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Max Verstappen on Saturday in Abu Dhabi. (Red Bull Racing Photo)

Verstappen One-Ups Hamilton, Earns Abu Dhabi Pole

YAS ISLAND, Abu Dhabi – The ball is in Max Verstappen’s court heading into Sunday’s anticipated Formula 1 championship race in Abu Dhabi.

Verstappen one-upped title rival Lewis Hamilton in Saturday’s qualifying session and earned the pole for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix with his smooth lap of 1 minute, 22.109 seconds around the Yas Marina Circuit.

Hamilton was .371 seconds off Verstappen’s tone-setting pace, but still good enough to grid the seven-time Formula 1 champion second as he attempts to break the current tie atop the point standings and win a record eighth title on Sunday.

It’s Verstappen’s 10th pole award of the season and it happened with slipstream help from teammate Sergio Perez.

Lando Norris of McLaren opened eyes by qualifying third.

“It’s of course an amazing feeling,” Verstappen said. “I think we definitely improved the car again in qualifying because so far, this weekend was a bit on and off, but incredibly happy with this. This is of course what we wanted but it’s never easy especially with their [Mercedes’] form in the last few races. Now I’m just looking forward to tomorrow, because that’s of course the most important.”

Red Bull sent Perez out on track first during the third round of qualifying, ahead of Verstappen, with the Perez creating a draft for Verstappen down the long straight. Perez then bailed out of the way before the entry of turn nine and sacrificed his own lap.

Hamilton, meanwhile, locked up the tires at the hairpin and couldn’t compensate for the miscue.

“Well, firstly Max did a great lap today and we just couldn’t compete with that time at the end there,” Hamilton said. “It was a fantastic lap from him but we’re in a good position, I’d like to think, with our tires tomorrow and I hope that we can have a good race.

“On the first lap of Q3, I dropped a bit of time in the last corner and Turn 5, but my final lap was nice and clean, I just couldn’t go any quicker. I don’t know if it’s tire prep or whatever it may be, in terms of the out lap, but nonetheless I couldn’t beat that time so he deserved the pole. I’m still on the front row for tomorrow, with the tire difference and I’m grateful I can see where he is, so we can try and navigate from there.”

There isn’t much worry within the Mercedes camp. Hamilton, along with sixth-starting teammate Valterri Bottas, will begin Sunday’s race on a more durable medium tire that should set up for a deep run before the first necessary pit stop. 

The Red Bulls, on the other hand, will start on soft tires, a move resulting from Verstappen flat-spotting his medium tires in round two of qualifying.

Perez will start fourth and Carlos Sainz bounced back from a difficult Friday practice to start fifth. 

Behind Bottas, Charles Leclerc was seventh, ahead of Yuki Tsunoda, who could have positioned himself higher before having his third-fastest lap was disallowed for track limits, with Esteban Ocon and Daniel Ricciardo rounding out the top 10.

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