By Abhishek Takle
ABUDHABI (Reuters) – World champion Lewis Hamilton stormed to the final pole position of the Formula One season with a dazzling display under the floodlights in qualifying for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Saturday.
The Briton, who wrapped up his sixth Formula One title two races ago at the U.S. Grand Prix in Austin, Texas, lapped the Yas Marina circuit in one minute 34.779 seconds, beating Mercedes team mate Valtteri Bottas by 0.194.
“Yes, guys, that’s what I’ve been looking for,” Hamilton said on the team radio on the cool down lap.
Bottas will line up at the back due to a raft of engine-related penalties, meaning that Red Bull’s Max Verstappen will start Sunday’s race on the front row.
“I’m going to start last with my 40-place grid penalty or whatever,” said Bottas. “We’ll find the fighting spirit for tomorrow.”
Verstappen said his lap was the best he could do against a Mercedes team who looked dominant in the desert.
“I think there are still a lot of chances for tomorrow,” added the 22-year-old.
The pole was a record-extending 88th of Hamilton’s career and fifth of the season. It was also his fifth in Abu Dhabi but first since the German Grand Prix in July — a run of nine races out of the top slot.
“It’s been such a long slog trying to get this pole position,” explained the 34-year-old, who was fastest after the first flying lap and then improved on his time in the second.
“Yesterday was quite wobbly so I really had to re-compose myself last night and come back today focused. I managed to really dial in the car with great work from the engineers, mechanics,” he added.
“It’s been a special car and this is the last time I get to qualify with it so I’m glad I did it proud today.”
Hamilton has won four times previously at the Yas Marina circuit and is chasing his 11th victory of the season on Sunday to end the campaign just seven off Michael Schumacher’s all-time record of 91.
With five of the 10 races to date in Abu Dhabi having been won from pole, and Mercedes winners of the last five, the omens look good.
“We have had a clean record here in Abu Dhabi, it’s a track that suits us and suits him,” said Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff.
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, who ends the season with the most poles (seven), will start in third place with team mate Sebastian Vettel fourth.
The pair collided in Brazil two weeks ago, ending their races and leading to a meeting at the Maranello factory to clear the air.
There was more frustration on Saturday, however, when Leclerc missed out on a final flying lap with Vettel slowing in front of him.
“We’re not going to make it, Seb is slowing down,” Leclerc said over the radio.
“It is life sometimes it happens, I don’t know if the situation was unlucky or we could’ve done something better,” the Monegasque, who is fighting Verstappen for third in the championship, said.
British-born Thai rookie Alexander Albon was sixth for Red Bull ahead of McLaren’s Lando Norris and Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo.
Carlos Sainz was ninth for McLaren while Nico Hulkenberg, without a drive next season after losing his seat to Frenchman Esteban Ocon, rounded out the top 10 for Renault.
British rookies Norris and George Russell, with Williams, both end the season having out-qualified their team mates over the course of the campaign.
Norris has qualified ahead of Sainz in 11 of the 21 races while Russell has a 21-0 record against Poland’s Robert Kubica.
(Editing by Alan Baldwin, Toby Chopra and Ian Chadband)