With Mercedes F1 looking to finish their double-championship-winning campaign with a flourish, Lewis Hamilton took his eleventh pole position of the season to head an all-Mercedes front row at the Yas Marina Circuit.
Out-pacing team-mate Valtteri Bottas to the tune of 0.162 of a second, Hamilton will lead Mercedes’ fifth consecutive Abu Dhabi front-row lockout in a row, breaking the Formula One record for most consecutive front-row lockouts at the same venue.
Both Ferrari and Red Bull looked to be a threat to Mercedes, but their nearest challenger, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, fell three tenths short in the contest for pole position.
“I’ll never say that it was a perfect lap, but the first lap wasn’t spectacular,” admitted Hamilton after qualifying. “There was a couple of excursions and a bit of movement on the rear end. The last one… it started off kind of calm, and then I just got more and more aggressive as I went through.
“The last sector was the killer for me, that’s where I was really able to make the difference. When I came round I think I was four tenths up, so that’s not easy to do from one lap to another, so I’m truly grateful for that.
“I’m so grateful for all the support we have here. It’s quite an emotional qualifying session for me because it’ll be the last time I ever qualify in this car and, I know you guys watch it, the emotional roller-coaster I’ve gone through with this car…I’m probably the closest I’ve been to this car than any other car.”
Kimi Raikkonen qualified fourth in his final race for Ferrari, whilst Daniel Ricciardo will begin his bid for a final Red Bull podium from fifth on the grid, ahead of team-mate Max Verstappen, who will be the only driver in the top six to start on the hypersoft tyres. Haas’ Romain Grosjean secured the midfield qualifying honours for the final race of 2018.
Qualifying Session One
Despite Hamilton topping the final free practice session, Ferrari whetted the appetite for a Ferrari vs Mercedes qualifying shootout by heading their first session of the weekend with Sebastian Vettel.
In FP3, Daniel Ricciardo was forced to pull over with a water pressure issue but, fortunately for the Australian, it appeared to be having no knock-on problems in his final qualifying session for Red Bull.
At the foot of the standings, neither Williams driver could drag their cars off the back row of the grid, with Sergey Sirotkin in nineteenth and Lance Stroll in twentieth.
Stoffel Vandoorne qualified eighteenth for his final race for McLaren, whilst the two Toro Rossos were narrowly eliminated in Q1.
Brendon Hartley in sixteenth out-qualified Pierre Gasly, but the Frenchman had to stop his car due to power unit issues, which appeared to be occurring in the final corners of his flying lap.
Qualifying Session Two
With the ultrasoft tyre considered to be the more favourable race tyre, all of the top six drivers attempted to qualify on the ultrasofts instead of the hypersofts.
Any fears of the tyre not being quick enough were put to bed when Hamilton delivered the fastest time of the weekend so far; a 1:35.693. However, Verstappen’s first flying lap was only good enough for tenth, so he was forced to run again, albeit this time on the hypersofts tyres. His lap time improvement means he’s the only driver in the top six who will start on the hypersoft tyre.
Force India also took a chance on the ultrasoft tyres, but their challenge for the top ten fell a few tenths short and they elected to run the hypersofts for their final laps.
Narrowly missing out – but with a free choice of tyres for the race – was Renault’s Carlos Sainz. He was joined on the sidelines by Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson, Haas’ Kevin Magnussen, Perez, and Fernando Alonso, who qualified fifteenth in his final race in Formula One.
Qualifying Session Three
With drivers turning their cars up to the maximum qualifying modes for one last time in 2018, the top six were separated by just three tenths of a second after the first flying laps.
Lewis Hamilton led the first stints despite minor errors, narrowly ahead of Vettel, Bottas and Ricciardo.
However, the Briton saved his best lap for last; completing a much tidier tour of the circuit, he delivered a stellar final sector to set a 1:34.794 and take his eleventh pole position of the season.
Valtteri Bottas went purple in the second sector, but fell less than two tenths short and had to settle for second place, but this allowed Mercedes to continue their Abu Dhabi qualifying domination.
Sebastian Vettel was the fastest man in the first sector on both runs, but couldn’t keep up the pace over the remainder of the lap and finished in third, three tenths away from pole and ahead of team-mate Raikkonen.
Ricciardo had the final qualifying bragging rights over Verstappen after beating the other Red Bull to fifth place by just over one tenth of a second.
Romain Grosjean led the midfield, with Sauber’s Charles Leclerc, Force India’s Esteban Ocon and Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg completing the top ten for the Abu Dhabi race.
ABU DHABI GRAND PRIX, Qualifying
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m34.794s
2 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1m34.956s 0.162s
3 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1m35.125s 0.331s
4 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1m35.365s 0.571s
5 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull/Renault 1m35.401s 0.607s
6 Max Verstappen Red Bull/Renault 1m35.589s 0.795s
7 Romain Grosjean Haas/Ferrari 1m36.192s 1.398s
8 Charles Leclerc Sauber/Ferrari 1m36.237s 1.443s
9 Esteban Ocon Force India/Mercedes 1m36.540s 1.746s
10 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 1m36.542s 1.748s
11 Carlos Sainz Renault 1m36.982s
12 Marcus Ericsson Sauber/Ferrari 1m37.32s
13 Kevin Magnussen Haas/Ferrari 1m37.309s
14 Sergio Perez Force India/Mercedes 1m37.541s
15 Fernando Alonso McLaren/Renault 1m37.743s
16 Brendon Hartley Toro Rosso/Honda 1m37.994s
17 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso/Honda 1m38.166s
18 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren/Renault 1m38.577s
19 Sergey Sirotkin Williams/Mercedes 1m38.635s
20 Lance Stroll Williams/Mercedes 1m38.682s
By: Luke Murphy
All images: Motorsport Images
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