SPO 191130 F1 HAMILTON POLE POSITION -25-1575129839780
Six-time world champion Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes after securing the pole position for Sunday's Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: Six-time world champion Lewis Hamilton underlined his status with a 88th career pole with a new record as the Mercedes ace dominated the qualifying at the F1 Etihad Airways 2019 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Saturday.

Hamilton turned on the pace in his very last lap to log a time of 1:34.779 while handing himself a fifth pole position this season — bettering his own existing mark of 1:34.794 in Abu Dhabi that was set during qualifying last season. Saturday’s run also ended the champion’s drought of poles, dating back to Germany in July. His 88th pole now takes the British driver 20 ahead of Michael Schumacher’s 68 on the all-time list.

“Only half of the job is done. Tomorrow we need to battle with the Ferraris and the Red Bulls,” Hamilton cautioned.

“I think this pole was a long time coming. I recomposed myself last night and just decided that we were going to give it all we have. There is always room for improvement and we never give up,” the 34-year-old added.

This was also Hamilton’s 10th front row start at Yas Marina, that in fact, ties the record for most front rows at any venue. A front row start has proved crucial at Yas Marina with five victories from pole positions — including the last four races — and four wins starting from P2 on the grid. While it was Hamilton who laid down the marker, his teammate Valtteri Bottas and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen followed in second and third with 1:34.973 and 1:35.139, respectively.

Bottas, however, will have to start from the back of the grid — having changed a series of engine components to trigger grid penalties. That will see Verstappen, the previous race winner in Brazil, line up alongside Hamilton in Sunday’s finale.

For the first time since 2014, the two Mercedes cars will not be locking out the front row in Abu Dhabi. Bottas suffered Mercedes’ first mechanical failure since Austria 2018 at the Brazilian Grand Prix earlier this month with his car experiencing a sudden rise in oil consumption. Mercedes then made the call to replace the Finn’s internal combustion engine, turbocharger and MGU-H.

“We will try and put a plan in place. I will start from last, but I believe I have the car to make my way through to the top as Sundays have always been good for us,” Bottas said.

This was the sixth time that Mercedes has won pole position here starting from back-to-back places from Nico Rosberg (2014 and 2015), followed by Hamilton (2016, 2018) and Bottas (2017). Hamilton is the most successful driver in Abu Dhabi having won the race here on four previous occasions — in 2011 for McLaren followed by 2014, 2016 and 2018 for Mercedes. Only Vettel is in a position to match him with three wins here — in 2009, 2010 and 2013 — all for Red Bull Racing.

“There is never a perfect lap and there was not much that I could have done. Mercedes have been dominant and they are very much quicker especially on the last sector. We tried to be as close as possible,” Verstappen groaned.

No driver who has started from lower than fourth on the grid has ever won the race at the Yas Marina Circuit, making it tough for Bottas to come up with an encore of his 2017 triumph. The only driver to secure victory from behind the front row was Kimi Raikkonen, who won from P4 in 2012.

While the championships are already decided, a turbulent Brazilian Grand Prix had shaken up the order in the running for the lesser positions. Verstappen is 11 points clear of Leclerc in the fight for third overall for the drivers’ crown and behind them, the tightest battle is for sixth where Brazil’s podium debutants Pierre Gasly and Carlos Sainz are tied on 95 points.

In the Constructors’ Championship, the first four positions have already been decided, and the closest battle is for fifth where Renault (91 points) currently lead Toro Rosso by eight points.

Grid positions

1st row

Lewis Hamilton (GBR/Mercedes)

Max Verstappen (NED/Red Bull-Honda)

2nd row

Charles Leclerc (MON/Ferrari)

Sebastian Vettel (GER/Ferrari)

3rd row

Alexander Albon (THA/Red Bull-Honda)

Lando Norris (GBR/McLaren-Renault)

4th row

Daniel Ricciardo (AUS/Renault)

Carlos Sainz Jr (ESP/McLaren-Renault)

5th row

Nico H|lkenberg (GER/Renault)

Sergio Perez (MEX/Racing Point-Mercedes)

6th row

Pierre Gasly (FRA/Toro Rosso-Honda)

Lance Stroll (CAN/Racing Point-Mercedes)

7th row

Daniil Kvyat (RUS/Toro Rosso-Honda)

Kevin Magnussen (DEN/Haas-Ferrari)

8th row

Romain Grosjean (FRA/Haas-Ferrari)

Antonio Giovinazzi (ITA/Alfa Romeo Racing-Ferrari)

9th row

Kimi Raikkonen (FIN/Alfa Romeo Racing-Ferrari)

George Russell (GBR/Williams-Mercedes)

10th row

Robert Kubica (POL/Williams-Mercedes)

Valtteri Bottas (FIN/Mercedes)