Today’s qualifying session in the desert in Abu Dhabi was primarily remarkable for the competitive baptism of the Yas Marina track, a truly outstanding feat of engineering and construction. But Lewis Hamilton was the first star to shine, taking as he did the pole position that will stand him in extremely good stead to take his third win of the season tomorrow.
Hamilton had looked in control of a very rapid McLaren at this circuit throughout practice yesterday and this morning, and he continued the trend through the first and second sessions this afternoon. He did, in fact, wait for the very last lap of the very last session to show exactly what he was capable of – a lap of over six tenths quicker than his nearest rivals the Red Bulls. To cap it all, Hamilton is lighter than the Red Bulls, but not particularly light compared to his other immediate peers. It seems he is determined to send out a warning harbinger to the rest of the pack about what McLaren and he will do if they find themselves with a quick car next season.
Other winners include Jarno Trulli, who apparently is driving like a man wronged after his conflict with Adrian Sutil in Brazil, which rumbles on. Trulli – an acknowledged one-lap specialist – nevertheless produced a very fast lap to take sixth on the grid. It is even more creditable considering he is actually fairly heavy, and stands to do some damage to the leaders tomorrow if he can keep his nose out of trouble. He is, some suspect, driving for his F1 career – any sane racer would be driving out of his skin if he were faced with the possibility of NASCAR. His team-mate Kamui Kobayashi will be on a different strategy completely, starting as he does 15th and with buckets of petrol in the back of the car.
An honourable mention must go to Sebastien Buemi, as well. The Swiss is in a very respectable tenth on the grid, which again is made better by the presence of a large dollop of fuel onboard that Toro Rosso. He has done well this season, Buemi, although his efforts would look stellar next to Seb Bourdais and rookie Jaime Alguersuari.
First of the losers have to be Ferrari, with a struggling Raikkonen only 11th and a Giancarlo Fisichella – who is not impressing anyone at the moment – right at the back. Ferrari will be gutted that such a poor performance should come at this venue, where they are very much the guests of honour and for whom a theme park is being built. Raikkonen could be entertaining from this position, but only if the track yields what few Hermann Tilke creations have, overtaking. The proof of the pudding will be in the eating.
Fernando Alonso’s desire to go out on a high at Renault will surely have been thwarted with a 16th-placed grid spot. Both Renaults struggled throughout, with Seb Grosjean spinning a good few times, perhaps to get a better look at the scenery. Finally, both Force Indias will be disappointed to be at the back after strong practice times.