Max Verstappen ended the final qualifying session of 2023 on top as he stormed to a fourth-consecutive pole position at the Yas Marina Circuit for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
The Dutchman, who clinched a 12th pole of the year, will be joined by Charles Leclerc on the front row who fell 0.139s shy of the Red Bull driver’s best.
Verstappen was the only driver who was fitted with fresh Softs for his first run in Q3, setting a 1:23.445s as the initial time to beat. Norris chased but was almost four-tenths off the pace and sat ahead of Piastri despite the Australian setting the fastest first sector.
Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez could only manage fifth fastest some seven-tenths adrift of his Red Bull team-mate, evidencing the clear disadvantage of the scrubbed tyres.
The FIA had banned overtaking in the pitlane ahead of this evening’s qualifying session, leading Verstappen to trundle through the pitlane tunnel as the three-time champion sought a gap for his final effort of the night.
McLaren were at the front of the queue for the final attempts as Norris went fastest in the opening sector. The 24-year-old managed a personal best in sector two but a massive slide on the kerbs in the final sector resulted in his effort culminating in a lap half a second slower than Verstappen.
Verstappen aborted his final lap and would not be usurped on his way to a fourth consecutive pole at the Yas Marina Circuit.
Piastri used Norris’ mistake to capitalise and momentarily claim a spot on the front row. Charles Leclerc dislodged the rookie with a time 0.139s off the pace of the polesitter.
George Russell ended up splitting the McLaren drivers and will start the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix from fourth.
Yuki Tsunoda managed a brilliant sixth in the upgraded AlphaTauri ahead of Fernando Alonso and Nico Hulkenberg.
Sergio Perez had found a lap good enough for fifth, however, that was invalidated due to track limits, demoting the Mexican to ninth.
Alpine’s Pierre Gasly was unable to improve with his final qualifying effort and will start from tenth. The Frenchman, along with Piasri, has been noted for a potential impeding incident which has not yet been passed on to the Stewards.
Red Bull and McLaren had emerged as the favourites during Q2, as Verstappen led Norris in a checkerboard formation heading into the closing minutes of the session.
Verstappen, having saved a set of Softs in Q1, remained in the pitlane as the final efforts were completed. His 1:23.740s benchmark would not be beaten by the time the flag fell on the second phase.
A number of late improvements came at the cost of Lewis Hamilton who suffered a second consecutive Q2 elimination. The five-time Abu Dhabi polesitter had improved from P15 to tenth, only to be knocked out by team-mate George Russell.
The Briton reported that “there’s something not right” with his W14 on his return to the pitlane having battled the car throughout his push laps.
An unwell Esteban Ocon will start Sunday’s race from P12 ahead of Lance Stroll. Alex Albon was only able to manage 14th ahead of Daniel Ricciardo who could only drag the AlphaTauri as high as P15.
Track evolution contributed to a shock exit for the Ferrari of Carlos Sainz who will start the season finale 16th.
The Spaniard, who crashed heavily during FP2, found plenty of traffic during his final flying run and will need to summon some recovery drive on Sunday if he is to help Ferrari take the fight to Mercedes in the battle for second.
Kevin Magnussen was again unable to match Nico Hulkenberg for one-lap pace as the Dane was dumped at the first time of asking in 17th.
There was double disappointment for Alfa Romeo despite a decent showing during FP3. The pace did not carry over into the night as Valtteri Bottas was eliminated in 18th, three-tenths clear of team-mate Guanyu Zhou in 19th.
Logan Sargeant will start 20th and last after having both of his fast laps invalidated for track limits. The result means that the American rookie has been out-qualified by team-mate Albon at every race this year.