Verstappen springs the unexpected with late pole lap in Abu Dhabi

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Max Verstappen left it until the last lap of the final Formula One qualifying session of the season to break the Mercedes stranglehold on pole position and put his Red Bull in the number one slot for Sunday’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

“He’s threaded it together there, an amazing lap at the end,” Red Bull boss Christian Horner told Sky Sports F1.

“I’m just looking at the split times and he’s not the fastest. He’s just made it happen himself.”

The 23-year-old Dutchman beat provisional pole-sitter Valtteri Bottas by just 0.025 seconds, denying Mercedes their 14th front-row lockout from 17 races.

Champion Lewis Hamilton, back in his Mercedes after missing last weekend’s Sakhir Grand Prix with COVID-19, qualified third. Verstappen had led team mate Alexander Albon in a one-two for Red Bull in Saturday’s final practice session.

But with Mercedes, who have been on pole in Abu Dhabi every year since 2014, believed to be running their cars on a heavier fuel load, normal service was expected to resume for qualifying. In the end Verstappen’s stunning time of one minute, 35.246 seconds proved enough to give Red Bull their first Yas Marina pole since Mark Webber’s effort in 2013.

“Well Mercedes have been so dominant,” said Horner of his team’s rivals who have started 15 of this season’s 17 races from pole. “We get to the business end and they really have that pace in that car which has been phenomenal this year.

“It’s been a long season in terms of Saturday afternoons. But to finish the season with a pole… we’ve just got to convert it now.” Verstappen’s lap yielded the first non-Mercedes pole of the season with Lance Stroll’s Turkish Grand Prix effort set in his Mercedes-engined Racing Point.

Verstappen, who now has three career poles, said Sunday’s race would be a bit of a step into the unknown. “They’re still very fast,” he said of Mercedes. “But it seems like we have quite decent top speed this weekend so hopefully that will work out for tomorrow.”

McLaren

McLaren are selling a minority stake in their Formula One team to a consortium of U.S.-based investors in a deal that will value the British racing outfit at 560 million pounds ($740.49 million), Sky News reported on Saturday, citing sources. The MSP Sports Capital-led consortium would put 185 million pounds into McLaren Racing over a two-year period, Sky News reported, adding that the deal could be announced as early as Sunday. McLaren Racing and MSP Sports Capital did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Hamilton

Silverstone will rename its International Pits Straight after seven-times Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton, the home of the British Grand Prix announced on Saturday.

Hamilton this year became the most successful Formula One driver of all time after beating Michael Schumacher’s wins record and equalling the retired Ferrari great’s seven championships. Silverstone said in a statement that the stretch of track, flanked by the Wing building, would become Hamilton Straight. “It is the first time in Silverstone’s history that a part of the circuit has been named after any individual,” said British Racing Drivers’ Club president David Coulthard in a statement ahead of the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

“Lewis has become a huge part of this history and the directors of the Club and I felt there was no better way to mark this than to rename the iconic pits straight in recognition of his record-breaking achievements.” Hamilton has won his home grand prix seven times.

Hamilton, meanwhile, said he was still feeling the after-effects of COVID-19 after qualifying third for Formula One’s Abu Dhabi season-ender but vowed to give his all in Sunday’s race.

Reporting by Abhishek Takle in Mumbai; Alan Baldwin, editing by Clare Fallon

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