F1 – Abu Dhabi GP – Qualifying

Salam, MiniFans! As the 2022 season comes to a close, we’ve got one last racing weekend to enjoy. The championship might have already been decided a handful of weeks ago, but the fight for second place is still strong and hotter than ever as we get ready to say goodbye to one of the sport’s greatest.

The start of Q1 followed the same pattern it always does, with the back of the grid being out first in order to get more chances at a great lap to try and make the cut. Tsunoda was the first to settle at the top, but most of the distances between drivers were small. Teams weren’t squeamish with their softs, given that it’s highly likely that they won’t want them for Sunday. Red Bull was soon at the front, closely followed by both Ferrari and Russell, while the fight to get out of the elimination zone was fierce, with a very small gap between it and the safe zone.

In what presumably is his last ever qualifying session in F1, save for a return such as the ones Alonso or his childhood hero, Michael Schumacher, did, Vettel showed his talent as he zigzagged in between the slow cars waiting to start his lap, lowering his time in seven tenths of a second and slotting himself in fifth, as others struggled more to score a good time despite the track improvement. The eliminated drivers in Q1 were Magnussen (P16), Gasly (P17), Bottas (P18), Albon (P19) and Latifi (P20).

Mercedes decided to take the lead in Q2, with Hamilton and Russell starting their laps completely on their own. Cars started to slowly join them on the asphalt, displaying their used softs, as the track improvement would negate any benefits to using them in their first stint, with the big exception being Red Bull, who got their cars out of the pitlane last, but with fresh red tyres. Pérez steamrolled Verstappen, clocking in a lap time half a second faster, thanks to both the peak condition he’s shown all weekend and an apparent lack of rear grip from his teammate.

In the second stint, Vettel was the main character yet again, painting the first sector in purple, before Alonso stole it from him, to go back up to fifth, barely half a second slower than Pérez. The dance continued until the checkered flag, with drivers going up and down the order, while Ferrari closed the gap to Red Bull, placing both cars in between their rivals, and McLaren got both of their cars into the last Q3 of the season. Complaints against Red Bull came from Vettel, who had seen them going slowly in front of him up to three times, but nothing came of it. The eliminated drivers in Q2 were Alonso (P11), Tsunoda (P12), Schumacher (P13), Stroll (P14) and Zhou (P15).

The last fight for pole saw more cars on track since the beginning, but also a bit of confusion from Pérez, who seemed to be expecting to leave boxes alongside Verstappen but needed to do it on his own, as the team reported a small problem in the world champion’s car and he was a bit delayed in leaving the pitlane. Ferrari didn’t disappoint and both easily got past Mercedes, but Red Bull was not about to let them get away with it, as Pérez split them and Verstappen overtook all of them. Vettel and Ricciardo didn’t go out during the first stint, opting instead for doing their laps as soon as it was over.

The second and last stint would be the judge as to who’d start in front of the other, Pérez or Leclerc. The slow trains during the out lap came back, in order to avoid overheating the tyres, and Leclerc was the first to start, while it looked as if Pérez would be able to count on Verstappen for a tow, unlike the Ferrari teammates. Verstappen improved his own time, grasping onto the pole position and pulling from his teammate to help him get in second place, blocking out the first line as Leclerc got past his teammate to get third place.

Times were close all throughout the session, but the favourites for pole position were clear from the very beginning. In Abu Dhabi, we’ve been witnesses to races similar to those in Monaco, with final standings pretty much copying the qualifying results, but it’s also been home to some of the most entertaining season finales in the last decade. Vettel will start from the top 10, after managing two incredible laps in Q1 and Q2 to make it through, while the battle for second place in the championship will be present from the very start, as Pérez and Leclerc have the same amount of points and will start from second and third.