Lewis Hamilton faces uphill battle as Max Verstappen dominates qualifying
Lewis Hamilton will have to pass both Red Bulls and both Ferraris to maintain his record of winning in every season of his career after Max Verstappen secured pole position for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Hamilton, who earlier escaped a penalty for a red-flag infringement in final practice at the sport’s season-ending race, qualified only fifth.
Verstappen blitzed the field to finish two tenths of a second clear of Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez, with the Ferrari duo of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz third and fourth respectively.
Perez and Leclerc are level on points in their fight for second place in the championship.
Four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel, who will retire after Sunday’s race, qualified ninth.
A year on from last season’s contentious race which cost Hamilton a record eighth world crown, the seven-time world champion has moved to banish the memory of his darkest day, insisting his thirst for the sport remains unquenched.
Hamilton will start Sunday’s 58-lap race as the only driver in Formula One history to end a season with at least one victory.
But he looks set to lose that unique record, with Red Bull locking out the front row at a track which suits their all-conquering machinery.
George Russell, who qualified sixth, dominated in Interlagos a week ago to claim the maiden win of his career and Mercedes’ first of the season, but, under the thousands of bulbs that light up the Yas Marina Circuit, it was a sobering evening for the Silver Arrows, with Hamilton almost seven tenths adrift.
Vettel will enter the 299th and final round of a career which yielded four world championships as he heads for retirement.
The German driver, 35, claimed his last championship nine years ago during a dominant period for him and Red Bull.
But he has every chance of scoring points on his last dance after putting his Aston Martin inside the top 10.
Vettel’s former Red Bull team-mate Daniel Ricciardo could also be taking part in his last F1 race after he was deemed surplus to requirements by McLaren.
The eight-time grand prix winner is due to rejoin Red Bull as a reserve driver next year and, in his 44th and concluding event for McLaren, the Australian, 33, finished 10th, three places behind Lando Norris, the British driver who has comfortably outperformed him in their two seasons together.
Verstappen was jeered by a number of fans as he spoke in the moments after taking his seventh pole of the year and 20th of his career.
“It was an up-and-down qualifying,” said the Dutch driver. “It started well but Q2 was messy. I could not get the grip together, but then Q3 felt normal.
“We had a scare at the end. The car turned off before the first run (in Q3) and we had to reboot everything.
“I am very happy both cars are on the front row. We want to win the race but we also want Sergio to finish second in the championship.”
Verstappen and Perez clashed at the last race after the former refused to concede sixth position on the final lap.
But after qualifying on Saturday Perez said: “Max did a great job for me today. We worked together as a team really strongly, and I am looking forward to tomorrow. I hope we can have a strong race.”