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Max Verstappen secures pole position for the Abu Dhabi Formula 1 Grand Prix, while Lewis Hamilton faces challenges.

The contrast between the playful ebullience of Max Verstappen and Red Bull and Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes’ resigned weariness after the final qualifying session of 2023 could not have better summed up their seasons.

Verstappen secured the pole position for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, bringing his total for the year to 12. Meanwhile, Hamilton was in 11th place and experiencing a stark contrast in their fortunes. Despite facing challenges, Red Bull continued to dominate during qualifying sessions and came out on top. Hamilton, on the other hand, was perplexed by his car’s consistently erratic and unpredictable behavior, a sentiment shared by his team who are eagerly anticipating the end of the season.

Throughout the weekend, Red Bull faced difficulties with Verstappen’s car as they worked to achieve a suitable balance and set-up during their practice sessions at Yas Marina. By the end of the third practice, they were trailing by seven-tenths.

The team principal, Christian Horner, informed Verstappen during his in-lap that he had won €500 (£430) for securing pole position. This bet was made by the team’s head of motorsport, Helmut Marko, after the third practice session, where he doubted Verstappen’s ability to even make it to the front row. However, Verstappen proved him wrong once again, as he dominated the competitive session and secured a spot at the front of the grid.

Verstappen chuckled as he stated, “I believe Helmut has finally realized not to bet against me.” His competitors have been reminded of this lesson repeatedly throughout the season.

In the third quarter, he had an excellent performance and managed to finish ahead of Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari by a tenth of a second. Oscar Piastri’s McLaren came in third place. Despite Leclerc’s impressive lap and maximum effort on the track, he was unable to catch up.

While Red Bull enjoyed their success, Mercedes was left frustrated. Hamilton had difficulty managing the unstable rear of his car and failed to advance past Q2 for the second consecutive race. In a surprising turn of events, his teammate Russell was able to secure fourth place, highlighting how unpredictable their car can be.

When asked about his emotions regarding his final qualifying session in this car, Hamilton was clear and direct. “I am certainly pleased that it is coming to an end,” he stated. “The car’s performance has been inconsistent, unpredictable, and significantly unbalanced.”

He appeared fatigued and frustrated as he talked, and it was understandable. He may have expressed the same sentiment during the initial race of the season.

Mercedes will be implementing a completely new design approach for their car in the upcoming season. Team principal Toto Wolff expressed his relief that the W14 will be retired, stating that he is eager for the new car to make its debut. His sentiments echoed those of driver Lewis Hamilton, who also seemed downtrodden about the current car’s performance.

The team was disappointed with the outcome of the race as they are currently in a close battle with Ferrari for second place in the constructors’ championship. This position is crucial as it could mean an extra £10m in prize money for the team that secures it, coming in behind Red Bull. Although Mercedes is currently ahead by four points, there is no clear advantage for either team after qualifying.

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Unfortunately, Ferrari’s chances were hindered in the beginning as Carlos Sainz finished in 16th place, eliminated in the first qualifying session due to traffic. The grid is fairly balanced with Hamilton in 11th, Russell in fourth, and Leclerc in second, setting the stage for a potentially exciting showdown while Verstappen is likely to secure his 19th victory to close out the season.

If he accomplishes this, it will add to his record for the season and give him a 54th career win, surpassing Sebastian Vettel’s total. This will place the Dutch driver as third in the ranking for most wins, only behind Lewis Hamilton and Michael Schumacher. No one, especially not Marko, doubts that he will achieve this.

Unfortunately, Sergio Pérez from Red Bull was unable to hold onto his fifth place spot due to exceeding track limits and ultimately finished in ninth place. Lando Norris, representing McLaren, came in fifth, while Yuki Tsunoda from AlphaTauri took sixth place. Fernando Alonso, competing for Aston Martin, finished in seventh place, with Nico Hülkenberg from Haas in eighth and Pierre Gasly from Alpine rounding out the top ten.

In the Alpine team, Esteban Ocon held 12th place, Lance Stroll from Aston Martin took 13th, Alex Albon from Williams came in 14th, and Daniel Ricciardo from AlphaTauri finished in 15th. Haas’ Kevin Magnussen placed 17th, while Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu secured 18th and 19th for Alfa Romeo respectively. Logan Sargeant of Williams came in 20th.

Source: theguardian.com