Red Bull’s Max Verstappen claimed a dominant pole position from Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton in what proved to be a thrilling qualifying session for the year.
Verstappen however will be forced to the start with the soft compound tyre after flat-spotting his medium tyres in Q2, meaning his strategy will be slightly compromised for the race.
Mercedes and Hamilton will need to bring their A-game for tomorrow’s season finale if they are to claim an unprecedented eighth world championship.
Lando Norris will start third with the McLaren driver proving to be the surprise of the session.
Q1: Hamilton dominates as session is Red Flagged
The biggest talking point from the day’s first qualifying session was the Red Flag that brought the session to a halt at the six-minute mark, with a loose bollard the primary cause for the session’s interruption.
The session up until that point was led by Hamilton who was ahead of his title rival by less than a tenth of a session. Valtteri Bottas was third with McLaren’s Lando Norris in fourth ahead of Sergio Perez.
The restart saw the Mercedes drivers top the timing sheets with Hamilton leading Bottas by two-tenths of a second, the pair opted to use a brand new set of soft tyres, meaning that they were comfortably ahead of Verstappen. At the other end of the gird, Nicholas Latifi managed to outqualify his teammate George Russell for just the second time in two years with both Williams drivers joining both Haas drivers in exiting the final qualifying session of 2021.
Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Raikkonen was the fifth driver to be eliminated with the Finn set to start 18th in what will be his final race in Formula 1.
Q2: Red Bull backed into a corner
The second qualifying session saw Hamilton lead Verstappen by 0.004 of a second with the gap in the time providing a summary of the pair’s season-long battle. Verstappen tough made an uncharacteristic error on his second run with the Dutchman locking up heading into Turn 1 and flat-spotting his front left medium tyre. This put the Red Bull driver at a distinct disadvantage as he will have to start the race on the soft compound tyre, a deviation from the race’s ideal strategy.
Ultimately Verstappen would top the session with the Dutchman followed by his teammate Perez and Hamilton. Further down the order, Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel would miss out on Q3 yet again as will Antonio Giovinazzi, Lance Stroll and the session’s two major casualties, Pierre Gasly and Alpine’s Fernando Alonso, with the former complaining about brake issues.
Q3: Red Bull masterstroke hands Verstappen advantage
The final phase of qualifying witnessed Red Bull play their strategy to perfection with Perez offering Verstappen a tow down the main straight enabling the Dutch driver to improve his time from Q2 by over seven-tenths of a second.
Hamilton remained second, but Perez moved into third leaving Red Bull with the upper hand after the session’s opening salvo. Bottas was fourth after AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda had his exceptional lap time deleted for violating track limits.
Verstappen would eventually top the session and would be the first to draw blood ahead of the championship decider. He was joined on the front row by Hamilton with McLaren’s Norris claiming a surprise third. Verstappen’s teammate Perez will start fourth with Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz in fifth and Bottas only managing sixth.
Charles Leclerc, Tsunoda, Esteban Ocon and Daniel Ricciardo rounded out the top 10.