Max Verstappen hopes to close out season with dominance from pole position at Abu Dhabi

Max Verstappen doesn’t have to worry heading into the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Winning all but three races so far this season meant he locked up the championship early, so there won’t be a repeat of the title fight between him and Lewis Hamilton like when he scored his first title.

But Verstappen is not a driver to let off, and a win is the surest way to cap off a dominant season in which only two other drivers won, and another team only won once.

Starting on pole makes that much easier, but that wasn’t a foregone conclusion when practice started at the Emirati circuit. Verstappen didn’t top the charts, and instead it was the McLaren drivers who looked like the team to beat, despite Verstappen’s hurried efforts to get onto the racetrack by passing cars in pit exit that even warranted a rule change from the FIA.

Verstappen proved dominant in qualifying, though, and no other driver could touch his first lap in the final session of qualifying.

“Yeah. Really weird,” Max summed up his weekend.

“The whole weekend so far has been a bit of a struggle. So, we definitely improved the car for qualifying and, from lap 1, it all seemed a bit more together. And we could definitely push more. Of course, very happy to be on pole.”

It was Charles Leclerc who came closest, with a strong lap despite his teammate’s struggles. The other Ferrari of Carlos Sainz was eliminated in the first round of qualifying and will start 16th. Leclerc said the Ferrari camp was hit-or-miss all weekend.

“Honestly, considering the weekend we’ve had until now, I did not expect it at all,” Leclerc echoed Verstappen.

“The last lap, I knew I had to put absolutely everything together, and I did. The last corner was a bit too much sliding, but I think everybody had that. So, really, really happy with the second place.”

Leclerc and his Ferrari team do have a fight ahead of them unlike Red Bull. Ferrari enters Abu Dhabi just four points behind the rival Mercedes team, so second place in the championship is available to fight for on track.

Sainz, who starts even further back, is locked in a tight battle for fourth in the points: tied with Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso, just five points ahead of McLaren’s Lando Norris, and twelve points ahead of Leclerc.

It’s a McLaren driver starting third in the Emirates too, but it’s the team’s rookie driver Oscar Piastri. Lando Norris had a strong run going in qualifying, but he lost the handle of his car midway through his hotlap and slipped from contending for pole to settling for fifth.

Unlike the other drivers starting up front, Piastri was less surprised by the result even despite McLaren’s speed in practice but acknowledged the difficulty that caught out his teammate.

“Difficult session, you know? It’s extremely tight this weekend,” he explained. “It’s been a bit of a messy one.”

“Pace has been there, just a lot of mistakes and last-up I made a little bit of a mistake as well, but it would have been quite a last corner to get to the front. So, happy with that. The car is very quick this weekend.”

The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix closes out the Formula One season and airs at 8 a.m. ET.

1 1 Max Verstappen RED BULL RACING HONDA RBPT 1:24.160 1:23.740 1:23.445 15
2 16 Charles Leclerc FERRARI 1:24.459 1:23.969 1:23.584 18
3 81 Oscar Piastri MCLAREN MERCEDES 1:24.487 1:24.278 1:23.782 17
4 63 George Russell MERCEDES 1:24.337 1:24.013 1:23.788 18
5 4 Lando Norris MCLAREN MERCEDES 1:24.368 1:23.920 1:23.816 16
6 22 Yuki Tsunoda ALPHATAURI HONDA RBPT 1:24.286 1:24.207 1:23.968 18
7 14 Fernando Alonso ASTON MARTIN ARAMCO MERCEDES 1:24.501 1:24.131 1:24.084 18
8 27 Nico Hulkenberg HAAS FERRARI 1:24.425 1:24.213 1:24.108 18
9 11 Sergio Perez RED BULL RACING HONDA RBPT 1:24.209 1:24.116 1:24.171 17
10 10 Pierre Gasly ALPINE RENAULT 1:24.600 1:24.078 1:24.548 18
11 44 Lewis Hamilton MERCEDES 1:24.437 1:24.359 12
12 31 Esteban Ocon ALPINE RENAULT 1:24.565 1:24.391 12
13 18 Lance Stroll ASTON MARTIN ARAMCO MERCEDES 1:24.405 1:24.422 12
14 23 Alexander Albon WILLIAMS MERCEDES 1:24.298 1:24.439 12
15 3 Daniel Ricciardo ALPHATAURI HONDA RBPT 1:24.461 1:24.442 12
16 55 Carlos Sainz FERRARI 1:24.738 6
17 20 Kevin Magnussen HAAS FERRARI 1:24.764 6
18 77 Valtteri Bottas ALFA ROMEO FERRARI 1:24.788 6
19 24 Zhou Guanyu ALFA ROMEO FERRARI 1:25.159 6
Owen Johnson