Max Verstappen beats Lewis Hamilton for pole at the F1 season finale in Abu Dhabi

Verstappen pole Abu Dhabi
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — A first Formula One championship for Max Verstappen was in reach after masterful Red Bull strategy helped the Dutchman win the pole position overcome an early qualifying mistake to beat Lewis Hamilton for the top starting spot in the title-deciding Abu Dhabi GP.

Verstappen flat-spotted his medium tires in Saturday qualifying, which forced Red Bull to blueprint a plan to give its star any sort of edge over his rival. Sergio Perez was tasked to help and went out first in the final qualifying segment – a move that allowed Perez to tow Verstappen down the long straight at Yas Marina Circuit before Perez bailed out and sacrificed his own lap to aid his teammate.

Verstappen clocked his lap at 1 minute, 22.109 seconds, good enough to hold off Hamilton by 0.371 seconds. The pole-sitter has won in Abu Dhabi the last six years, including Verstappen’s victory last season when he led all 55 laps around the yacht-filled marina.

He refused to presume his pole-winning run guaranteed that Verstappen will dethrone Hamilton’s run of four consecutive titles and become F1’s first Dutch world champion.

“First of all, I never look at the stats because these things can change at the start or whatever, the first lap,” Verstappen said. “I just need to focus on what we can control as a team.”

Hamilton on Sunday will attempt to win a record eighth championship to break a tie with Michael Schumacher. Hamilton and Verstappen are tied in the standings – the first time since 1974 that contenders were even going into the deciding race.

He liked his chances.

“We’re good. Happy that I’m on front row, I can see him,” Hamilton said. “I’m giving it everything.”

Hamilton could ultimately still have the advantage because of Verstappen’s mistake.

After Verstappen flat-spotted his medium tires in Q2, Red Bull changed to soft tires and will start Sunday’s race on rubber that won’t be as durable as the mediums for Hamilton and Mercedes. Red Bull boss Christian Horner said during qualifying “the lockup wasn’t ideal, that kind of forced our hand,” but neither he or his driver were worried.

“I wanted to try to start on the mediums but I flat-spotted,” Verstappen said. “But I felt good on the soft so it’s not really a difficult decision to make and then just say `OK.’ ”

Lando Norris for McLaren was a surprise third – beating out both Verstappen and Hamilton’s teammates. Perez was fourth for Red Bull, followed by Carlos Sainz of Ferrari and at last Hamilton’s outgoing Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas in a disappointing sixth.

Norris said he’ll have the best seat in the marina come Sunday.

“I’m very excited to see everything unfold, to see what goes on,” Norris said. “It’s just a genuine pleasure to be in this position to see everything that’s been going on this season between Max and Lewis and to watch the battles and to watch the racing.”

Hamilton was loudly booed by a sold-out crowd packed with Verstappen fans. The British driver shrugged off the reception, noting “there’s a lot of (Dutch) orange here,” but acknowledged “you’re always surprised by the boos no matter how many times you experience it.

“But I don’t care, it doesn’t make a difference to me,” he said. “If it was a cheer, if it was a boo, it makes no difference to how I go about my life. If anything, I use that as fuel.”

Hamilton won three consecutive races to slice all 19 points off Verstappen’s hold on the championship going into the finale, and this title fight has been likened to both James Hunt vs. Niki Lauda in 1976 and Ayrton Senna vs. Alain Prost in 1990.

But Hamilton has been involved in his own tense battles before, including a one-point victory over Felipe Massa for his first championship in 2008 and a five-point loss to teammate Nico Rosberg in 2016. He said this year is “a million times different” from 2016, his last challenge and defeat.

“Much, much different scenario,” said Hamilton, who added he’s a better driver and better teammate now. “We’re just in a different place in life. We’re just in a much better and happier place.”

Verstappen has faced heavy criticism this year for an aggressive driving style that has led to penalties from the stewards, an accusation by Hamilton last week that Verstappen drives over the line, and on-track collisions with his rival.

He’s said all weekend that he’s been treated unfairly on and off track, and Horner wondered if a narrative had not been formed to intentionally pressure Verstappen into mistakes.

Ahead of the finale, Verstappen said he was ready to go.

“For tonight and the coming hours, I think what’s most important is good sleep,” Verstappen said. “But also I have friends and family around, so I am not going to do anything different to what I normally have been doing.”

Supercross 2023: Results and points after Houston


Eli Tomac led all 23 laps of the Monster Energy Supercross race at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas and the results show he now has three wins in the season and is one shy of tying Ricky Carmichael’s 48 for third on the all-time list. With this win, he takes a seven point lead in the standings with 12 rounds remaining.

For Tomac at Houston, it was literally a tale of two races. Both his heat and the main started the same with Tomac grabbing the holeshot, but he was passed quickly by Chase Sexton in the heat. Tomac faded quickly after getting passed and was trailing by almost eight seconds at the checkered flag, which caused him to retreat to the hauler and reassess his lines. Without making any adjustments to the bike, Tomac entered the Main with a new attitude, and simply rode better.

Supercross Results Houston
Chase Sexton played it safe in the sand, but he was aggressive in every other turn. – Feld Motor Sports

Sexton had so great a lead in his heat that one could not even use the cliche that he left Tomac in his dust. By the time the rider with the No. 1 plate crossed the same real estate as the No. 23, the dust was well settled. Sexton had a modest start on the initial gate drop and ended Lap 1 in fourth. He worked his way past Aaron Plessinger on Lap 3 and got around Jason Anderson three laps later. Sexton was able to catch Tomac and pressure him, but he picked a safe, i.e. slow line through the sand section and could never get alongside his rival.

RESULTS: Click here for 450 Results; Click here for full 250 East Main Results

After starting the season with back-to-back seventh-place finishes, Anderson now has a pair of podiums. He won his heat and was easily one of the top three riders in the field, ultimately finishing behind the riders who finished 1-2 in the other preliminary. Anderson was subdued on the podium – happy he was there, but disappointed he has not yet found a way around the riders he is chasing in the points.

In the early stages of the race, Plessinger appeared to have a bike capable of winning. He pressured Tomac on the first two laps and was setting up the pass just as a red flag waved for an injury to Dylan Ferrandis that brought out a red flag. He lost second to Anderson on the restart and eventually slipped to fourth to score his first top-five of the season.

Click here for 450 Heat 1 | Heat 2 | Last Chance Qualifier

Cooper Webb rounded out the top five. Along with Sexton, he is now one of just two riders with a sweep of that mark in 2023, but with Tomac’s three wins, he is beginning to slip in the points. Webb sits third in the standings, 12 points behind the leader.

Ken Roczen entered the race as the third rider with a sweep of the top five and progressively better results in the first three races of 2023. Had the pattern held, he would have finished at least second, but he struggled for most of the night, finishing fifth in his heat and eighth in the Main. There may have been extenuating circumstances, however. Ferrandis’ injury was suffered when he landed on the back of Roczen’s bike and potentially damaged the No. 94 Suzuki.

Click here for 450 Main results | Rider Points | Manufacturer Points | Lap Chart

The 250 East division made their 2023 debut in Houston, but the name atop the board was familiar. Hunter Lawrence joined his brother Jett Lawrence as the early points’ leader in their respective divisions, but it didn’t come without a little anxiety.

Riding behind Supercross newbie Tom Vialle on the second lap, Lawrence was forced to take evasive action when the leader pitched his bike sideways to scrub speed over a jump. Lawrence veered left and landed off course, but he cleared the Tuff Blox and kept his bike straight. Lawrence made the pass for the lead on Lap 18 and never relinquished it.

Click here for 250 Heat 1 | Heat 2 | Last Chance Qualifier

In his first attempt on a 250, Max Anstie ascended to the podium. – Feld Motor Sports

England’s Max Anstie made the move from 450s to 250s this year after scoring a best result of 11th on the big bike at Anaheim 2 last year. It didn’t take anytime at all to find the front for Anstie, who finished second in both his heat and main.

It has been a while since Jordon Smith stood on the podium: February 23, 2019 to be exact when he finished that well in Detroit. A series of injuries kept him off the bike for much of 2020 and 2021, but he’s proving to be a factor when he’s healthy.

Click here for 250 Main results | 250 East Rider Points | Combined Rider Points | Lap Chart

There was a lot of hype surrounding the debut of Haiden Deegan in the 250 class and he proved it was merited. He finished fourth in his heat and main. He was as far down as ninth at one point in the feature before slowly picking off riders on his way to the front.

Jeremy Martin finished fifth and now has a streak of three consecutive top-fives to his credit stretching back to last year. Unfortunately, his pair of strong runs in 2022 were interrupted by injury.

Making impressive debuts in the 250 division, Vialle recovered from a fall to finish seventh, Chance Hymas finished eighth, and Talon Hawkins just missed the top 10 with an 11th.

2023 Results

Race 3: Chase Sexton, Levi Kitchen win
Race 2: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence win
Round 1: Tomac, Lawrence win

2023 SuperMotocross Power Rankings

Week 3: Ken Roczen takes the top spot
Week 2: Roczen moves up; Chase Sexton falls
Week 1: Eli Tomac tops 450s; Jett Lawrence 250s