F1: Verstappen beats Perez to pole for Abu Dhabi GP

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ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Formula One champion Max Verstappen qualified on pole position for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Saturday ahead of teammate Sergio Perez as he seeks a record-extending 15th win of the season.

Verstappen set the pace with a lap of 1 minute, 23.824 seconds to beat Perez by .228 seconds. The Mexican driver is aiming to beat Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc to second place in the championship behind Verstappen. Leclerc was .040 off Perez’s time.

Verstappen said he had a scare at the start of the third and final qualifying session when “everything just turned off” on his car in the garage, delaying his start.

“Very pleased for that and very happy that both cars are on the front row because we want to win the race but we also want to finish second with Checo (Perez) in the championship so that’s definitely a great start for tomorrow,” he said.

A week after Verstappen revealed a rift in the Red Bull team by refusing an order to yield sixth place to Perez in the Brazilian Grand Prix — he has still not explained exactly why — Verstappen led Perez out onto the final lap of qualifying with a slipstream in a display of team unity.

“It’s good to lock out that front row for tomorrow,” Perez said. “Max did a great job also for me. We worked with it as a team really strongly on that final run.”

Leclerc said he made an error on his last qualifying run when he locked up a tire, “but, to be honest, it’s the place we deserved today. The Red Bulls are stronger but we are still in a quite good position.”

Leclerc’s teammate Carlos Sainz was fourth ahead of the Mercedes pair of Lewis Hamilton and George Russell.

Four-time champion Sebastian Vettel qualified his Aston Martin ninth ahead of his last race before retirement. McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo, who is without a race seat for 2023, was 10th.

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