The way things are going so slowly, it's almost easy to forget what the big challenges Ferrari gave to Mercedes at some point this year.
Under the lights of Abu Dhabi tonight, it looks like it used to be like Lewis Hamilton and their Valtteri Bottas in Mercedes fighting each other for pole positions, leaving Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen breathing in third and fourth place on their Ferrari, as the Red Bulls Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen, who had been so fast in the last two races, struggled in fifth and sixth.
In the end Hamilton got the best job, for the 83rd time in his career and the 11th this season. For the newly crowned five-time world champion, who has won 50 of the last 99 grand prix, it is the 52nd pole in the last 100.
But things didn't look too good for Mercedes after the first qualifying session, when Vettel had headed Bottas and Hamilton, 1m 36,775s to 1m 36,789s and 1m 36,828s.
"Q1 is very strict and I think we have more opportunities," Vettel admitted. But somehow the performance superiority cannot be maintained.
Switching from the fastest Pirelli hipersoft tires to the more durable ultrasoft for Q2, where the driver had to start the race on the tire where they qualified, Hamilton went forward, with a very strong 1m 35,693s. Verstappen was second with 1m 36.114 seconds, when Vettel dropped back to 1m 36.345 and Bottas became 1m 36,392, all in the same rubber.
Hamilton continued to set the pace without mercy at the start of Q3as Mercedes lit the axis, his first run produced 1m 35,295 seconds when he returned to hipersoft which was used by all the drivers, and now Bottas was originally his closest challenger at 1m 35,419 s. But there was a glimmer of hope for Vettel as he pushed in front of Finn with 1m 35,352s.
Bottas, who has never won a race this year, really fought hard in the second round and was completely above Hamilton's time after the first two sectors, but the Briton had a very good third sector and completed the pole in his favor. when he made repairs to 1 million 34,794 seconds. Bottas is back ahead of Vettel, however, with 1m 34,956s. Germany's lap looked good for the first two sectors, but then separated and he dropped to third with 1m 35.125 seconds. Raikkonen slightly increased to 1m 35,365 seconds, but because Ricciardo also cut a little time to 1m 35,401 seconds, Verstappen held on at 1m 35,589s, looking curious.
This is successive front row locking here. Hamilton kissed his car when he came down, and admitted that it was an emotional moment.
"This is the last time I will qualify in this car," he explained. "We have been in an emotional rollercoaster together this year, and I feel closer than from my other car.
"This is a great qualifying session, and today is very fun to be able to express yourself and your car as much as you want. There is no better feeling.
"Honestly, I have never said anything is a perfect round. My first lap was not spectacular, there were several visits and a few moves on the back of the car, but the second became more aggressive and the last sector was a killer for me. It's not easy to do that from one lap to another.
"After winning the title I want to continue to push the boundaries and limits and I want to finish the season high and then continue to exploit the foundation to give us a strong start next year. I am very happy with how this year is, and I am very happy today. It's nice to end the season with 1-2 in the qualifying round. "
Bottas, again, was disappointed, but both still improved after the recent race.
"I definitely aim for the pole," he said. "I got it here last year, but I can't repeat it. First of all, Lewis has a good lap, so I was impressed with that. On my second run there must have been some improvement in the track but he got a more complete round in the end. I think I lost time in the third sector, at Turn 17 and 18. It's hard to do it right. Pole is possible today, but Lewis does a better job. "When Hamilton shook hands with the mechanic Vettel, Germany smiled and admitted that Ferrari did not have enough speed in qualifying to challenge the Silver Arrows.
"It's not in my way so I think he enjoyed it a little more," he said, noting a bit of sportsmanship. "But I look forward to getting into the car for the last time tomorrow, and we will give everything we have.
"I am quite confident, and it will be a very long race. Of course I want to be in the front row but that is not the case, but we will fight as hard as possible and when that happens anything can happen. Let's see what we can do. "
Both Hamilton and Vettel expect the Red Bulls to be more competitive tomorrow.
"They will be strong," Hamilton said, "They are always in a race. They are struggling to keep up with the speed that we gave them, but in the race they are back, so I'm sure they will be there, but this is not a series that is easy to overtake. However, I hope they have a strong end for this year. "
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