Formula 1

Red Bull recovers from Verstappen set-up dramas to take pole

by Ben Anderson
5 min read

Max Verstappen and Red Bull overcame their practice session set-up difficulties to set pole position for the final race of the 2023 Formula 1 season in Abu Dhabi.

Verstappen was more than seven tenths off the pace in FP3, complaining his RB19 was bouncing and bottoming on the Yas Marina F1 circuit, and requiring suspension set-up adjustments very late into the session.

But come qualifying Verstappen and his Red Bull were working in harmony once more and the world champion led each segment of qualifying to set his 12th pole position of the season.

Verstappen didn’t manage to improve on his final Q3 lap, but it was still quicker than anyone else managed and he ended up 0.139 seconds clear thanks to his banker run.

McLaren looked to be Red Bull’s closest challenger, but a mistake from Lando Norris on his final flying lap meant he tumbled from second to fifth as Charles Leclerc - to his own surprise - produced another special lap to launch his Ferrari onto the front row, almost two tenths clear of the next quickest car.

That was driven by Oscar Piastri, who was third quickest for McLaren, though is involved in an impeding investigation with Alpine’s Pierre Gasly.

George Russell has looked fast all weekend and he ended up fourth quickest for Mercedes, just 0.006s away from Piastri’s time.

Yuki Tsunoda was a superb sixth in the upgraded AlphaTauri, a tenth clear of Fernando Alonso’s Aston Martin.

Sergio Perez should have been sixth in the second Red Bull but had his best lap deleted for a track limits offence at Turn 1 so ended up only ninth, behind the impressive Haas of Nico Hulkenberg.

Once again, Perez looked nowhere close to Verstappen's pace and was always playing catch-up through each segment of qualifying.

Tenth fastest Gasly also had his best Q3 lap deleted for track limits, though it was only fractionally quicker than the used-tyre effort he managed on his first run.

Lewis Hamilton suspected after such limited Friday practice for him that making Q3 would be a challenge. He looked a step behind Russell’s pace throughout qualifying and was the highest-profile elimination in Q2.

Hamilton missed the top-10 cut by less than a tenth to Piastri’s McLaren, but completed two runs in Q2 whereas Piastri relied on his original Q2 lap having realised he didn’t need to finish what was shaping up to be a faster lap.

“Something not right with this car,” reported Hamilton over team radio, having been bumped out by brilliant laps from Hulkenberg and Gasly on the second runs in Q2.

Esteban Ocon’s Alpine, Lance Stroll’s Aston Martin, Alex Albon’s Williams and Daniel Ricciardo’s AlphaTauri all joined Hamilton in being eliminated in Q2.

Albon’s new-tyre flying lap was good enough for fifth at one stage, but he ran earlier than everyone else and slipped back to 14th as others improved.

Ricciardo was two tenths off Tsunoda’s pace in Q2, while Stroll was almost three tenths off Alonso, which proved crucial in such a congested part of the grid.

Ocon, who is feeling unwell this weekend, was a full three tenths off Gasly in Q2.

Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari was the shock elimination in Q1, missing the Q2 cut by 0.138s to Gasly’s Alpine.

Sainz has been on the back foot since suffering a huge accident early in FP2, and struggled in FP3 too.

He complained of “so much traffic” on his final run, where he found less than a tenth of a second compared to his earlier effort - which had Sainz comfortably inside the top 10.

“It was a very bad situation leaving the pits as the last car,” he said. “It’s our fault, we went out too late. We had a problem with the front wing. It’s been a tricky weekend."

Having one can start near the back is a further blow in Ferrari’s quest to overhaul Mercedes for second in the constructors’ championship - which Sainz described as now looking "difficult".

Kevin Magnussen, the Alfa Romeo pair and Logan Sargeant’s Williams joined Sainz in being eliminated at the first hurdle.

Magnussen will be disappointed to end up only 17th fastest in the new-spec Haas, given team-mate Hulkenberg put the old-spec car eighth in Q1 and was more than three tenths faster.

Valtteri Bottas was top-10 fast on his first Q1 run, but slipped out despite finding a couple of tenths on the second attempt.

Zhou Gunayu was some way off his team-mate’s pace after having his first Q1 lap deleted for track limits.

Sargeant will be bitterly disappointed having set a time comfortably fast enough to make the top 15 - but he had both his Q1 laps deleted for running wide through Turn 1 so ended up last of the 20 runners with no laptime recorded.

Qualifying Result

PosNameCarQ1Q2Q3
1Max VerstappenRed Bull1m24.160s1m23.740s1m23.445s
2Charles LeclercFerrari1m24.459s1m23.969s1m23.584s
3Oscar PiastriMcLaren-Mercedes1m24.487s1m24.278s1m23.782s
4George RussellMercedes1m24.337s1m24.013s1m23.788s
5Lando NorrisMcLaren-Mercedes1m24.368s1m23.920s1m23.816s
6Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri-Honda RBPT1m24.286s1m24.207s1m23.968s
7Fernando AlonsoAston Martin-Mercedes1m24.501s1m24.131s1m24.084s
8Nico HülkenbergHaas-Ferrari1m24.425s1m24.213s1m24.108s
9Sergio PérezRed Bull1m24.209s1m24.116s1m24.171s
10Pierre GaslyAlpine-Renault1m24.600s1m24.078s1m24.548s
11Lewis HamiltonMercedes1m24.437s1m24.359s
12Esteban OconAlpine-Renault1m24.565s1m24.391s
13Lance StrollAston Martin-Mercedes1m24.405s1m24.422s
14Alex AlbonWilliams-Mercedes1m24.298s1m24.439s
15Daniel RicciardoAlphaTauri-Honda RBPT1m24.461s1m24.442s
16Carlos SainzFerrari1m24.738s
17Kevin MagnussenHaas-Ferrari1m24.764s
18Valtteri BottasAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1m24.788s
19Guanyu ZhouAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1m25.159s
20Logan SargeantWilliams-Mercedes
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