In another season lacking surprises, Max Verstappen raised eyebrows by snatching his first pole position of the season at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Saturday.
Lewis Hamilton, returning after missing the Sakhir Grand Prix last weekend due to a positive coronavirus test, will start the last race of a season he has dominated in third place behind Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas.
The Silver Arrows have won the last six races at the Yas Marina Circuit, but Verstappen has a golden opportunity to end that run under the lights.
Lights out is scheduled for 17:10 local time (13:10 GMT) on Sunday.
WHAT HAPPENED IN QUALIFYING
Verstappen joined Lance Stroll as the only non-Silver Arrows driver to take pole this year under the lights at the Yas Marina Circuit.
Red Bull's Verstappen sealed his place at the front of the grid right at the end of qualifying with a lap of one minute, 35.246 seconds.
Bottas was 0.025s slower than the Dutchman, while Hamilton was 0.086s off the pace and Lando Norris took an impressive fourth.
What a moment for @Max33Verstappen AbuDhabiGP #F1 pic.twitter.com/sHmZxUBiko— Formula 1 (@F1) December 12, 2020
THE STARTING GRID
1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull), 2. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes)
3. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes), 4. Lando Norris (McLaren)
5. Alex Albon (Red Bull), 6. Carlos Sainz (McLaren)
7. Daniil Kvyat (AlphaTauri), 8. Lance Stroll (Racing Point)
9. Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri), 10. Esteban Ocon (Renault)
11. Daniel Ricciardo (Renault), 12. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari)
13. Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari), 14. Antonio Giovinazzi (Alfa Romeo)
15. Kimi Raikkonen (Alfa Romeo), 16. George Russell (Haas)
17. Pietro Fittipaldi (Haas), 18. Nicholas Latifi (Williams)
19. Kevin Magnussen (Haas), 20. Sergio Perez (Racing Point)
Things got a bit cosy between Pierre and Lewis on Saturday night #AbuDhabiGP #F1 pic.twitter.com/gMfufIUg1D— Formula 1 (@F1) December 12, 2020
ABU DHABI TALKING POINTS
Verstappen is one podium away from equalling his highest tally of top-three finishes in a season, but he is unlikely to be celebrating unless he takes the top step.
Hamilton said on Friday that his car felt different during practice after George Russell stepped in to replace him, but he has a record five wins in Abu Dhabi and will be expected to deliver yet again on race day.
Sergio Perez claimed his maiden victory last weekend, but will start from the back of the grid in the season-ending race after having a new power unit fitted in his Racing Point.
Perez would have otherwise been hoping to push for a podium finish amid speculation over whether he will replace Alex Albon - who qualified in fifth - at Red Bull.
Sebastian Vettel will begin his final race for Ferrari back in 13th on the grid, while Racing Point - leading McLaren by 10 points and 22 ahead of Renault - will look to seal third place in the constructor standings.
WHAT THE DRIVERS SAID
Max Verstappen (pole position) - "I said before I went to qualifying it's going to be the final send of the season and we did that so very happy with that. It was quite a tricky qualifying in the beginning, to get your laps in, especially at this track, the last sector, there are so many corners where you can make a mistake. But luckily everything came together in that final lap."
Valtteri Bottas (2nd) - "I think the main issue was we couldn't really get the soft tyre to work properly as it should. All the way until qualifying the medium tyre was feeling better for us than the soft. I think we made some improvements; still, looking at the result I don’t think we got 100 per cent out of the single lap from the tyres. And the lap itself, I wasn't fully happy with how everything went; the balance was not quite perfect."
Lewis Hamilton (3rd) “I’m not 100 per cent, I still have some feeling within my lungs, but nonetheless, normally I would drive if one of my arms was hanging off – that's what we do as racing drivers. It definitely won't be the easiest of races physically, but I will manage and give it everything I've got."
Charles Leclerc (12th) - "From Q1 to Q2 there was a nice progression but then in Q3 we lost out a little bit for some reason. I have no explanations yet but I couldn't finish the last sector with the rear tyres and it's a shame really, because before that it was going really well, but it is the way it is."
Sergio Perez (20th) - "We've put everything together for the race. We've focused on every single bit, so we'll see what we are able to do. But a lot of things can happen."
1. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) – 332
2. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) – 205
3. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) – 189
4. Sergio Perez (Racing Point) – 125
5. Daniel Ricciardo (Renault) – 112
1. Mercedes – 540
2. Red Bull – 282
3. Racing Point – 194 (after 15-point deduction)
4. McLaren – 184
5. Renault – 172