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Verstappen on pole one last time at Abu Dhabi season finale

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The Red Bull driver’s 12th pole of the year equals the record set in 2011 by four-times champion, Sebastian Vettel.

Max Verstappen shrugged off set-up problems with his Red Bull to blitz to pole position and set up another assault on the record books in Saturday’s qualifying for Sunday’s season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

The three-time world champion clocked a best lap in one minute and 23.445 seconds to outpace nearest rival Charles Leclerc of Ferrari by a tenth of a second as he stamped his authority on a topsy-turvy session.

It was his fourth consecutive pole at the Yas Marina Circuit, his record-equalling 12th this season and the 33rd of his career – setting him up perfectly for a record-increasing 19th win of the year on Sunday and the 54th of his career.

He will start as a red-hot favourite to win as the last eight Abu Dhabi Grands Prix have all been won from pole position and he has won a record 11 times from 11 poles this season, beating the previous best of nine set by former champion Nigel Mansell in 1992 and four-time champion Sebastian Vettel in 2011.

His 33rd pole pulled him alongside Mansell on the record books while a potential 54th win would pull him one clear of Vettel with whom he currently shares 53 wins.

“Let’s see!” he said. “I have no clue how good we are going to be in the race. We are usually quite decent, but it’s been a very special season and we’ve been enjoying it a lot and I’m very proud of what we have achieved so far this year.”

He added that he had found the whole weekend a struggle until qualifying began.

“We definitely improved the car for qualifying,” he said. “From lap one it all seemed a bit more together and we could definitely push more so, yes, very happy to be on pole.

“Around here, you have little slides it can cost you a lot of lap time and that is what was happening in practice but then, in qualifying, it all was a bit more connected.”

McLaren’s Oscar Piastri took full advantage of a last sector error by teammate Lando Norris to qualify third ahead of George Russell, who was fourth for Mercedes ahead of Norris and Yuki Tsunoda of AlphaTauri.

Verstappen’s success, after finishing sixth in the final free practice earlier on Saturday, pleased Red Bull team boss Christian Horner, while at the other end of the pitlane, Leclerc was equally as surprised to be starting second

“Considering the weekend we’ve had until now, I did not expect this at all,” said the Monegasque. “The last lap, I had to put everything together so I’m really happy with second place. I was worried in Q1 and Q2 just to go through.

“It’s amazing. Our car is very picky. When we put on the new tyres everything came alive. I hope tomorrow goes well. It is our target to beat Mercedes in the constructors’ championship. That is all that matters this weekend.”

Two-time champion Fernando Alonso qualified seventh for Aston Martin ahead of Haas’s Nico Hulkenberg, Sergio Perez in the second Red Bull and Pierre Gasly of Alpine.