tenths overnight.


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