Lewis Hamilton has broken the Abu Dhabi track records to claim his fifth pole position of 2019 in the final grand prix of the year.
Mercedes was in a class of its own during qualifying, and Hamilton’s pole lap of 1 minute 34.779 seconds was enough to break the previous best at the Yas Marina Circuit by 0.015 seconds.
More remarkable still is that this is Hamilton’s first pole in nine races, his longest pole drought since 2011, and the world champion paid tribute to the team in helping him break the streak.
“It’s been such a long slog trying to get this pole position,” he said. “We just kept our heads down, continuing to try.
“I managed to really dial in the car with great work from the engineers — the mechanics continue to do a great job.
“It’s been a special car and it’s the last time I’ll get to qualify with it, so I’m glad I did it proud today.”
Valtteri Bottas qualified second in the sister Mercedes but will start from the back of the grid with a string of power unit penalties after the Finn’s motor failed during the Brazilian Grand Prix.
Bottas was forced to install a new unit for Friday practice, and a hydraulic leak discovered overnight required a second new unit be adopted on Saturday, guaranteeing his start from 20th place.
“I believe anything is possible,” he said, daring to dream of a podium finish. “We have a good car and some days it’s even better than Saturdays for us. We’ll give it all.”
Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen qualified third and will inherit a front-row start from the penalised Bottas, but the Dutchman lamented that 0.360 seconds off pole was the most possible from the RB15.
“I think today was the best we could do,” he said. “We all know that Mercedes is quite dominant here.
“I think still a lot of chances for tomorrow, then we’ll see what happens. We’ll just wait and see what happens tomorrow.”
The Ferrari drivers were never in contention for pole, qualifying fourth and fifth around half a second off the pace.
Charles Leclerc beat Sebastian Vettel for position on the grid despite failing to set a second flying lap at the end of qualifying, mistiming his run and taking the chequered flag by mistake.
The Monegasque appeared to blame the German for ruining his qualifying via team radio, complaining that his teammate had backed him up, while Vettel appeared to be slowing to create space between the similarly tardy Alex Albon ahead, the Thai driver going on to qualify sixth.
Lando Norris was best of the midfield in seventh, outqualifying teammate Carlos Sainz to claim the McLaren intra-team qualifying head-to-head 11 races to 10 in his rookie F1 campaign.
Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo split the pair by qualifying eighth, with Sainz ninth ahead of Nico Hulkenberg in his final F1 qualifying session in 10th.
The battle in Q2 was tight, with Racing Point’s Sergio Perez the quickest driver to be eliminated, missing out on progression by just 0.2 seconds.
Behind the Mexican in 11th qualified Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly in 12th, the Frenchman only 0.035 seconds further back in 12th.
Their teammates qualified 13th and 14th respectively, with Lance Stroll beating Daniil Kvyat to 13th and 14th, while Haas’s Kevin Magnussen qualified 15th.
Romain Grosjean was beaten to a Q2 berth by 0.3 seconds at the hands of Haas teammate Magnussen, compounding a difficult weekend for the Frenchman. A crash with Bottas during practice forced him to use an alternative specification car, which on Saturday he complained lacked grip.
Then, when Grosjean was leaving the pits to set his final flying lap, he was cut off by Toro Rosso’s Kvyat exiting his garage, forcing the Haas driver into evasive action to avoid a collision.
The stewards were set to rule on the near-miss at the end of the session.
Antonio Giovinazzi beat Alfa Romeo teammate Kimi Raikkonen to 18th and 18th, while George Russell confirmed a perfect qualifying record against outgoing Williams teammate Robert Kubica, beating him in all 21 Saturday sessions this season.