A disappointed Lewis Hamilton alongside Verstappen in Abu Dhabi
A disappointed Lewis Hamilton alongside Verstappen in Abu Dhabi Image Credit: AFP

Despite suffering a big body-blow in the 2021 Formula One title fight, seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton was gracious in ‘defeat’.

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen outclassed the Mercedes seven-time and defending champ with a scorching lap in the final session of qualifying and Hamilton will have it all to do on Sunday to get past the Dutchman and retain his crown.

Hamilton was clearly impressed by what he saw as he insisted Verstappen fully deserved his place at the front of the grid.

The 24-year-old’s Red Bull looked sluggish compared to Hamilton’s Silver Arrow all weekend except when is mattered in Q3 on Saturday evening, and the Briton was first to praise for the pretender to his throne.

“He fully deserved the pole,” said Hamilton, who starts second alongside his rival on the front row on Sunday at Yas Marina Circuit. “We just couldnt compete with that time at the end there.”

Never one to give up, Hamilton still fancies his chances, given the topsy-turvy nature of an F1 season which has seen him fight back to be level on points with Verstappen after he looked doewn and out at one stage.

“Were in a good position, I’d like to think, with our tyres for tomorrow,” said the 36-year-old. “And I hope that we can have a good race.”

Verstappen was visbly elated as he emerged from his Red Bull cockpit. “I’m incredibly happy with this,” he said with a smile. “It’s what we wanted but it was not easy with Mercedes’ form. I’m looking forward to tomorrow, that’s the most important.”

With Verstappen gaining the upper hand, Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff described the result as “1-0” to Red Bull but - like Hamilton - is ready to go on Sunday. “They got the tyres in a perfect window in the last run. The tow (from Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Perez) functioned flawlessly and that’s why they’re on pole.

?I think Lewis will be angry and that is good - motivated for tomorrow to hunt him down. This is a long race, and this is Lewis Hamilton in the car.”