Abu Dhabi Qualifying Report: Hamilton takes first blood in the championship showdown

Lewis Hamilton handled the pressure to claim a dominant pole position as Nico Rosberg qualified second at Yas Marina but Daniel Ricciardo lies in wait as he attempts to put the Cat amongst the Pigeons on race day.

Heading into the session, Mercedes AMG Petronas boss Toto Wolff predicted that both Red Bull and Scuderia Ferrari would be snapping at their heels when the drivers set their qualifying laps in anger. The German alluded to the fact that they had some engine performance in hand, however with their quick laps in FP3 set fairly early on in the session, he was unsure as to how much the track had evolved during the hour as Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel went quickest.

Hamilton and Wehrlein impress in Q1

As attention turned to the first part of qualifying, Lewis Hamilton started as he meant to go on with a blistering 1:39.487 on the ultra-soft tyre. His team-mate’s effort was a little over a second shy as he failed to put together a lap without error.

As was expected following a somewhat chaotic third practice session, the Scuderia Toro Rosso duo of Carlos Sainz and Daniil Kyat failed to navigate Q1 as their lack of setup time came back to haunt them. Pascal Wherein impressed for Manor Racing as he secured a slot in the second part of qualifying for the fifth time this season, capitalising on the woes at Toro Rosso and a mistake from Kevin Magnussen in the Renault.

Rosberg inches closer in Q2

The Silver Arrows were on-track first in the second part of qualifying, and Nico Rosberg closed the gap to his team-mate as the chasm between the two from Q1 was narrowed as he managed a more solid jaunt around the Yas Marina circuit this time round.

In the final Formula One race of his career, Felipe Massa edged into the final part of qualifying just ahead of his former team-mate Fernando Alonso in the McLaren Honda. Massa’s Williams Martini Racing colleague Valtteri Bottas was unable to match his performance as salt was rubbed into the season’s wounds as both Sahara Force Indias progressed.

Hamilton ahead as we head into Sunday

It was first blood to Hamilton following the first runs in Q3 as he recovered from an ordinary first sector to pump in impressive times in two after. His lap time of 1:39.013 was three and a half tenths quicker than his team-mate’s as the two Mercedes were inevitably at the summit of the timesheets.

The tension was palpable as the second runs were underway. Again the first sector allowed Rosberg to creep up to his team-mate, however Hamilton was supreme in sectors two and three as he held his nerve to take pole position by three tenths of a second.

The Mercedes head honchos of Niki Lauda and Toto Wolff can breathe a sigh of relief as the mischievous Max Verstappen could only manage sixth position. With Verstappen being so far back the start of the race will be a more relaxed affair although one can’t rule out Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo splitting the two as they barrel into the first corner on Sunday afternoon.

The Ferraris completed the top five as Kimi Raikkonen heaped misery onto his team-mate by qualifying fourth and winning their season-long qualifying battle. The Force Indias of Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez qualified in seventh and eighth respectively and it was Alonso and Massa who posted times ninth and tenth fastest.

With Hamilton taking the plaudits on Saturday and heaping the pressure on to his team-mate, the question is whether Nico Rosberg can handle the situation and take his place amongst the pantheon of Formula One world champions.

Headline image source: http://www.f1.com

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