L ewis Hamilton stopped in front of the time monitor. The man, who has now achieved 88 pole positions in his career, studied the result for a few seconds while Valtteri Bottas and Max Verstappen sit down for the press conference. You could tell by Hamilton. The world champion was enjoying the moment. Hamilton enjoyed his first pole position since the German GP.
That was four months ago. In the fast-paced Formula 1, that's an eternity. Especially for someone who broke all records in qualifying. 'It feels like my first Pole, and not like the 88. Maybe it's because it was so long ago,' said the six-time title holder. For the fifth time, Hamilton will start from first place in the season that has almost ended. Team mate Valtteri Bottas took just as many pole positions. Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc even two more.
Why is it that the qualifying king was defeated this year? “I just wasn't always at one with the car in qualifying. And my opponents were very strong. The last time I had the chance, she stole Valtteri from me. And in Japan I also had the opportunity, but then Ferrari suddenly turned it up. ”Hamilton promises:“ I've learned from this season. I'll use that in 2020. ”That almost sounds like a threat to the competition.
Long lap helps Mercedes
Hamilton achieved two rounds at a high level in the third qualifying round. Even the first attempt, which was half a tenth slower, would have been enough for pole position. Team-mate Valtteri Bottas, on the other hand, only spoke of decent laps. The Finn was fined 0.194Seconds a. “The Pole wouldn't have brought me anything anyway. With the new engine, I start from the very back anyway. That is why I concentrated on the race set-up during practice sessions, ”reported the Finn. The engineers add. “The setup of Lewis and Valtteri is not that different.”
Max Verstappen will start eight meters back from Hamilton. Red Bulls Sperrspitze benefits from the relocation at Mercedes. It prevents the sixth front row in a row for the world championship team in Abu Dhabi. Nevertheless, Mercedes emphasized that the Yas Marina Circuit is as if painted for the silver cars.
Several factors come together. The round is relatively long at 5.554 kilometers. There are a lot of curves. And most of them, namely eleven, form the last sector. No car knows how to have the tires at the beginning of the lap and to bring them over the lap without overheating.
The change of direction is decisive
Red Bull has been confirmed. Even before the race weekend, the team had expected to be second behind Mercedes in Abu Dhabi. Hamilton was faster than Verstappen in all three sections of the route. In total, the dark blue car with the yellow bull separated 0.360 seconds from the silver one. “We just don't have enough grip,” explained Verstappen. The first lap in Q3 was better than the second. “My lap was really decent. I don't see much room for improvement. There was nothing I could have done against Mercedes. They are super strong in the last sector. They can get through the banked corners better, ”said the World Cup third. The team noticed a small mistake. At Turn 17, Verstappen could have been faster. Then it might even have been enough for Bottas. Although that is actually irrelevant due to the penalty transfer.
There are two special places on the Yas Marina Circuit where Mercedes is superior to the Red Bull. Where the cars quickly change direction. Between turns eight and nine and especially at the entrance to the last sector between turns 11, 12 and 13. Red Bull was slightly faster on the straights. Although you ended up in the back field even when measuring your top speed. Verstappen was 322.6 km /h fast before turn eight, Hamilton 1.5 km /h slower.
Ferrari only with 15 kilowatts more
Ferrari once again greeted from the other end, but was left behind for one lap. Especially in comparison with Mercedes. Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc reached 329 and 327.2 km /h. “You're damn fast on the straights. That gives them a car that can be overtaken in the race. That's why we can't write them off, ”says Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff. His star driver also sees Ferrari as a danger. “Look at Leclerc's lap time on the medium tire in Q2. He was faster than Valtteri and me. ”Ferrari does not want to write off Verstappen either. “They'll be there.” But the Dutchman also says: “I'm not worried and I won't sleep badly because of them.
Despite the high top speeds, Ferrari once again failed to crush its competitors on the straights. Since the GP USA, since the two technical directives, neither Mercedes nor Red Bull have noticed the previously wondrous power boost of more than 50 hp. It is unclear whether it is actually related to the technical directives. Ferrari denies it. According to Red Bull, the power deficit has melted to 15 kilowatts at its peak. That is just over 20 hp. 'We noticed that Ferrari is not driving with maximum downforce,' say Red Bull's engineers. Less drag equals higher top speeds.
Long way for Bottas
Friday's long runs and qualifying determine a clear favorite: Mercedes. There is equal opportunity when choosing tires. Mercedes and Red Bull start on medium tires. That is why the Milton Keynes team only sees outsider opportunities. “We have to be realistic. You also have a super-fast racing car, 'says Verstappen. The team said: “Our great opportunities are the start and the strategy. Maybe we can stay tuned and bring her to her knees with an earlier pit stop. '
Bottas has a long way to go. “Normally he is sixth with two Ferraris, two Red Bulls and Lewis in front. If Valtteri made it into the top five or even into the top four, he would have had a very good race, 'says team principal Wolff. “It's going to be a challenge. But it will probably also be quite fun, 'enthuses Bottas.
One more question remains. Why did the Finn drive the entire qualifying and therefore has to start on the used medium tire. “We wanted to give him the opportunity to do a lot of laps and shoot himself in. This is also important for his head. And for us it is important for the performance comparison, 'explains Wolff. The strategists also provide a second explanation. They wanted to force Alexander Albon at Red Bull to qualify for Q3 on soft tires. That would give Bottas better prospects in the racehad to cash the Thai. But Albon came to the last part on the medium tire. The set of tires used will cost Bottas something at the start. And it shortens the mileage in the first part of the race.