Hamilton on pole for grand finale
LEWIS Hamilton completed one half of his vow to end his championship-winning campaign in style as he put his Mercedes on pole position for the seasonclosing Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Hamilton, who secured his fifth title with two rounds to spare in Mexico last month, will be joined on the front row by Valtteri Bottas, with Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen third and fourth for Ferrari.
Fernando Alonso is ending his 18-season career in the desert today and, in his final Formula One qualifying session, the two-time world champion finished 15th.
Hamilton, 33, has been in the form of his life this year, dominating Vettel in a title fight that many had expected to go to the wire. And it was fitting that he would secure his 11th pole of the season at the final round as he goes in search of his 11th win.
Under the lights of the Yas Marina circuit, Hamilton danced his way to the top of the time sheets, finishing 0.162 seconds clear of Bottas, and a third of a second faster than Vettel.
“It was quite an emotional qualifying session, because it is the last time I will qualify in this car,” said Hamilton, who kissed and massaged his car in gratitude.
“I am closest to this car than I have been to any other. It has not always been easy, but it has been a real privilege this year. To go out there and express yourself, and push the car the way you want, there is no better feeling.
“The first lap wasn’t spectacular, but that last one started off calm, and then I got more and more aggressive. The last sector was a killer, and that is where I made the difference.”
Vettel, who has been victorious at just one race since the summer break as his challenge faded, said: “I am confident for tomorrow, so it should be good fun challenging these guys, and I will give it everything I have.”
The sport will throw on a paddock party for Alonso in celebration of a career which has yielded 32 victories, and two titles.
Yet, the Spaniard’s only hope for his final outing is set to be a point, or maybe two, as he lines up an underwhelming 15th of the 20 runners.
Alonso, 37, will take some comfort from out-qualifying his McLaren team-mate 21-0 over the course of his final season. The last driver to manage that? Alonso, in 2008 with Nelson Piquet Jr as his Renault team-mate.
It will be 100 and out for Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull career today, and he ended his final Saturday with the team on something of a high, by edging Max Verstappen out to finish fifth. The Dutchman will line up one place lower, in sixth.