Abu Dhabi F1: Lewis Hamilton relieved after ending long wait for pole position
Bottas sets second fastest lap in qualifying but pushed to back of the grid because of penalties
He's been avoiding the public eye over the race weekend, but Lewis Hamilton showed he is still very much invested in the 2019 season by securing pole position for Sunday's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
The world champion took the top slot over Valtteri Bottas, who was 0.194 seconds slower in Saturday's qualifying session, with Red Bull's Max Verstappen setting the third fastest lap.
Hamilton managed the fastest time in the first runs in Q3 with a time of 1 minute 34.828 seconds, which he later hammered down by a few hundredths of a second to 1 minute 34.779 seconds.
"It was a very good qualifying session for us," the Briton said. "It's not been the easiest in terms of qualifying throughout the year. Considering we're not developing the car at the moment, we just really tried to see what we could pull out of the bag this weekend."
The team had obviously been doing something right as the car had been feeling good, he added, saying the vehicle is well suited to the Yas circuit.
"Of course, it's incredibly satisfying to know that we've been doing the right thing."
This is the 88th pole position of Hamilton's career and his fifth of 2019, but, as he is only too aware, his first since the German Grand Prix in late July. He said it seemed longer than that since he'd been in this position, a period of time that made this particular achievement "feel super fresh".
"It's been such a long slog trying to get pole position," Hamilton said.
"Yesterday was quite wobbly so I had to re-compose myself last night and come back today focused. I managed to really dial in the car with great work from the engineers, mechanics."
Hamilton, Bottas and Verstappen appeared together before the media as the three fastest in qualifying, and there was a noticeable lack of tension. The trio joked in between questions, and, despite some illness on Bottas's part, seemed upbeat about what lay ahead.
It was a good day for Bottas, but his time is irrelevant – he'll be starting at the back of the grid due to penalties Mercedes incurred for using more replacement parts on his car than is allowed over the season.
Commentators, therefore, are viewing the key battle to be between Hamilton and Verstappen.
For his part, the Belgian had cited problems with his car in earlier practice sessions, but he said those had been ironed out in time before qualifying.
However, while not underestimating the task involved in securing a victory over Hamilton, Verstappen said that was precisely his goal.
"I think Mercedes is really quick but we will give it everything we have in the race," Verstappen said.
Lower down in the order, Charles Leclerc beat Ferrari team mate Sebastian Vettel with the fourth best time.
The pair collided in Brazil two weeks ago, resulting in a meeting at the Maranello factory to 'clear the air'.
A few more sparks flew on Saturday, Leclerc apparently missing out on a final flying lap with Vettel slowing down in front of him.
"We're not going to make it, Seb is slowing down," Leclerc said over the team radio.
"It is life sometimes, it happens. I don't know if the situation was unlucky or we could've done something better," he later said.
Verstappen's team mate Alex Albon took sixth spot, with McLaren's Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz managing seventh and ninth respectively, and Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg of Renault in at eight and ten.
All the drivers below Bottas move up a slot, due to the penalty imposed on the Mercedes driver.
Five of the 10 races in Abu Dhabi have been won from pole position and Mercedes have emerged victorious in the last five races. No wonder team boss Toto Wolff seemed upbeat.
"We have had a clean record here in Abu Dhabi, it's a track that suits us and suits him," Wolff said.
Updated: November 30, 2019 08:48 PM