F1 – Abu Dhabi GP – Qualifying
Salam, MiniFans! The last weekend of the season is here and so is the only qualifying session left. As we’ve seen in previous years, overtaking isn’t exactly the easiest in Yas Marina, so scoring a good place on the grid is key for tomorrow’s race, specially for the two title contenders, who have arrived tied in points for the second time in the championship’s history.
Unlike the usual pattern we see in Q1, Williams wasn’t among the teams hitting the tarmac first, but Haas was following tradition by taking part in the initial convoy. Track limits were enforced since the beginning, with laps getting deleted after exceeding them. Mercedes started out by blocking the “front row”, but Verstappen soon got himself within half a tenth of a second. The session was stopped with six and a half minutes to go, as a bollard had been knocked onto the track by Schumacher and already run over by Norris. Both Ferraris and Giovinazzi, the three drivers whose laps had been interrupted by the red flag, were quick to go back out, as were the drivers in danger of elimination. Almost everyone else would eventually come out as well, if only to check the improving conditions, as the only notable change was Russell losing the spot that would carry him over to Q2. The eliminated drivers in Q1 were Latifi (P16), Russell (P17), Raikkonen (P18), Schumacher (P19) and Mazepin (P20).
Mediums were, for the final time in the season, the show stealer in Q2. Red Bull and Mercedes made their bet on it since the very beginning, even getting to queue up for a couple seconds in the pit lane, but others copied the strategy for their first try. Gasly, Tsunoda and Norris were the odd ones out, as was Giovinazzi, but he was not in the cards for a Q3 run. Once everyone was out, Verstappen slotted himself only four thousandths of a second behind Hamilton. Behind them, Ferrari wasn’t sure they’d be able to make it with mediums, so they went with softs, as did the rest of the grid. With those faster tyres, Sainz went first and Leclerc fourth, while Verstappen complained about a flat spot on his front left, caused by him blocking his tyre.
For the second Q2 run, both Red Bulls opted for softs while a long train of cars queued in the last sector to the point of the software recognising them as stopped cars on track. The mess, however, was at the back. Alonso, the first one to start a lap, ended up finding a very slow Ricciardo as he finished off his lap. Eventually, it would be the Australian who overtook him and kicked him off of Q3. Verstappen and Pérez finished their laps on their red rimmed tyres, making it clear that they would be attacking Mercedes at the start. Unlike them and his teammate, Gasly still bet on the mediums and lost, but his brakes were also too cold to function properly. The eliminated drivers in Q2 were Alonso (P11), Gasly (P12), Stroll (P13), Giovinazzi (P14) and Vettel (P15).
Red Bull were the ones queuing up in the pit lane for almost half a minute so that their plan could work without any external interference. They worked as a team in a flawless way, communicating very clearly with Pérez so that the tow he was to give to Verstappen was done without any mistakes. After their stunt, Verstappen managed to get half a second over Hamilton, helped a bit by the British driver slightly locking his front tyre, but it still was mostly due to the Austrian team’s seamless work. Their second runs didn’t change their positions, but Norris, Pérez and Sainz slotted themselves between Hamilton and Bottas, who could only score a sixth position which didn’t look like much help to his teammate.
Some investigations that were announced to happen after the race might interfere with the results locked in at the end of qualifying, but the second to last assault in the championship was set in stone. Verstappen came on top after Red Bull pulled their magic out of their pocket and managed to score pole position with a magnificent show of how teamwork is supposed to happen, masterfully using their second driver, who also managed to score a nice place for himself. Tomorrow, the start will be key, as Verstappen is starting both from pole and with softs, but the race is 58 laps long and both contenders have vastly different strategies, so we will need to wait until the checkered flag is waved to know who is the 2021 F1 World Champion.