Bottas on pole, Mercedes front-row lock-out in Abu Dhabi qualifying

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Valtteri Bottas edged out Mercedes Formula 1 teammate Lewis Hamilton in the final stage of qualifying for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Saturday to pick up the final pole position of the 2017 season.

After lagging behind Hamilton through all three practice sessions, Bottas appeared to make a step towards his teammate early in qualifying before taking provisional pole with a stunning opening lap in Q3 at the Yas Marina Circuit.

Bottas looked to have thrown away his advantage after a slow start to his final Q3 lap prompted Mercedes to send him back to the pits, with Hamilton improving and on course for his fourth pole in Abu Dhabi.

A mistake at the final corner saw Hamilton run wide and lose time, failing to improve in the process to leave Bottas on pole position for the season-closer.

As Mercedes locked out the top two positions, Ferrari and Red Bull shared the second and third rows, with Sebastian Vettel leading the way in third place ahead of Daniel Ricciardo, who squeezed ahead of Kimi Raikkonen with his final qualifying lap.

Max Verstappen had a difficult qualifying in the second Red Bull, finishing over a second off Bottas in sixth, with Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg ending the session as the leading midfielder in P7.

Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon grabbed eighth and ninth place on the grid for Force India, while Felipe Massa will start his final F1 grand prix from P10 on the grid after barging his way through to Q3 at the expense of Fernando Alonso.

The final qualifying session of the McLaren-Honda partnership failed to offer much joy as both Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne dropped out in Q2, finishing 11th and 13th respectively.

Carlos Sainz Jr. failed to make it through to Q3 after a slow final effort due to a suspected power unit issue, taking 12th, while Kevin Magnussen and Lance Stroll filled out the Q2 dropzone in 14th and 15th.

The race for P6 in the constructors’ championship took an early twist in qualifying as both Toro Rossos and one of the Haas drivers were eliminated at the first hurdle, playing to Renault’s favor.

Romain Grosjean was bumped out in Q1 by Stroll’s late lap, while Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley were 17th and 20th respectively, split by the Sauber pair of Pascal Wehrlein and Marcus Ericsson.

The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 7am ET on Sunday.

 

Fernando Alonso will decide this summer whether to pursue F1 again

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Fernando Alonso said he will determine by this summer if he would consider a return to Formula One next season.

After announcing Tuesday that he will return to Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May with Arrow McLaren Racing SP, Alonso said “right now the Indy 500 will take all of my concentration” but left the door open for F1 in 2021.

“In my case, probably during the summer period, I’ll make a decision on 2021 if Formula One is still appealing to me,” Alonso told IndyCar on NBC announcer Leigh Diffey in an interview (watch the video above). “The 2021 rules (in F1) are definitely a step forward, and hopefully things can be more mixed and not only three teams capable of winning races. So all this factors into play. I may consider that possibility.”

Alonso won consecutive Formula One championships in 2005-06 with Renault. He has 32 victories in an F1 career that started in 2001 and also includes stints at Ferrari and McLaren.

His last victory on the circuit was May 12, 2013 in Barcelona. He is winless in his most recent 110 starts, including the past 77 races with McLaren in 2015-18.

The Guardian recently reported that McLaren CEO Zak Brown said Alonso wouldn’t be returning to F1 with the team.

Alonso also told Diffey that returning to F1 from a two-season absence wouldn’t necessarily be linked to McLaren’s performance.

“I think they did well last year, and hopefully they make another step forward and close to the top three because they deserve it and are a fantastic team,” he said.

Though he is optimistic about more parity, Alonso said six-time champion Lewis Hamilton should be a favorite for the 2020 title based on preseason testing in which Mercedes turned heads with a new steering system.

“It seemed Mercedes is still quite competitive,” Alonso said. “They show enormous potential on the development side and on the progress from one year to next. Formula One is impossible to predict because many things happen in season.

“At the starting point, (Mercedes) are the favorites. When you have Lewis in the car and Mercedes with the potential they have, they have to be No. 1 probably.”