Mercedes' Valtteri Bottas pipped team-mate Lewis Hamilton to grab the pole in the qualifying for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
When the first flying lap is a new track record, you know you are in for something special.
Bottas claimed his second consecutive pole and the fourth of his career with a best lap of 1:36.231, two-and-a-half seconds faster than last year’s pole-winning lap and 2.250 better than the previous best qualifying lap seen at Yas Marina Circuit.
‘I just managed to find time here and there,’ said the laconic Finn, ‘and felt really good in the car. I was so gutted in the last race in Brazil, being on pole but missing the win, so I have a clear target for tomorrow.’
Lewis Hamilton, king of the pole in 2017 with 11, made it the third all-Mercedes front row of the season, almost losing his car in a big twitch out of Turn 21 on his final flying lap and finishing 0.273 behind Bottas.
The World Champion-elect was gracious in defeat: ‘What a lap!’ he said of his team-mate’s final effort. ‘He just had an incredible qualifying. For me, overall, it was just little bits here and there.’
Sebastian Vettel, four times on pole in 2017, could not get his Ferrari within half a second of Bottas’s time but refused to be disheartened. ‘It was a good session,’ he insisted, ‘although obviously a bit of a shame to be that far back. It should be a fun race.’
Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo performed superbly to split the two Ferraris, slotting into fourth spot on the grid behind Vettel and ahead of Kimi Räikkönen with his youthful team-mate Max Verstappen in sixth.
Row four is shared by Renault’s Nico Hülkenberg and the Force India of Sergio Pérez, whose own team-mate Esteban Ocon will start from ninth alongside the man making his 269th and final Grand Prix start, Felipe Massa of Williams.
Not only did Hamilton break his own Yas Marina Circuit track record as soon as he took to the 5.554-km track with a lap in 1:37.473, but Bottas promptly fired in a 1:37.356 – and that was only in the first 18-minute segment of qualifying.
While those two stayed top, the five drivers eliminated in Q1 were Haas’s Romain Grosjean, continuing a troubled weekend, Sauber’s Pascal Wehrlein and Marcus Ericsson, and the rookie Toro Rosso pairing of Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley.
Canadian Williams driver Lance Stroll needed a mighty final effort to get through to Q2 – and immediately sighed, ‘Oh God, that was everything’ as he made it to 15th spot.
Stroll’s ordeal was over soon enough as he was the slowest of five men eliminated in Q2 along with Renault’s Carlos Sainz, both McLarens of Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne and the second Haas of Kevin Magnussen.