Max Verstappen celebrates pole in Abu Dhabi
Max Verstappen celebrates pole in Abu Dhabi Image Credit: AP

Abu Dhabi: Red Bull’s Max Verstappen turned the tables on Lewis Hamilton once again by claiming pole position for the title-deciding Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on Saturday evening.

In a Formula One title tussle that has had more twists and turns than the Yas Marina Circuit on which this latest chapter played out, Red Bull’s Verstappen put his practice woes behind him to outclass his title rival as Hamilton’s Mercedes had no answer to a stunning lap in qualifying session 3 (Q3).

The British seven-time Drivers’ champion is looking for a record eighth, but now he will have to do but the hard way as the young Dutchman will have the advantage in tomorrow’s day-night race in the UAE capital.

Verstappen knows he just need to stay ahead of Hamilton to become the 34th different F1 champion in history as he huts his first crown — and the celebrations in the Reb Bull paddock after the qualifying chequered flag illustrated how close the team feel that is to becoming a reality.

However, Hamilton has proven time and again this season — and over his career — he can never be counted out and it is guaranteed to give everything to they to deny the 24-year-old once again.

Despite the pendulum-swinging tussle at the top, McLaren’s Lando Norris was probably the shock of the day as he grabbed third spot on the grid with a blistering run in Q3, splitting the Red Bulls as Sergio Perez was pushed down to fourth. Carlos Sainz was also sparkling in the Abu Dhabi moonlight as he took fifth, while Valtteri Bottas had a disappointing final qualifying for Mercedes before moving to AlphaTauri next season as he could only finish sixth. Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, Yuki Tsunoda of AlphaTauri, Alpine’s Esteban Ocon and Daniel Ricciardo in the other McLaren rounded out the top 10.

Hamilton had lapped nearly half a second faster than Verstappen to top the first session ahead of Bottas, but the Flying Dutchman turned it around in style — having seemingly sorted out ‘issues’ with his tail that hampered him in practice.

Lewis Hamilton bumps fists with Max Verstappen after the Dutchman took pole in Abu Dhabi
Lewis Hamilton bumps fists with Max Verstappen after the Dutchman took pole in Abu Dhabi Image Credit: AFP

Q1 was briefly halted for a loose bollard to be removed after it was hit by Haas driver Mick Schumacher and then run over by McLaren’s Norris.

George Russell, 17th, was outqualified by Williams teammate Nicholas Latifi in the Briton’s final session before replacing Bottas next season.

Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Raikkonen, the 2007 world champion with Ferrari, will start his 349th and final race before retirement in 18th place.

Back at the other end, we shall see if there is yet one more twist to come in none of the most intriguing contests in F1 history.