'Grateful' Hamilton on pole with record lap as Mercedes dominate
Abu Dhabi, Nov 24 (AFP) New five-time champion Lewis Hamilton smashed the lap record as he secured pole position at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and led team-mate Valtteri Bottas to Mercedes to another front-row lockout.
In a scintillating performance, the Englishman clocked a best lap in one minute and 34.794 seconds to outstrip Bottas by almost two-tenths of a second. It is his 11th pole of the season and the 83rd of his career.
Four-time champion Sebastian Vettel was third ahead of his Ferrari team-mate Sauber-bound Kimi Raikkonen, Renault-bound Daniel Ricciardo and his Red Bull team-mate Max Verstappen.
Romain Grosjean was seventh for Haas ahead of Ferrari-bound Charles Leclerc of Sauber, Esteban Ocon of Force India and Nico Hulkenberg of Renault.
Hamilton kissed his car after the session.
"I'm so grateful for all the support we've had here. It's emotional for me because it's the last lap I'll do in this car. I've been so emotionally attached to it.
"I'm just happy that this car will be in the history museum at Mercedes in Germany so I can go visit whenever I can!
"I never say there's a perfect lap, but the first lap wasn't spectacular. That last one started off kind of calm, but got more aggressive - and Valtteri did a great job, too!"
Bottas, still seeking his first win of the season back at the track where he last tasted victory, was again left frustrated by the imperious Hamilton's unbeatable pace.
"For sure, I was aiming for pole - I had a good race here last year, but I couldn't repeat that. It wasn't what I expected, but is still good for us because - even though we have secured the championships - we can still be one-two for the final race.
"I was performing well, but I couldn't beat his time. He did such a great job."
The session began with the sun and the temperature descending rapidly after a hot day in the mid-thirties Celsius. These changing conditions posed a challenge for tyre-wear in particular at the picturesque Yas Marina circuit.
Having been fastest in final practice, Hamilton was the initial benchmark, but Ferrari set the early pace before Q1 was concluded with the floodlights glowing.
Vettel was quickest ahead of Bottas and the top six were separated by only three-tenths of a second as both Toro Rossos were eliminated, unexpectedly, along with Stoffel Vandoorne of McLaren and the two Williams of Sergey Sirotkin and Lance Stroll.
Gasly, involved in a clash with Grosjean in final practice, pulled up after his lap with a power failure that, he said, had cost him seven-tenths.
"I lost everything," he complained.
Fernando Alonso. in his last race before retiring, proceeded to Q2 in 14th place.
"Still not fast enough, but a good effort," he chuckled on team radio before Mercedes were swiftly out again on ultra-soft tyres, chosen to extract pace from the improved conditions with the falling track temperature.
Hamilton stunningly smashed the circuit record with a lap in one minute 35.693 - Bottas' pole lap in 2017 was 1:36.231.
An unhappy Verstappen was only 10th after his first run.
For a second run, Hamilton switched to the 'stickier' hyper-softs, the rest following suit except for Vettel on ultras - significant because the tyres used in Q2 are used to start the race.
Verstappen, in the final seconds, went second on hyper-softs to secure his place in the top-ten shootout while out went Carlos Sainz of Renault, Marcus Ericsson of Sauber, Kevin Magnussen of Haas, Sergio Perez of Force India and Alonso, 15th in his 311th and final Grand Prix.
In Q3, on hyper-softs, Grosjean set a marker before Hamilton, with a scruffy lap, clocked 1:35.295 -- enough to lift him a tenth clear of Bottas before Vettel went second 0.057 seconds adrift.
With three minutes remaining, Hamilton was first out again on hyper-softs to engage with his final race against the clock this year and delivered in record-breaking style