Lewis Hamilton has set a new track record at the Yas Marina Circuit to lead Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas in an all-Mercedes front row for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
It was the fifth time in succession Mercedes has locked out the Abu Dhabi front row, an all-time F1 record, and it was Hamilton’s 11th pole of the season.
It was quite an emotional qualifying session for me because it’s the last time I’m going to qualify in this car,” Hamilton said of his title-winning machine. “I’m just so grateful for the team, for everyone, for putting this together.
“The first lap wasn’t spectacular — there were a couple of excursions. That last one it started off kind of calm and I just got more and more aggressive as I went through it. The last sector was a killer for me.”
Valtteri Bottas qualified 0.162 seconds behind the Briton and was disappointed he couldn’t replicate his 2017 pole position as he searches for his first win of the season.
“For sure I was aiming for the pole,” he said. “I had a good result here last year but couldn’t repeat that.
“Personally P2 wasn’t what I was expecting, but for us, even though we have secured the constructors title, we can still perform at a very high level as a team.
“It’s just very difficult to get it perfectly right. [Lewis] was performing well. It was tough to beat his time. There was a possibility for that, but he did the better lap.”
Sebastian Vettel was 0.331 seconds off Hamilton’s benchmark for Ferrari, and though the German was unsure whether he genuinely had the pace to challenge the Mercedes driver for pole position, he said he is optimistic for Sunday’s race.
“The first run in Q3 I had a really good lap and it was really close,” he said. “But they must’ve had still some cushion for the last lap.
“For tomorrow I’m quite confident. I think it’s going to be a long race. It should be good fun.”
Kimi Raikkonen was a further 0.2 seconds behind Vettel, but the Finn held a buffer of just 0.036 seconds to Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo.
The Australian outqualified teammate Max Verstappen by almost 0.2 seconds, but the Dutchman complained that his hypersoft tyres were too hot out of their blankets for him to set his optimum lap time.
Haas’s Romain Grosjean was quickest of the midfield drivers in seventh ahead of Sauber’s Charles Leclerc. Esteban Ocon qualified ninth in his final race for Force India, one place ahead of Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg.
The delicateness of the hypersoft tyre prompted Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull Racing and even Force India to attempt to qualify for the top-10 shootout on the more durable hypersoft compound, which would become their race-start sets if their plan proved successful.
Hamilton opened proceedings with a phenomenal new track record, putting almost 0.7 seconds between himself teammate Valtteri Bottas while both Ferrari drivers and Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo were beyond the one-second mark.
Max Verstappen, however, was struggling, setting a time good enough for just 10th place after what he described as a “shit” lap. He fared only marginally better than Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon, who were forced to switch back to the hypersoft tyre, and the Dutchman had little choice but to do likewise.
Verstappen qualified easily on the hypersoft, but it was a close call for Ricciardo and Raikkonen, who slipped to 10tha and eighth respectively after a number of hypersoft-shod midfielders improved on their second laps.
Carlos Sainz wasn’t one of those drivers to move into Q3, the Renault driver eliminated just 0.018 seconds behind Ricciardo in 11th place. Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson, who will move to IndyCar next season after losing his seat to Kimi Raikkonen, qualified 12th ahead of fellow midfielders Kevin Magnussen and Sergio Perez.
Alonso, in his final Formula One qualifying session, set the 15th-best time.
Times began to tumble track temperatures fell with the setting sun, turning the final minutes of the first qualifying session into a frantic dash for survival.
Both McLaren and both Williams drivers were at risk of elimination behind Sergio Perez, who only rescued his session with a last-gasp lap.
The Mexican’s progression came at the expense of Pierre Gasly, who dropped into the bottom five — but the Frenchman was unable to reply when his engine suddenly lost power. He pulled his Toro Rosso-Honda to the side of the road after crossing the line, accepting his afternoon had ended.
Fernando Alonso took the chequered flag next, and a sensational lap by the retiring Spaniard put him up to 14th. He pushed Brendon Hartley into the drop zone ahead of Gasly eliminating the Toro Rosso pair in 16th and 17th.
Stoffel Vandoorne followed in 18th, ending a miserable 21-0 run of qualifying against McLaren teammate Alonso.
Sergey Sirotkin, who Williams will replace with the returning Robert Kubica in 2019, led teammate Lance Stroll in 19th and 20th.