Max Verstappen took a crushing pole position – with the help of a tow from Red Bull team mate Sergio Perez – to seize the advantage over rival Lewis Hamilton for the title-deciding Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
The Dutchman clocked a brilliant 1m22.109s on his first run to take a 10th pole position of the season, with Hamilton 0.371s off the pace to end up second with Lando Norris a surprise third place.
Red Bull sent Perez out on track first in Q3, ahead of Verstappen, with the Mexican towing Verstappen down the long straight before bailing out of the way before Turn 9 and sacrificing his own lap.
Verstappen made the most of the boost to slot into provisional pole, with Hamilton locking up at the hairpin and ending up nearly half a second adrift.
Mercedes sent their cars out first for the second run, but with Hamilton ahead of Bottas as they turned down the opportunity to try a tow. Hamilton improved, but he was behind in all three sectors and instead will start on the dirty side of the front row alongside his title rival in P2.
However, like his team mate Bottas, Hamilton will start on the more durable medium tyre that should allow him to run deeper into the race before stopping. The Red Bulls, however, will start on the soft tyres, Verstappen moving to that rubber after he flat-spotted his medium tyres in Q2.
Perez will start fourth, ahead of a very quick Carlos Sainz, who appeared to have made big gains after a difficult Friday, with Bottas down in sixth in his final Grand Prix for Mercedes ahead of a move to Alfa Romeo.
Charles Leclerc was seventh, ahead of Yuki Tsunoda – who could have been higher, having sat third before having his lap deleted for track limits – with Esteban Ocon and Daniel Ricciardo completing the top 10.
Red Bull sent Verstappen and Perez out early doors but it was their title rivals Mercedes who set the early pace with Hamilton and Bottas comfortably slotting into first and second, with Verstappen 0.414s off.
The session was then red flagged after a Haas knocked over a bollard, which Norris then ran over, with a marshal then dispatched to collect it before the running got back under way.
Ferrari sent Sainz and Leclerc out on softs, as their initial runs on the mediums weren’t strong enough to guarantee safety, while Vettel was annoyed when he felt he was baulked by Ocon as he battled to get out of the drop zone.
Up front, Hamilton bolted on a set of fresh tyres and went fourth tenths quicker, with Bottas then slotting into second as Mercedes flexed their muscles.
Vettel escaped from the drop zone, but the Williams duo of Nicholas Latifi and George Russell could not follow suit. Kimi Raikkonen’s final qualifying session ended early as he ended up 18th, with Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin closing out the classification.
Mercedes and Red Bull sent their respective cars out on mediums and though Hamilton went quickest, Verstappen slotted into second by just 0.004s – the duo evidently much more evenly matched on the yellow-walled tyre.
But on the second timed run, Verstappen locked up into Turn 1 and picked up a flat-spot. That forced the Red Bull back to the pits – and with not a lot of time remaining, they swapped to the softs. Was that always the plan? Red Bull boss Christian Horner told Sky “that lock-up wasn’t ideal, so it sort of forced our hands”.
Verstappen promptly went fastest, with team mate Perez – also running the softs – slotting into second. Hamilton was third with Bottas sixth – both on mediums – as they were separated by the Ferrari duo of Sainz and Leclerc.
At the other end of timesheets, Ricciardo scraped through by 0.012s at the expense of Alpine’s Fernando Alonso. Pierre Gasly made a surprising exit, the Frenchman outpaced by his rookie team mate Yuki Tsunoda, with Lance Stroll also knocked out.
Antonio Giovinazzi’s final race with Alfa Romeo – and possibly in F1 – will start from 14th, with Vettel completing the drop zone.