Friday, February 24, 2017

F1: Will Lewis Hamilton beat Nico Rosberg to title after Abu Dhabi GP pole?

Mercedes’ British driver Lewis Hamilton gestures after taking pole position in the qualifying session as part of the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at the Yas Marina circuit on Saturday. Pic/AFP

Abu Dhabi: Lewis Hamilton set the fastest time in qualifying for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix to seize a dominant pole position ahead of Nico Rosberg for today’s championship showdown between the Mercedes pair.

Hamilton, who has led Rosberg in every session so far this weekend, lapped the floodlit 5.5-kilometer long Yas Marina circuit in one minute, 38.755 seconds. The Briton was the only driver to lap in the one minute 38s, beating the German by a commanding 0.303-second margin.

Great weekend so far: Lewis
“It’s been a great weekend so far,” said Hamilton, after taking his 12th pole of the season. “So far this weekend just been solely focused on getting this position. Perfect position for tomorrow.”

Yesterday’s pole was the 61st of Hamilton’s career, just four short of his idol Ayrton Senna’s haul, and the first time he has beaten Rosberg in qualifying for the Abu Dhabi race since the former childhood friends teamed up at Mercedes in 2013. But while it also significantly boosts his chances of racing to a tenth win of the year, with the Yas Marina track tricky to pass on, it may still not be enough to clinch him a fourth world title.

The 31-year-old heads into Sunday’s twilight finale 12 points behind Rosberg in the overall standings. All the German, winner of nine races this year, needs to clinch a maiden title triumph is a third-place finish regardless of what Hamilton does. Starting second, he remains the odds on championship favourite, even if he wasn’t thrilled to be beaten by Hamilton.

Rosberg: Not ecstatic
“Not ecstatic by today,” said Rosberg, making it clear he goes into today’s race gunning for the win rather than aiming to play the percentages. “Lewis just did a great job. It wasn’t possible for me to do that time today even though I gave it everything.”

Nico Rosberg
Nico Rosberg

Daniel Ricciardo starts third with the Ferrari pair of Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel sandwiched between the Australian and team-mate Max Verstappen in sixth.

The two Red Bulls will start the race on the more durable super-soft tyre, compared to the Mercedes and Ferrari cars on the ultra-softs. Their alternative strategy could see them play a role in the title battle if it puts them in the thick of the fight between Hamilton and Rosberg.

“We’ve got to try something,” said Ricciardo. “Hopefully it puts us in the fight.” Felipe Massa made it through to the concluding shootout phase in the final qualifying session of his career. The Brazilian will start his 250th and last Grand Prix tenth, having outqualified Williams team-mate Valtteri Bottas who was 11th. Jenson Button, who is also expecting today’s race to be his swansong, only just missed out on a top-ten starting slot. He starts 12th in his McLaren.

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