Never mind he’d spent the previous day testing experimental changes for 2020, or that his team mate has an engine which is six races fresher. Hamilton plugged himself into the Yas Marina groove that the W10 loves, particularly the final sector where his skill in hustling a car around slow corners pays handsomely, and planted it on pole once again.
Job done? Providing he gets off the line cleanly on Sunday he looks set to go into the off-season on a race-winning high.
Max Verstappen may not have the car he needs under him to take the fight to Hamilton. “We always know that Mercedes are very quick on the long runs,” he said. They were strong at the end of stints in Brazil, and that was on a track where the Red Bull was potentially stronger. Still, if he sends one up the inside of Hamilton at the start and gets away with it, that could make things very interesting indeed.
The Ferrari pair share row two behind them. Charles Leclerc will start third on the grid on medium tyres, followed by Sebastian Vettel on softs. Which, after their Brazil collision, could seem like a recipe for disaster.
Vettel said his soft tyre gamble was a case of “just trying to do something different” on what has not been a very competitive weekend for Ferrari so far. His best chance of making it work would be if he can pick off a few cars at the start when the soft tyre offers a one-second-per-lap pace advantage over the medium. But, of course, the first car he’s got to pass is his team mate’s.
Perhaps Ferraro has a plan for how to co-ordinate their drivers at the start. However, given what happened when they tried that at Sochi, Leclerc would be forgiven for having some doubts over entering into another such arrangement.
If Vettel’s gamble doesn’t pay off, Alexander Albon will be close behind hoping to take advantage, and also hoping to out-run Valtteri Bottas, who’ll be climbing his way forward having been relegated 18 places on the grid to 20th.
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The midfield is split between the four Renault-powered drivers who reached Q3 and will have to start on used tyres, and those behind who get to start on fresh rubber. The latter had a clear advantage last year – Carlos Sainz Jnr rose from 11th to take sixth.
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Sunday’s ‘new tyre pole’ winner is Sergio Perez, who is promoted to 10th on the grid after Bottas’s penalty, and will have designs on repeating Sainz’s performance from last year.
Behind him the Toro Rosso pair – in the team’s last start in this guide before it become Alpha Tauri – will also be eyeing a crack at the points. Both Renaults start in front of them, but the Toro Rosso drivers have a potential strategic advantage which could help them overturn their rival’s eight-point championship lead in the final race of the season, and claim a best-ever fifth place in the standings.
However Ricciardo is satisfied with his strategy for the race. “Obviously, our big competitor this weekend is Toro Rosso. I prefer now, sitting here, to be eighth with the soft, then say 12th with a medium.
“If I was 10th and they were 11th, I’d prefer to be them. But I think we have enough of a gap that it should give us enough of a gap before the first pit stop. That’s hopefully how it works.”
But he admitted reservations about how easy it will be to make a one-stop strategy work – something which will be hardest of all for drivers like himself starting on worn soft tyres. “I don’t think a one stop will be that easy tomorrow. I think it will be better if you can make the one-stop work, but we’ll see what happens. Try to make the tyres last.”
There’s no dodging the facts: Yas Marina does not have a reputation for producing vintage F1 races, and Bottas’s penalty has removed Hamilton’s biggest potential threat from the sharp end of the race. But as Bottas put it when asked about his chances of reaching the podium from the back of the grid: “Everything is always possible.
“We’ll have a good fighting spirit, take every opportunity there will be tomorrow and for sure there will be some. We’ve seen crazy races this year – look back two weeks in Brazil. So anything is possible.”
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Over to you
What’s the most realistic threat to another Hamilton victory in tomorrow’s race? Will Vettel’s strategy gamble pay off? And who will win the midfield fight?
Share your views on the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in the comments.
Quotes: Dieter Rencken
2019 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
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