Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – Despite not looking on the pace in practice, Max Verstappen topped each part of qualifying on his way to pole.
It was a quiet start to the last qualifying session of the 2023 season with the track remaining empty for the first few minutes before Logan Sargeant led the charge out of the pit lane. The Williams driver started things off with a 1:24.722, holding the spot for a few seconds before Max Verstappen took over P1 with a 1:24.160. The American driver wouldn’t have enjoyed the top of the times for long ever without anyone else around as his time was deleted due to track limits.
Qualifying Results – 2023 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
Most of the drivers returned to their garages after setting their opening time, the track didn’t get completely silent though as the Williams cars headed back out just as George Russell took to the pit entry.
With five minutes left Verstappen remained on top, two tenths ahead of Lando Norris while Charles Leclerc sat in P3. Sergeant, Zhou Guanyu and Nico Hulkenberg had all lost their times due to track limits so they were the bottom three on the leaderboard while Pierre Gasly and Kevin Magnussen were currently in the drop zone with them.
As the other cars started reemerging, the Williams duo got up to P2 and P4 before Sargeant once again lost his time and dropped to the back. With overtaking in the pit exit being outlawed, there was a big, slow moving queue to get out.
Verstappen remained at the top of the times while a late lap from Sergio Perez for P2 knocked Carlos Sainz into the drop zone. String laps from Yuki Tsunoda and Albon saw them end Q1 in P3 and P4.
Sainz was joined in the bottom five by Kevin Magnussen, Valtteri Bottas, Zhou and Sargeant.
Albon was the first out in the second part of qualifying and kicked off with a 1:24.965. After everyone had set a time it was Verstappen in P1 with a 1:23.740, 0.180 seconds ahead of Norris while Perez in P3 was a further two tenths back.
The reigning champion was the only driver to go out on fresh soft tyres, everyone else had put used softs on.
As in Q1, Williams sent Albon out while the others headed back to the pits for a tyre change, he moved up to P5 before relinquishing the track to the others. At that stage, Lewis Hamilton, Daniel Ricciardo, Gasly, Esteban Ocon, and Hulkenberg (without a time as his first effort was deleted) were all outside the top ten, while Verstappen was happy with his banker time and remained in the pits.
In the end no one demoted Verstappen, Norris getting closest in P2 ahead of Leclerc but Russell’s late lap to take P4 saw him knock his teammate into P11. Hamilton was joined by Ocon, Stroll, Albon and Ricciardo.
With no Williams left to head out first, this time it was Verstappen who took to the underground pit exit first, the Dutch driver once again the only one on new tyres at the start of the session.
The Red Bull driver went to provisional pole with his first attempt, a 1:23.445, while the McLarens of Norris and Oscar Piastri slotted into P2 and P3, the Brit 0.371 seconds off Verstappen’s time while the Australian was just less than a tenth and a half off his teammate.
The McLarens led the way out for the final pole shootout, and all cars were out on fresh tyres this time. Norris made a mistake on his lap, sliding through T13, which meant he didn’t improve while Piastri jumped him to take P2 before Leclerc put in a great time which saw him take the place from the two of them.
Verstappen took the final pole of the season with his 1:23.445, 0.139 seconds ahead of Leclerc while the two McLarens got split at the end by Russell. Perez had made up behind Norris before his lap was deleted and that knocked him back to P9.
Tsunoda will start P6 ahead of Fernando Alonso and Hulkenberg while the top ten was rounded out by Gasly. Piastri and Gasly will have to go see the Stewards however as they look into whether the McLaren driver impeded the Alpine driver.