Max Verstappen finally achieves his first pole position of the 2020 season by snatching the top spot from the Mercedes duo of Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton at the Yas Marina circuit.
Bottas edged Hamilton on their final runs as the world champion returned to qualifying action following his absence from the Sakhir Grand Prix after testing positive for COVID-19.
All three of the leading drivers will start the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on the advantageous medium compound.
After the first runs had been completed in Q3, Bottas’s lap time of one minute, 35.415 seconds led the way by 0.104 seconds over Verstappen, with Hamilton 0.135 seconds adrift – losing time to a snap of oversteer exiting the Turns 5/6 chicane early in the second sector.
But the 2020 world champion quickly found time on his final Q3 run, looking as if he would get the jump on Bottas through the opening two sectors before losing time as the lap wore on.
Hamilton nevertheless jumped to provisional pole, but was shuffled back to second position by Bottas’s one minute, 35.271 seconds before Verstappen stole ahead of the Mercedes duo on his own finale effort.
The Red Bull Racing driver set the fastest time in the middle sector before hanging on with a personal best in sector three to take pole with a one minute, 35.246 seconds, 0.025 seconds up on Bottas and 0.086 seconds ahead of Hamilton.
Lando Norris took fourth position for McLaren, securing his 2020 qualifying head-to-head against teammate Carlos Sainz, who finished sixth but will also start the race on the mediums.
Alex Albon split the McLarens in fifth, with Daniil Kvyat and Lance Stroll seventh and eighth.
Charles Leclerc qualified ninth but will shuffle back three places on the grid due to his Sakhir Grand Prix penalty for clashing with race winner Sergio Perez and Verstappen, but he at least got through Q2 on the mediums.
Pierre Gasly rounded out the top ten for Scuderia AlphaTauri.
Esteban Ocon and Daniel Ricciardo were eliminated at the end of Q2, with the former shuffled down by Albon’s late improvement.
Ricciardo did not have a time on the board ahead of his final Q2 lap after losing his first for running too wide at the exit of the last corner, but he went quicker in any case on his last lap, it just wasn’t fast enough to get him any higher than P12.
Sebastian Vettel’s final qualifying session for Ferrari ended with the four-time world champion out in P13 and eliminated in Q2 for the fourteenth time this season.
Antonio Giovinazzi finished P14, losing his last and best lap to track limits at Turn 21, the last corner, while Sergio Perez only appeared to register sector times during the mid-segment lull ahead of his back-of-the-grid start for taking a fresh engine in his Racing Point.
Perez ended the session in P15, but will drop back for the race following power unit changes.
In Q1, Kimi Raikkonen was eliminated by Giovinazzi, who had lost the time from his first run for going too wide out of the penultimate corner, improving from last to P15 on his last run.
This result settled the 2020 intra-Alfa Romeo qualifying battle in Giovinazzi’s favour, with Raikkonen failing to set a personal best time on his last run.
Behind them came Kevin Magnussen and Williams returnee George Russell, the pair improving on their last laps but unable to find a way out of Q1, with Russell unhappy with his tyre temperature.
Pietro Fittipaldi did not set a personal best on his last Q1 lap, nevertheless finishing P19 and ahead of Nicholas Latifi, who did not get to set a flying lap on his final run as he spun coming out of the final corner at the end of his warm-up lap.
So congratulations to Max Verstappen who finally records his first pole position this season. Saving the best till last for Max to grab P1 for Red Bull Racing.
Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, qualifying positions:
1 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Honda 1:35.246
2 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1:35.271
3 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:35.332
4 Lando Norris McLaren-Renault 1:35.497
5 Alex Albon Red Bull-Honda 1:35.571
6 Carlos Sainz Jr. McLaren-Renault 1:35.815
7 Daniil Kvyat AlphaTauri-Honda 1:35.963
8 Lance Stroll Racing Point-Mercedes 1:36.046
9 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri-Honda 1:36.242
10 Esteban Ocon Renault 1:36.359
11 Daniel Ricciardo Renault 1:36.406
12 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1:36.065
13 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1:36.631
14 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 1:38.248
15 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 1:37.555
16 George Russell Williams-Mercedes 1:38.045
17 Pietro Fittipaldi Haas-Ferrari 1:38.173
18 Nicholas Latifi Williams-Mercedes 1:38.443
19 Kevin Magnussen Haas-Ferrari 1:37.863
20 Sergio Perez Racing Point-Mercedes –