Nico Rosberg may have taken his sixth pole position of the year in Abu Dhabi, but it was Force India’s Sergio Perez who received most of the plaudits after recording his best Formula 1 qualifying result on Saturday.
Perez displayed a good pace throughout the first two stages of qualifying, finishing third behind the two Mercedes drivers in both Q1 and Q2.
At one point in Q3, the Mexican even briefly threatened to challenge the Silver Arrows for a place on the front row after lapping within one-tenth of a second of Lewis Hamilton on his first run.
Perez could not match their pace on the final laps in Q3, while Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen was also able to edge him out by 0.133 seconds to leave the Force India driver fourth.
The result still marks Perez’s best-ever qualifying result, having previously only finished as high as fifth on a Saturday.
Although the Mexican started from P4 in Belgium 2012, Bahrain 2014 and Belgium 2015, he had qualified fifth for all three sessions before gaining a position by virtue of other drivers receiving penalties.
“Fourth place on the grid is a great result for us and I’m very pleased with our strong performance all the way through qualifying,” Perez said.
“We’ve made some good decisions this weekend with the changes we have made to the car and it’s taken us in a very positive direction. I think the analysis we carried out after the weekend in Sao Paulo has really paid off and we’ve learned a huge amount.
“All of my laps this evening were very clean and tidy, and we managed to get the maximum from the car. The challenge tomorrow will be keeping some very quick cars behind me, but I also think we have a good chance to make up some positions at the start.
“I have the confidence in the car to really push and there is definitely the potential to come away with a great result this weekend.
“In many ways it’s a shame that tomorrow is the final race of the season because the car is working very well at the moment and I’m enjoying the racing so much.”
Underpinning Perez’s good pace was teammate Nico Hulkenberg, who qualified seventh in the sister Force India car.
“It was a good qualifying session for the team, although I feel I could have been higher up the grid,” Hulkenberg admitted. “I was pretty happy with my laps, especially the one in Q3, so to find myself in seventh actually feels a little bit disappointing.
“We need to look at the data and figure out where we lost time and what we can do to recover it. Looking ahead to the race, we’ve been working hard to improve our race pace and hopefully the changes we have made will pay off tomorrow.
“The car is quick on the straights and the balance has felt good from the start of the weekend. Starting from the fourth row, we have every opportunity to score a good result tomorrow.”
Force India secured fifth place in the constructors’ championship last time out in Brazil, but will still be gunning to end the year on a high with a strong performance on Sunday in Abu Dhabi.
The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 7am ET on Sunday.