Lewis Hamilton gave his chances of claiming a fourth Formula 1 world championship on Sunday a boost by capturing pole position for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Hamilton enters the final race of the season trailing Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg by 12 points in the drivers’ standings, the latter requiring a top-three finish to clinch a maiden world title.
Hamilton enjoyed the early edge on Rosberg in Q1, going over a second faster than his title rival with his first flying lap after the German got a snap of oversteer coming out of Turn 9 to leave him P5 ahead of Q2.
Rosberg looked set to beat Hamilton’s time in Q2 after outpacing the Briton through the opening two sectors, only to run slightly wide heading under the Viceroy Hotel, costing him a tenth to Hamilton.
Hamilton continued to enjoy his advantage through their first runs in Q3, recording the fastest lap of the weekend to go three-tenths of a second clear of Rosberg and leave the German in need of a mighty final effort if he were to take pole.
Although Rosberg was able to find the time and beat Hamilton’s existing benchmark, Hamilton went faster still to record a lap of 1:38.755 and score his 12th pole position of the season.
Rosberg was left to settle for second, meaning the two title rivals will be side-by-side for the start of the showdown at Yas Marina.
Red Bull, meanwhile, laid the early foundations to play championship spoiler on Sunday by getting both Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo through to Q3 on super-soft tires, giving the team more strategy options for Sunday’s race.
Ricciardo was able to qualify third in Q3, finishing half a second off Rosberg, but an error from Verstappen on his final lap left him sixth on the grid.
Kimi Raikkonen qualified fourth for Ferrari ahead of teammate Sebastian Vettel in P5, giving the Finn a season victory in head-to-head qualifying, the score finishing at 11-10. Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez qualified seventh and eighth for Force India ahead of Fernando Alonso in ninth.
Felipe Massa secured a top-10 grid slot for his final grand prix, ending Q3 in 10th place, while Williams teammate Valtteri Bottas narrowly lost out at the end of Q2, leaving the Finn 11th on the grid for Sunday.
Jenson Button will start what looks set to be his last F1 race from 12th on the grid, with a late improvement in Q2 not enough to get him a top-10 position.
Haas’ final qualifying session of its rookie year ended with a failure routine result as Esteban Gutierrez and Romain Grosjean qualified P13 and P14 respectively, the latter having struggled with his tires throughout Q2.
Jolyon Palmer continued his impressive recent form by qualifying 15th for Renault, with Pascal Wehrlein also providing an upset in P16 as he took Manor through to Q2 for the fifth time in 2016.
Toro Rosso’s troublesome weekend continued in Q1 as both Daniil Kvyat and Carlos Sainz Jr. fell at the first hurdle. Kvyat will start 17th on Sunday, while Sainz ailed to a lowly P21, 2.9 seconds off Hamilton at the front.
Kevin Magnussen was another surprise drop-out in Q1, finishing 18th after late laps from teammate Palmer and Wehrlein shuffled him back. Felipe Nasr opted an early final run, leaving him 19th ahead of Manor’s Esteban Ocon, while Sauber teammate Marcus Ericsson qualified last.
The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 7am ET on Sunday.
The two-day Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Test concluded on Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
Combined times after the two days of running are below, with Nico Jamin (Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires) and Oliver Askew (Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires) remaining on top from Saturday to Sunday, and Darren Keane (Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda) supplanting Andres Gutierrez at the head of that field.
Previous notebooks are linked here (Friday, Saturday), with additional Sunday notes to follow.
Several drivers pulled double duty between series, namely Parker Thompson (Exclusive Autosport in Pro Mazda and USF2000), Carlos Cunha (Juncos Racing in Indy Lights and Pro Mazda) and Aaron Telitz (Team Pelfrey in Pro Mazda, RJB Motorsports in USF2000). Telitz (above) added a run in Pro Mazda in Team Pelfrey’s No. 82 car; the Wisconsinite has done a lot of the series’ testing for the new Pro Mazda Tatuus PM-18, and had hoped to run all three series. We’ll have more meanwhile on Thompson and Exclusive’s double in the days to come; the Michael Duncalfe-led team out of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan was one of three new Pro Mazda teams adding those cars to USF2000 efforts (Pabst Racing, BN Racing) this week.
There were a handful of drivers that changed cars or teams for Sunday’s second day of the test, primarily in USF2000. While Keane ran both days at Newman Wachs, the Brian Halahan-managed team ran David Osborne and Oscar DeLuzuriaga in the Nos. 37 and 38 cars, taking over from Jake Craig and Max Peichel. Osborne switched from Team Pelfrey, where he ran Saturday, and where Jacob Loomis ran Sunday. Justin Gordon ran a second Exclusive Autosport chassis, switching to the No. 90 on Sunday after running the No. 92 Saturday.
The PM-18 best lap set by Askew is more than three seconds faster than the series’ official track record (Pato O’Ward in 2016, at 1:22.8800, 105.941 mph). Askew’s best time of 1:19.8142 averages 110.010 mph around the 2.439-mile circuit. Neither the Indy Lights nor USF2000 cars eclipsed the existing lap records in those categories.
Drivers largely extolled the PM-18’s outright pace and potential with the horsepower upgrade, in what is a significant step forward for the series. “Following prototype testing of the new PM-18, I believed that we had a special race car and this weekend’s testing confirms that,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “Based on team and driver comments, this is a fantastic race car and I am very pleased with what Tatuus, Elite Engines and my team have assembled. It fits perfectly in between the USF-17 and the IL-15 in terms of lap times and, more importantly, it takes what a driver learns in the first step and introduces higher HP, higher grip and higher aero. This will be a great training car for years to come, and seeing our program now with three excellent and well-designed cars is very satisfying to me.”
Keane, one of the few veterans (relatively speaking) within USF2000 was plugged in this weekend as the only driver outside Pabst Racing to threaten the top of the timesheets. “It’s a good boost in confidence for me heading into next year. I am really happy with how everything is going with the team. They are a great group of guys and it’s just really good to see us improving and being where we want to be,” he said.
Rinus Veekay hailed the Indy Lights Dallara IL-15 Mazda this weekend in his first test there, although the talented Dutch teenager may well focus on Pro Mazda next season and shoot to win that championship, and continue his battle with Askew established in USF2000. “The car is very nice, quick,” noted VeeKay. “You can really feel the downforce and it was a pleasure to drive.”
The MRTI is done with official running for the year, but the $200,000 MRTI Scholarship Shootout remains in December at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, the former Firebird Raceway, outside Phoenix. The winner of that will get a ticket into USF2000 for the 2018 season.
Full MRTI spring training will take place at Homestead-Miami Speedway in February 2018, with undoubtedly a bevy of driver and team announcements to come over the following months.