Red Bull’s Max Verstappen landed a big blow in his winner-takes-all title battle with Lewis Hamilton by seizing pole position for Formula One’s season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Saturday.
Mercedes’ seven-time world champion Hamilton will line up alongside on the front row, with Verstappen on the quicker soft tyres for the start and the Briton going for the more durable mediums.
The pair are level on points in the standings, with Verstappen ahead 9-8 on race wins — meaning he will be champion regardless of where he finishes if Hamilton fails to score for any reason.
“I didn’t expect that, but amazing job guys,” said the Dutch 24-year-old over the team radio after being told he had secured pole under the Yas Marina floodlights for the second successive season.
“That was a fantastic lap from him,” said Hamilton. “We’re in a good position with our tyres for tomorrow and I hope we can have a good race.”
The pole was Verstappen’s 10th of the 22-race season, more than anyone else.
Nico Rosberg, the last driver to take Hamilton all the way and win a Formula One title battle, knows what the Briton and Red Bull rival Max Verstappen are going through in Abu Dhabi this weekend.
“I was in such a title battle in 2016 and it’s a lot, just the intensity. The nerves,” Rosberg, then Hamilton’s teammate at dominant Mercedes, told Sky Sports television on Saturday.
“Someone like Max, from outside sometimes you think ‘This guy doesn’t even get nervous’ but that’s not true. Inside we’re still all humans ... and both of them will be on
the edge of their seats this weekend.”