Depending on who you are, the final qualifying event for the 2020 FORMULA 1 season could be read differently. From a Mercedes perspective, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was a dampener given the ‘Hammertime’ consistency the team is known for.
There were no messages on the team radio that said, “Get in there, Lewis!” But then let’s not get it all mixed up. In 2020 alone, Hamilton, a seven-time world champion, has picked 10 poles alone. Though, on this occasion, the current world champion collected a fighting third, not the worst possible way to return to the grid after missing out at Sakhir, a week back.
There weren’t massive surprises in that neither among Leclerc or Vettel were able to pull Ferrari up into the top five. The young Monegasque collected a lowly twelfth as teammate Vettel, due to drive his final race for Ferrari, following in thirteenth.
But if you were a Red Bull fan, the only team that’s managed somewhat to stand up to Mercedes’ marauding consistency in 2020, you were elated, for nothing else would suffice.
As Max Verstappen collected his maiden pole of the season, his first since 2019 Interlagos, and his third overall, there was, lest it be undermined, a breath of relief for the Milton Keynes-outfit in what’s been a truly exasperating year.
Setting a belter of a lap, the fiery Dutch driver zipped the Yas Marina at an impressive 1:35:246. And in so doing, he finished barely ahead of Finnish Valtteri Bottas, beating in the process, Lewis Hamilton: the man many would love Verstappen race alongside- at least at some point- in the same machine.
But was that all that packed a punch at the much-important Saturdays?
In a year where it didn’t take Lando Norris long to become a headlining material, making that memorable last-lap overtake at the season-opening Austrian GP, the Briton paced his McLaren perfectly to gather a valiant fourth.
Following in closely was Alex Albon in (the other Red Bull) fifth, a man responsible for finishes like the P6 at Sakhir GP, and the P3 at the Bahrain GP of 2020.
Meanwhile, Sainz, no longer just a Fernando Alonso admirer, rather a driver whose 2020 exploits may certainly have pleased the great El Nino- remember the Monza P2- gathered a P6.
Following the growing Spaniard was the fighting troika of Kvyat, Stroll, and Gasly for Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth respectively while Renault driver Esteban Ocon, fresh from a maiden FORMULA 1 podium (2020 Sakhir GP) gathered a respectable Tenth.
Although, in the process of bagging his impressive finish inside the top ten at the Max Verstappen-dominated Abu Dhabi quali, Frenchman Ocon beat none other than Daniel Ricciardo, the Aussie garnering a rather benign eleventh.
But was that all? What about the backmarkers?
For the fourth time in the last seven races, Alfa Romeo driver Antonio Giovinazzi, due to drive for the Hinwill-based outfit in 2021 as well beat the ‘Iceman’ Kimi Raikkonen for a place on the grid.
As the smiling Italian with mild-manners and that warm smile crossed the crossing line, it was yet another pleasing result for the growing FORMULA 1 driver with that earnest smile.
But in what’s been a really spectacular season, one where the backmarkers have also gone on to make a few right noises- let’s not forget George Russell’s “Driver of the day” effort at Sakhir- Antonio Giovinazzi shone quite brightly?
In the end, the Martina Franca-born’s 1:38:248 became too difficult a task for Kimi to beat, the Finn going around a not so rapid 1:37, following his Italian teammate.
Though, the Iceman’s P16, was the best of the rest of the grid,as Russell, Fittipaldi, Williams, Perez, and Magussen completed the final five on the grid.
That being said, can Max Verstappen, first pole in last eighteen races, including 2019’s Grand Prix at the very venue, hold his nerve to gather his second win of 2020?
It’s all to play for, once again for one more time in 2020.