Nico Rosberg bit back at fellow former world champion Jenson Button for suggesting that Lewis Hamilton put in a below-par qualifying session in Abu Dhabi on Saturday. The Mercedes man was almost four-tenths behind his title rival Max Verstappen before a straight shootout for the world championship on Sunday.
Hamilton carried the momentum into this weekend’s season finale by claiming victory at each of the last three Grands Prix.
As a result, Verstappen’s championship lead was completely wiped out, with both drivers heading into tomorrow’s race on 369.5 points.
Saturday’s qualifying session was therefore crucial, and it was the Dutchman who came out on top with a stunning lap to claim pole.
In the aftermath, Rosberg, who himself had a furious rivalry with former team-mate Hamilton, had stern words for Button on the issue of his hot lap.
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Lando Norris and Sergio Perez make up the second row, while Bottas will start sixth in a major boost for Red Bull and their title prospects.
While Mercedes carry in a healthy lead on the Constructors’ front, Verstappen could claim glory in the Drivers’, and he will benefit from having his team-mate close by.
Hamilton, however, may have to lead the fight on his own due to Bottas’ poor grid position.
Despite Verstappen’s obvious advantage ahead of Sunday, he may not have it all his own way thanks to a qualifying mishap.
After a severe lock-up, he developed a flat spot on his tyre which forced Red Bull to switch strategies.
Verstappen set his fastest lap in Q2 on soft compound tyres which means he will start the race on the same set, with the majority of others opting for mediums.
Whether that will have its own part to play in Sunday’s showdown remains to be seen, but with such high stakes, it is sure to be a hard-fought battle.
At 24-years-old, Verstappen is chasing his first world title, while Hamilton is aiming to make history by notching number eight which would take him one clear of Michael Schumacher at the top.