ABU DHABI – Max Verstappen seized the final pole position of the year with a blistering lap in qualifying for the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Saturday ahead of teammate Sergio Perez, who completed a front-row lockout for Red Bull.
The Dutchman lapped the floodlit track in 1min 23.824sec.
The Mexican was 0.228 of a second off the two-time Formula One world champion’s pace but pipped Ferrari rival Charles Leclerc, with the pair level on points and locked in a hard-fought battle for second in the standings.
“It was a bit of an up-and-down qualifying. It started off quite well,” Verstappen, who has a record 14 race wins this season, said.
“Q2 was a little bit messy. I don’t know why but on those tyres I couldn’t get the grip together. But then in Q3 it all felt a bit more normal. We had a bit of a scare, the car turned off before the first run, so we had to reboot everything. Then we went out and both of the laps were good enough.
“I’m very happy that both cars are on the front row, because of course we want to win the race but we also want to finish second with Checo in the championship, so that’s definitely a great start before tomorrow.”
The Abu Dhabi pole was the 20th of Verstappen’s career and his seventh this season.
Perez, meanwhile, also said that he was looking forward to the last race of the season.
“(It) is the day that really matters. I think it’s going to be a very interesting one, given how strong Ferrari will be, and Mercedes.”
Carlos Sainz will line up fourth on the second row alongside Ferrari teammate Leclerc.
The latter will not be an easy opponent for Perez, as the Monaco driver also wants to give it his best shot to finish second.
“The Red Bulls were stronger, but we are still in quite a good position for tomorrow, it’s going to be close with Checo, for sure,” said Leclerc. “We know Red Bull are a bit stronger on Sundays so we know it’s going to be tricky, but we are going to give it all and hopefully we can get that second place in the drivers’ and constructors’ championships.”
Lewis Hamilton, in fifth spot, led British teammate George Russell in a Mercedes third-row lockout.
Hamilton is hunting his first victory of the season but will face an uphill task to keep intact his record of winning a race every year.
Lando Norris was seventh for McLaren ahead of Alpine’s Esteban Ocon.
Sebastian Vettel was among the stars of the evening and took ninth place for Aston Martin on his qualifying swansong.
Daniel Ricciardo, heading back to Red Bull as the third driver next season, rounded out the top 10 in his final qualifying session for McLaren. REUTERS