Mercedes' British driver Lewis Hamilton steers his car during the third practice session at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi, a day ahead of the final race of the season, on November 30, 2019Mercedes' British driver Lewis Hamilton steers his car during the third practice session at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi, a day ahead of the final race of the season, on November 30, 2019. (AFP Photo/GIUSEPPE CACACE)
Abu Dhabi (AFP) - Lewis Hamilton claimed his first pole position in four months with a scorching record lap at the Yas Marina circuit on Saturday for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix ahead of his Mercedes teammate Valterri Bottas.
The recently-crowned champion delivered a late lap in one minute and 34.779 seconds to outpace Bottas, who will start from the back of the grid after collecting penalties for taking new engines.
It was a stunning way for Hamilton to finish the 'qualifying season' and improved his career record total to 88 poles, five of them in Abu Dhabi, the 21st and final race of the year.
It was his first pole since the German Grand Prix in July and his fifth of the year. He is more than 30 clear of his nearest rival Sebastian Vettel on 57.
"It’s been such a long slog to try and get this pole position,” admitted Hamilton. "Yesterday was quite wobbly so I had to regroup overnight and come back focussed."
Max Verstappen was third for Red Bull ahead of the two Ferraris of Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel with Alex Albon taking sixth in the second Red Bull.
The Dutchman will start Sunday’s season-closer alongside Hamilton on the front row.
"As a team it’s been a really strong day," said Bottas. "We saw in qualifying that we had good pace and, as I’m going to start last, we’ll take that fighting spirit forward tomorrow."
Verstappen said: "I think today was the best we could do. We all know Mercedes are dominant here, but I think there are a lot of chances in this race.”
Lando Norris won his intra-team qualifying battle with McLaren partner Carlos Sainz to take seventh ahead of Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo with Sainz ninth and Nico Hulkenberg, in his final weekend with Renault, 10th.
After a hot day, which saw paddock regulars seeking the shade, the Q1 section of qualifying began in cooling conditions with the sun falling with the temperature. The rapidly-changing conditions were a challenge to the teams as they sought to maintain and improve tyre performance.
The first outstanding lap came from Verstappen before Hamilton took over with a lap that may have been affected by a lurid spin from Vettel, who somehow managed to turn his Ferrari to face the wrong direction on the start-finish straight.
Bottas trimmed his time to beat Hamilton, but his team-mate responded in 1:35.851 to stay clear before Albon secured second to split the two Mercedes.
The session ended with the exit of Romain Grosjean of Haas, Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi and Kimi Raikkonen and the two Williams men, George Russell and, in his final Grand Prix, Robert Kubica, the Pole who leaves to be replaced by Canadian Nicholas Latifi next year.
- Dramatic backdrop -
Hamilton was soon on top again in Q2 with a 1:35.634, on mediums, Ferrari staying on softs to take the formative second row behind the two Mercedes and push Verstappen down to fifth. It was no surprise that Red Bull went for softs for their second runs.
Leclerc, having switched to mediums, took top spot from Hamilton in 1:35.543 in the final seconds as Hulkenberg snatched 10th to go through to Q3 in his final weekend with Renault.
That meant an exit for Racing Point's Perez, Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly, Lance Stroll in the second Racing Point, Daniil Kvyat in the second Toro Rosso and Haas’s Kevin Magnussen.
Hamilton set the pace in Q3 with an early lap in 1:34.828, three-tenths beyond the reach of Bottas before Verstappen intervened to split them. Leclerc and Vettel were more than four-tenths adrift in fourth and fifth.
By this stage, the floodlights were on and it was dark, conditions that produced a dramatic backdrop to the season’s final laps in a top-ten shootout.
Ferrari, not for the first time, sent their men out too late – Vettel just making it, but Leclerc missing out and blaming his team-mate for being slow ahead of him.