Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton will start tomorrow’s world championship decider from pole position after setting a time of 1m38.755s. This was a second and a half faster than last year’s pole. The British driver maintains his momentum, having been quickest all weekend. Hamilton makes it four pole positions in a row, and on Sunday could make it four wins in a row. That he could do that and still lose the title shows how much this Championship has swung back and forth.
Nico Rosberg seems stuck in consolidation mode, since in that same period merely finishing behind his teammate for the final races would be enough to wrap up the title. Finish on the podium and he wins the title no matter how much Hamilton wins by.
There is risk in that too. Nico admitted to not having the ultimate pace to match Lewis in qualifying. Finishing 3 tenths adrift, but if it comes down to it, and it surely must, backing his rival into the hunting back is surely the defending Champions best option. Who knows what awaits if Rosberg falls into the clutches of Ricciardo, Vettel, Raikkonen & Verstappen. They’ve been volatile of late and Nico won’t want to be anywhere near the fight for the bottom step of the podium.
Hamilton could choose to bolt from the start and focus solely on taking the win. If he does so he risks the fame fate as Massa in 08. To win the race only to lose the title moments later. Maybe it would be fitting to end that way. For Hamilton has for long spells had the outright pace to beat Rosberg. Consistency has seen the German arrive as favourite for the title this weekend, and a Mercedes 1-2 will seal his first title, regardless of what order they are in.
In line with expectations, track and air temperatures dropped throughout each session, meaning that the quickest times tended to come right at the end. All the drivers were straight onto the ultrasoft in Q1, with the exception of the Williams drivers. Only Valtteri Bottas managed to get through to Q2 with the supersoft only.
Having gone fastest in Q1 on the ultrasoft, Hamilton lowered his benchmark in Q2 on a fresh set of the same compound, with both him and his team mate completing only one run to place first and second.
Red Bull was the only team to take an alternative approach to the Q2 session by running the supersoft, which is around 0.7 seconds slower than the ultrasoft but can last longer. Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen will start from third and sixth on the grid tomorrow: the only cars in the top 10 to begin the grand prix on the supersoft. Both Red Bull drivers completed their final Q2 runs on the ultrasoft, without improving their previous times.
DANIEL RICCIARDO, Position: 3rd, 1:39.589 (Practice 3 – P6 1:41.831)
“I’m definitely pleased I got the third place I was after. It feels really good. This morning was hard, I did a run quite early and I was nearly a second off Max so it didn’t look good on paper but the track warmed up so much that we didn’t really know what to expect coming into quali. Q1 was a little bit slow but then I picked it up and Q3 was solid enough so I was happy. We’ll see about the strategy. It’s just nice to do something different to Mercedes. We know on the same equipment they’re probably going to be quicker so we feel it should make us go a little bit longer at the start and then perhaps we can bring the race back to us towards the end when our tyres might be a bit different. For tomorrow of course I wish I was in their position, obviously they’ve both got a little bit more pressure than us this weekend, which I’m kind of envious about. But if the win is there for me tomorrow then I’ll go for it and there will be no holding back. You always have this level of respect as they’re fighting for the title, but if they leave the door open and I think I can pass, then I won’t make it easy for them and let them sail into the sunset.”
FREE PRACTICE 3 – TOP 3 TIMES
QUALIFYING TOP 10
MOST LAPS BY COMPOUND SO FAR
BEST TIME BY COMPOUND SO FAR
The final top 10 shoot-out was mostly contested over two runs, with Hamilton’s pole time on the second run coming close to the absolute qualifying record set in 2011.
The most likely strategy tomorrow is for two pit stops, with tactics playing an important role in the race as the Yas Marina circuit is quite difficult to overtake on, as has been seen in the past here during previous championship deciders. One predictable factor should be the weather, which is expected to be similar to conditions today.
Paul Hembery, Pirelli motorsport director: “Track and air temperatures fell throughout the session, and we were also a full 11 degrees cooler on track than the FP3 session earlier in the day. In these unique conditions the ultrasoft came into its own, but there was an interesting variation in strategy from Red Bull, which has opted to start the race on the supersoft. How these different tactics play out will be a key aspect of the race and potentially the championship outcome tomorrow.”
How the tyres behaved today:
Soft: Not seen in qualifying at all but will be a vital ingredient in tomorrow’s race.
Supersoft: The talking point in qualifying, with Red Bull opting to use them in Q2.
Ultrasoft: Around 0.7s.faster than the supersoft, used for the majority of running today.