Max Verstappen took a fitting pole position at the 2023 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, with Charles Leclerc breaking onto the front row with a late improvement that pushed him ahead of Oscar Piastri.
Verstappen complained about his Red Bull setup throughout free practice and made a suspension change just minutes before qualifying got underway, but ultimately appeared to have made the right call as he took pole by 0.134 seconds from Leclerc.
George Russell split the McLarens late on to claim fourth, while Yuki Tsunoda took a hugely valuable sixth for AlphaTauri with the team just seven points behind Williams in the standings.
With Mercedes and Ferrari separated by just four points in the constructors’ championship, neither side escaped qualifying unscathed, as Carlos Sainz was shockingly eliminated in Q1, before Russell knocked Lewis Hamilton out in Q2.
It’s the second successive weekend that Hamilton has missed Q3, with the seven-time champion unable to push his W14 to the limit and just 0.081 seconds away from Oscar Piastri and safety.
“There’s something not right with this car, mate”Lewis Hamilton over team radio after his Q2 elimination
Nico Hulkenberg reached the second session for the first time since Singapore and went on to take eighth behind Fernando Alonso, while a late lap-time deletion left Sergio Perez ninth ahead of only Pierre Gasly in Q3.
Logan Sargeant is the only current F1 driver without his seat confirmed for 2024, but once again struggled with track limits and failed to set a time before his Q1 elimination when he really could’ve done with a statement performance to finish the year.
It means Sargeant has been completely whitewashed by teammate Albon in qualifying this season, the first time that’s happened in F1 since Albon himself was swept by Verstappen in 2020 for Red Bull.
Sargeant and Sainz were joined by Kevin Magnussen and the Alfa Romeos exiting in Q1.
Pit lane trouble condemns Sainz
Sainz has had a rough past couple of weeks, after his deeply unfortunate Las Vegas weekend limited him to sixth on The Strip Circuit while Leclerc battled for the win.
But this is surely the nadir, and Sainz will start four places back from last week as he had a front-wing issue at the end of Q1, meaning the Spaniard was at the back of a slow-moving queue of cars.
Alonso certainly took his time exiting the pitlane, despite Verstappen‘s complaints over team radio – ironic given the stewards ordered no overtaking in the pit exit due to the Dutchman pulling a move ahead of the tunnel in FP2.
Sainz was frustrated feeling he didn’t get a clean run to end the session, even accusing other teams of a conspiracy to keep him from jumping out of the elimination zone.
He had the longest streak of avoiding a Q1 exit on the grid before arriving in Abu Dhabi, standing at 83 races since the 2019 Brazilian GP.
“It was a very bad situation, last car leaving the pits with all the cars in front of us and pressure to get to the flag,” Sainz told Sky Sports F1. “I don’t think all the guys who’d finished the lap got out of the way but it’s our fault.
“The whole weekend has been a tricky weekend because it’s not like the pace is stellar. We now need to focus on understanding what we can do tomorrow to get some decent points for the team and hope we can find ourselves in a better position.”