Seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton returned for this weekend after missing the Sakhir GP due to testing positive for Covid-19 and looked to be embroiled in a battle for pole with Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas – but Verstappen crashed their party with an epic Q3 lap.
In the top-10 shootout, Hamilton set the bar on the first run at 1m35.550s but Bottas eclipsed that with 1m35.415s, and Verstappen pushed Hamilton down to third by 0.031s.
Hamilton unleashed a 1m35.332s on the second run, but Bottas beat him with a 1m35.271s, before Verstappen crossed the line with a session-topping 1m35.246s. It was his first pole since Brazil 2019.
Lando Norris (McLaren) was best of the rest, ahead of Alex Albon (Red Bull), Carlos Sainz (McLaren), Daniil Kvyat (AlphaTauri), Lance Stroll (Racing Point), Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) and Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri).
Leclerc has a three-place grid penalty for causing a Lap 1 crash in last weekend’s Sakhir GP.
In Qualifying 2, Mercedes ran the medium tyres with Hamilton setting the pace at 1m35.466, 0.061s ahead of Bottas. Verstappen was third fastest, also on mediums, ahead of Albon, who led the soft users.
Knocked out at this point were the Renaults of Esteban Ocon and Daniel Ricciardo, Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari), Antonio Giovinazzi (Alfa Romeo) and Sergio Perez, who just used this session to prep some tyres for the race due to a grid penalty.
In Qualifying 1, Bottas set the pace 1m35.699s, initially 0.098s ahead of Hamilton, who ran wide at the penultimate corner and had his time deleted as a result. That meant Hamilton had to run again, after his floor was checked for damage, and he set the fastest time on a second set of soft tyres 1m35.528s.
Falling at the first hurdle were Kimi Raikkonen’s Alfa Romeo, the Haas of Kevin Magnussen, Williams’s George Russell, the second Haas of Pietro Fittipaldi and Nicholas Latifi (who spun his Williams on his final run).
Both Perez and Magnussen will start from the back of the grid due to engine change-related grid penalties.
F1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix qualifying grid results
F1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix qualifying Q3 results
F1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix qualifying Q2 results
F1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix qualifying Q1 results
F1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix qualifying as it happened