Two-time world champion Max Verstappen and his Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez were all smiles again after locking out the front row of the grid for Red Bull at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Less than a week after their ‘team orders’ bust-up at the Brazilian Grand Prix, where Verstappen refused to obey an instruction to allow Perez to pass him, the two put on a united front after a clinical display of speed.
The two-time world champion clocked a best lap in one minute and 23.824 seconds to finish two-tenths clear of the Mexican, “I’m very happy that both cars are on the front row,” said the 25-year-old Verstappen.
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“We want to win the race, but we also want to finish second with Checo in the championship. It’s a great start for tomorrow.”
Charles Leclerc was third ahead of Ferrari team-mate Carlos Sainz and the two Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton and George Russell, who claimed his maiden victory last weekend in Brazil.
Verstappen’s success brought him his third consecutive pole at the Yas Marina Circuit, his seventh of the season and 20th of his career ahead of a race in which he bids for a record-extending 15th win in a single season.
While Verstappen waltzed away with the world title the scrap for the runners-up spot goes down to the wire.
Perez and Leclerc are level on points, but Leclerc leads on wins. Red Bull have never enjoyed a 1-2 finish in the championship.
“Max did a great job for me. We worked well as a team on that final run,” said Perez.
The pair’s mutual exchange of compliments provided a contrast to the mood at Red Bull earlier in the week after scathing remarks by both had created a discordant mood.
“We made some errors in Brazil, but understand it now and we are all on the same page now,” commented Verstappen.
“We are in a better and happier place than in Brazil.” added Perez, six days on from declaring that Verstappen had “showed who he really is” by rejecting team orders.
Leclerc, who wound up third on the grid ahead of Ferrari team-mate Carlos Sainz, made no excuses.
“I locked up in Turns Six and Seven,” he said. “But to be honest, it’s the place we deserve today. The Red Bulls were stronger, but we are still in quite good positions for tomorrow – it’s going to be close with Checo for sure.”
Mercedes team chief Toto Wolff was succinct in his summary of their feelings after qualifying fifth and sixth with seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton and George Russell.
“I’ve just heard that today is ‘world toilet day’,” he said.
“And I think that’s one for putting in the toilet. We didn’t get the job done.”
Retirement-bound four-time champion Sebastian Vettel claimed ninth on the grid for Sunday’s race, his last in Formula One, with Aston Martin.
“I’m still in the zone now, but I’m sure it will be a big day tomorrow,” Vettel said.
Lando Norris was seventh for McLaren ahead of Alpine’s Esteban Ocon, Vettel, with Daniel Ricciardo 10th on his last drive for McLaren.
Ricciardo is reportedly close to locking in a move to take on a non-racing role at Red Bull, that may include being a reserve, test and promotional driver.
The Australian explained the move to motorsport.combut added nothing is confirmed yet.
“I knew that I wanted some time off next year from a race seat and just from competition,” he said.
“It’s obviously been pretty tiring the last couple of years with the struggles, so it was pretty clear to me shortly after the summer break that that was what I wanted, and what was going to be best for me.
“So then it was: ‘Okay. What’s the next best thing?’ And the more I thought about it, to obviously be involved to some degree with a top team, that was obviously the preference.
“But it’s not done. So that’s why I haven’t come out and confirmed it, because that’s still the truth: it’s not done. But I can obviously look you in the eye now and say it’s the most likely option at this stage.”
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Much as expected, following their speed in final practice, the Red Bulls of Verstappen and Perez set the pace ahead of the Ferraris on their first runs before a frantic final flurry in the first qualifying session.
That left Kevin Magnussen as the fastest of the rest, eliminated in 15th place just a week after claiming his and Haas’s maiden pole in the rain at Interlagos.
Out with him went Pierre Gasly in his last weekend with Alpha Tauri before joining Alpine, Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas and the Williams pair of Alex Albon and Nicholas Latifi.
In the Q2 section Perez outpaced Verstappen by four-tenths as out went Fernando Alonso, Yuki Tsunoda of Alpha Tauri, Haas’s Mick Schumacher, Lance Stroll in the second Aston Martin and Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu, leaving Verstappen perfectly placed to make F1 history.