Lewis Hamilton takes dominant Abu Dhabi pole position

By Andrew BensonChief F1 writer in Abu Dhabi
Sunday's race live on 5 Live Sports Extra and the BBC Sport website at 13:10 GMT

Lewis Hamilton secured a superb pole position for the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

The world champion, who had not had a pole since the German Grand Prix in late July, beat Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas by 0.194 seconds.

Red Bull's Max Verstappen was third, 0.360secs behind, as there was yet another foul-up at Ferrari.

Charles Leclerc did not cross the line in time to start a final lap and seemed to blame team-mate Sebastian Vettel.

Leclerc still managed to qualify fourth, ahead of Vettel, but the incident comes hot on the heels of the last race in Brazil where they crashed together, putting both cars out of the race.

"We are not going to make it," Leclerc said over the radio, after being told earlier in the lap that they were tight on time. "Seb is slowing down."

In this instance, though, it seems Vettel was not at fault and that the team simply let the cars out too late.

Red Bull's Alexander Albon took sixth place, with Lando Norris best of the rest in seventh.

Charles Leclerc
Ferrari's qualifying nightmare won't help Leclerc in his bid to finish above rival Verstappen in the championship

Hamilton was thrilled to end his season with a pole - he has admitted the fact Bottas had one more than him up to this point was rankling with him.

"Definitely a very good qualifying session for us," he said. "It has not been the easiest for us this year but we have kept plugging away. The car is well suited to the track and it has been feeling good. Yesterday was difficult and I had to reset myself for today. The first lap felt special and the second one was an improvement.

"I don't think my qualifying has been terrible but not up to my usual standard. It's my last qualifying session with this car and it has been a really incredible journey with it this year so to finish it with a pole is a really good feeling."

Bottas will not be able to challenge Hamilton in the race as he will start from the back of the grid because of a penalty for using too many engine parts.

The race battle - if there is one - is likely to be between Hamilton and Verstappen, who will start on the front row alongside the Mercedes following Bottas' penalty.

Verstappen said: "We just seemed to lack a bit of grip compared to them. They are always really dominant on this track and we are just lacking a bit too much in that last sector. We have to be realistic and I think Mercedes is really quick but we will give it everything we have in the race."

Lewis Hamilton
A new gold lid for Hamilton in Abu Dhabi, complete with six stars - one for each title

Ferrari - seriously?

This has been a season characterised by problems at Ferrari, whether errors by the drivers or team, that have handicapped their season.

In the end, this one probably did not affect anything. Ferrari had not looked quick enough to challenge for pole, and Verstappen had also been ahead of Leclerc on the first runs in final qualifying.

And the situation did not favour Vettel because although Leclerc did not get a chance to improve his time, and Vettel did, the German did not improve on his final lap and stayed 0.12secs behind his team-mate.

In truth, the fault this time seemed to lie with the team for sending out Leclerc too late.

Beating Vettel is a great challenge - Leclerc

The two Ferraris were at the back of a queue of cars, with Hamilton leading Verstappen, Bottas, Albon, Vettel and Leclerc. All backed up trying to get the optimum starting position for their laps, it seems as if Leclerc was just the unfortunate victim of that.

Team boss Mattia Binotto admitted the error, explaining that because Ferrari were lacking pace, they wanted to send the drivers out as late as possible so they could have the best track conditions.

He said he knew there was a risk that they would not make it across the line in time, and that is indeed what happened.

For the race, the Ferrari drivers have chosen a split strategy, Leclerc starting on medium tyres like the Mercedes and Red Bull drivers, while Vettel will start on the softs.

Behind the big three, Norris ended an excellent rookie season with seventh on the grid, ahead of Renault's Daniel Ricciardo, the second McLaren of Carlos Sainz and the second Renault of Nico Hulkenberg.

At the back, George Russell kept up his perfect qualifying record against Williams team-mate Robert Kubica, who he has out-qualified at every single race this year.

Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton
"Title challenge next year then?"
Max Verstappen
Red sky at night: Sunset in Abu Dhabi provides a stunning backdrop to qualifying


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