Story of qualifying – Lewis Hamilton continues to raise the bar as champion with Abu Dhabi pole

ESPN rounds up the main talking points from the final qualifying session of 2018, where Lewis Hamilton claimed his 11th pole of the year ahead of Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas.

The champion on top: Hamilton has been sublime on Saturdays for most of his career and this was another textbook display. It was his 11th pole position of 2018 — more than the rest of the field combined — and means he goes into tomorrow’s race looking to cap off title-winning season number five with another grand prix victory.

Max attack: Of the top six drivers, only Max Verstappen will start Sunday’s race on the softest tyre in Pirelli’s range — the hyper-soft. He might have more grip off the line from sixth on the grid, but he will also be needing to pit earlier than the others — although we’ve seen enough of Verstappen’s recent form to know that him charging through the field early on could be box office.

Leclerc on a mission: Charles Leclerc was on a mission throughout his final qualifying appearance for Sauber. He caused many in the media centre to sit up with two purple sectors late in Q1, and was briefly running third in Q2. He eventually qualified in eighth position and will be looking for another impressive display to sign off what has been a remarkable rookie campaign.

21-0 at McLaren: Fernando Alonso has absolutely decimated Stoffel Vandoorne this year and he completed a perfect record over the Belgian with today’s display. Vandoorne’s stock was once as high as it can be for a young driver — think the current Charles Leclerc hype levels — but he leaves McLaren and F1 as damaged goods.

It’s hard not to feel sorry for him, joining McLaren at the worst spell of its history alongside one of the toughest competitors in the history of the sport.

A sad sign-off: Alonso will start the final race of his F1 career in 15th position. His race engineer did everything he could to praise the Spaniard — calling the lap “magical” — but it’s a fittingly disappointing way for his final weekend to unfold. Let’s hope the McLaren is a bit better in race trim and we can see the Spaniard go out in style on Sunday.

First-corner watch: It’s a deceptively short run down to Turn 1 at the Yas Marina Circuit, but the opening few hundred metres could be key. With five of the top six starting on the same tyre — all but Verstappen — the best chance anyone has of beating Lewis Hamilton is to make sure the Mercedes drivers aren’t running one-two at the first corner.

In an ideal world, there would be three different teams occupying the top three spots at the end of the first lap. Even better, from a race quality perspective, if Hamilton wasn’t the first man across the start-finish line…