F1 – Abu Dhabi GP – Qualy

Salam, MiniFans! The last racing weekend of the year is finally upon us and we’re back to normal. Hamilton is now recovered from Covid and is in his car again, while Russell was welcomed back to Williams with open arms. We sadly won’t be able to say goodbye to Grosjean in the way he deserves, as he will miss the race due to not having healed from the burns on his hands, although they do look much better.

It was the Haas and Williams cars that kicked off the last Q1 of the season, being soon joined by around half the grid. One complaint by Verstappen when a Williams was allowed to get out of his garage and made him brake slightly – which wasn’t that big of a deal to begin with, as he couldn’t have damaged his tyre at the speed he was going, which was the claim he made over radio – granted the first investigation by the stewards, while laps were deleted for putting the four wheels of the car outside the white line. A pretty bumpy ride over an orange kerb made Hamilton need to step into boxes to check for damage and gave us the sight of both Mercedes cars out down to the line, as they needed to make sure the car was working properly. It seemed as if it was fine, topping the sheets albeit not with the best time he could have done on new soft tyres. One brief yellow flag in the third sector due to a Latifi spin in the main straight thanks to his ice-cold tyres was the only remarkable incident in a session that brought Russell back down to earth, not being able to make it through to Q2. The eliminated drivers in Q1 were Raikkonen (P16), Magnussen (P17), Russell (P18), Fittipaldi (P19) and Latifi (P20).

We’re used to seeing medium tyres in Q2 and the tradition continued thanks to a majority of the teams participating. Mercedes was almost a stranger to the rest of the grid, being on their own while the others were together in the opposite side of the track. McLaren seemingly had a different strategy for each of their cars: Norris was sporting soft tyres while Sainz had mediums. It was working out well for them, in third and fourth respectively, while some of their biggest rivals got their lap times erased due to leaving the track. Halfway through, both Ferrari had set times to be in Q3, but two of the clear favourites to step into their shoes didn’t have a lap time set yet. Just Verstappen and Leclerc went out with medium tyres, while everyone else fitted softs even if they didn’t plan on improving their time, bar for Pérez, who has a grid penalty and didn’t set a lap. Vettel wasn’t able to make the cut, but neither were the Renaults, which was more of a surprise due to not having happened since the Spanish GP. The eliminated drivers in Q2 were Ocon (P11), Ricciardo (P12), Vettel (P13), Giovinazzi (P14) and Pérez (P15)

Softs were the norm all across the boxes for the first Q3 run, mostly used tyres. Sainz started off less than half a second from first, but the biggest surprise was Albon, who was in fourth and in the same tenth of a second as his teammate, something unseen until now. It all seemed as if pole would go to Mercedes once again in a front row lockout, but the last words hadn’t been said yet. The second run was the one that would settle the starting places and Verstappen wasn’t about to let the last pole position of the season get away from him. Bottas managed to overtake his teammate on the timing tower only to see the first place snatched from him by a bull who stormed in in the last second, with the time run out and both Mercedes having gone past the checkered flag already.

The last qualifying of the season did bring a few surprises but just one that would shake the status quo. Renault didn’t make it into Q3, which hurts their chances in the fight for third team in the championship, especially taking into account that Pérez will be hindered by starting from the back of the grid. McLaren, however, couldn’t really have realistically done it much better, while Leclerc wasn’t dead last, leaving that honour for Gasly. What shook everything up was Verstappen sweeping in and getting the second pole position not owned by Mercedes in the whole year. It is now time to wait and see whether he’ll be able to convert it into a victory in a circuit that has fit Mercedes perfectly along the seasons.