Red Bull pulled off a masterclass strategy with Sergio Perez to help Max Verstappen clinch pole position for Sunday’s race at the Abu Dhabi GP. Meanwhile, Lewis Hamilton, who found himself leading the timesheets through Q1 and Q2, lost his grip on the Dutchman right when it mattered the most.
Hence, the Briton had to settle for P2 while his teammate, Valtteri Bottas ended up in a distant P6. So, not only is Hamilton at a disadvantage in terms of the grid position, but also with respect to any kind of assistance from his Bottas.
However, cheer up Hamilton fans! It isn’t all over for the 7-time world champion in his title rivalry with the Dutchman. In fact, it is only set to begin on Sunday.
Can Max Verstappen’s tire choice come back to haunt him?
Verstappen was looking set to start his race on medium tires after delivering a decent lap on board in Q2. However, in the second attempt, Verstappen suffered a nasty lock-up, absolutely flat-spotting his tires. Hence, with no fresh medium tires left, Red Bull had to revert to soft tires.
Meanwhile, Hamilton will crucially be starting his race on the medium tires. So, the Briton has one big task at hand, which is not to lose any positions at the start. Meaning, Hamilton would have to hold on to P2 at any cost.
Beyond that, Mercedes’ dominant pace is likely to take care of the rest. The difference in pace between Mercedes and Red Bull was quite evident in Saudi Arabia where even with medium tires, Verstappen struggled to pull away from Hamilton, who was on hard tires.
One scenario that assures Lewis Hamilton victory
The best-case scenario is Hamilton snatching the lead from Verstappen at the start. Driving in free air and on a much harder tire compound, all the Briton would have to do is try and keep Verstappen behind.
Since the Dutchman would be in dirty air, his tires aren’t unlikely to last longer than Pirelli’s predicted lifespan. So, an earlier than expected stop.
And this would mean when Verstappen does pit, he is likely to end up in the midst of much inferior mid-field cars. Let’s assume he does manage to find his way back to the top after Hamilton pits for what could be a set of hard tires.
Here’s the bad news for Verstappen and Red Bull; Hamilton would be on much fresher tires, which makes it impossible for Verstappen to defend against the Mercedes driver. Hence, no matter how hard Verstappen pushes from here, Hamilton is lifting the world championship title unless they crash out.
So, despite qualifying suggesting Hamilton is on the back foot, the main race certainly has a massive twist in the making. So, who is ultimately winning this historic title rivalry?