Red Bull’s Max Verstappen snatched the final pole position of the year, denying rivals Mercedes a front-row lock out in Saturday’s qualifying for the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
The Dutchman, who had led a one-two for Red Bull ahead of team mate Alexander Albon in final practice, produced a stunning one minute, 35.246-second lap under the floodlights at the Yas Marina track.
Verstappen’s time was 0.025 seconds quicker than Valtteri Bottas, who urged on by team boss Toto Wolff over the team radio, still put his Mercedes on the front row.
World champion Lewis Hamilton, back in the car after his COVID-19-enforced absence in Sakhir, was third and 0.086 seconds off the pace.
Verstappen’s display around the 5.5km long lap earned him only the third pole of his career and his first since last year’s Brazilian Grand Prix.
It was only the second time Mercedes had been denied pole this season and the first time all year that a non-Mercedes powered car will start from the front, with Lance Stroll having started on pole for Mercedes-engined Racing Point in Turkey.
It ended the Brackley-based team’s streak of six straight pole positions in Abu Dhabi.
“Mega, mega lap,” team boss Christian Horner told Verstappen on the radio. “That’s the first non-Mercedes pole this year.”
Verstappen was delighted at the end of a difficult season.
“The whole year when you’re behind, getting closer it’s getting sometimes a bit frustrating,” the 23-year-old said. “Very very pleased with today.”
Behind the top three, Lando Norris was fourth for McLaren ahead of Albon and team mate Carlos Sainz, who was sixth in his final qualifying for the Woking-based team before his move to Ferrari.
Daniil Kvyat, who could also be driving in his last race for AlphaTauri, was seventh ahead of Stroll. Charles Leclerc was ninth for Ferrari but the Monegasque will drop three places on the grid due to a penalty for causing a collision at the last race in Sakhir.
Pierre Gasly rounded out the top 10 for AlphaTauri.
Sebastian Vettel was knocked out in the second phase of his final qualifying session for Ferrari. The German, moving to Racing Point which is rebranding to Aston Martin next year, was 13th.