QATAR GP – Max Verstappen takes Grand Prix pole, ahead of Mercedes after both McLaren’s have fastest laps deleted
Max Verstappen has beaten George Russell by four-tenths of a second to take pole position for Sunday’s Qatar Grand Prix. Verstappen looked unstoppable on a weekend where he has two opportunities to seal a third championship which looks almost certain after his teammate Sergio Perez was knocked out in Q2.
Verstappen looks to take his title tomorrow if he outscores Perez by three points, but the Mexican can bounce back to delay the crowning of the Dutchman if he has an expectational Sprint Saturday. The Dutchman taking pole with his first time, he then like many drivers was caught out and ran wide at Turns Four and Five on his second run.
When it came to Q3, it was ultimately Verstappen’s opening ‘banker’ lap that proved more than enough to seal his tenth pole position of the season. An error on his second attempt proved irrelevant, with the triumph ensuring that if anything were to go wrong in Saturday’s Sprint, Verstappen is perfectly placed to seal the title on Sunday.
He said, “Great start to the weekend. It’s quite tricky out there with the new tarmac. It still needs to rubber in. Very peaky grip. As soon as you over push, the rear steps out. Of course, very happy to be on pole, it’s been a good day for us.”
There was always going to be a question mark as day turned to night in Lusail, meaning teams couldn’t be sure how effective the setup would be being the first night qualifying without a night practice session. Adding to the unpredictability was the new track surface, which wasn’t helped by high winds unsettling the cars and unsettling the cars.
The other key factor in qualifying under the lights was track evolution, with times getting faster and faster as the air and track temperatures started to drop off. The qualifying session set the grid for the grand prix on Sunday. Saturday is devoted to the sprint event, with a qualifying session followed by a short race.
Mercedes looks to be Red Bull’s closest challengers with Russell out qualifying teammate Lewis Hamilton by nearly a tenth. however, Both McLaren’s had spilt the Mercedes on track, but on their final attempts both Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri had their final laps deleted for track limits.
Mercedes had gone into the weekend not expecting to be so strong in Qatar, on a track dominated by fast corners, an area where they have struggled this season. Russell was two tenths behind Norris’s deleted time.
Russell said, “In the second half of the season, the qualifying pace [for me] has been exceptional. I am feeling really confident in the car, but we definitely weren’t expecting to be lining up second and third for the grand prix.”
Qualifying had been dominated by track limits, even Verstappen had a time deleted after the champion-elect lost the rear of the Red Bull on his final lap at Turn Five and ran wide. That allowed Hamilton to close the gap moving him into fourth before teammate Russell went nine hundredths faster, then both moved into second and third after the McLaren final laps were deleted.
Norris ran wide at Turn Five breaching track limits that moved Piastri momentarily into third, but the Australian ran wide as well losing third while it was a more drastic drop for Norris down to tenth. Fernando Alonso was now fourth the Aston Martin driver six hundredths faster than Charles Leclerc, with Piastri in sixth.
Explaining the error, Norris said, “I just had an oversteer and I went off. The car has been mint. I just messed it up. Not a good day for me.”
Piastri’s first lap in the session was good enough to put him sixth on the grid, while Norris, who had both his lap times deleted for track limits transgressions, will line up tenth.
McLaren’s resurgence has been spearheaded by Norris and his deleted time saw him go three tenths off Verstappen, that still didn’t look to be enough to fight for pole. The difficulty of the conditions was further highlighted by his team-mate Piastri also losing a lap that was good enough for third.
Pierre Gasly was seventh a hundredth behind Piastri, and ahead of his Alpine teammate Esteban Ocon by two tenths. Last time out in Lusail, Alpine scored a podium with Fernando Alonso third while Ocon was fifth. The team will be looking for a boost following a difficult few months.
Alonso had been frustrated earlier in the session when in Q1 Leclerc had slip streamed passed him at Turn One.
Valtteri Bottas was tenth on track but with Norris’s time deleted prompted to ninth. McLaren will look to bounce back with a strong sprint Saturday and sprint shootout tomorrow afternoon when they will be hoping to take the challenge to champion-elect Verstappen.
Yuki Tsunoda was the fastest of those knocked out in Q2; the Alpha Tauri driver missed out on the final part of qualifying by four thousandths. Bottas had pushed the Japanese driver out of the top ten before he went nearly three hundredths faster than Carlos Sainz.
The Ferrari driver switched too late in Q2 as the track started to get faster towards the closing moments of the session, he also had to abort his first run after going off at Turn Seven. Sainz had to then justle before losing track position to Verstappen, they both repeatedly cutting each other up.
That left Sainz twelfth almost a tenth ahead of Perez. The Spaniard the only driver to beat Red Bull at the last night race in Singapore three weeks ago, made an uncharacteristic error. He ran wide at Turn Four, Sainz was then unable to find sufficient improvement as he attempted another flying lap in the closing moments, resulting in an early elimination.
Perez who has at times struggled on pace to get through to Q3 this year, this time looked to have the pace to get through to the final part of qualifying. However that final lap time was deleted for exceeding track limits on his final attempt.
Alex Albon put his Williams fourteenth going eight hundredths ahead of the Haas of Nico Hulkenberg. The Haas driver split the two Williams as Logan Sargeant was fastest off those knocked out in Q1, the American a tenth behind his teammate.
Lance Stroll was furious with his fourth successive Q1 knockout, the Canadian appeared to push away a team member as he furiously left the garage. He was over a tenth behind Sargeant and ahead of Liam Lawson by nearly three tenths. Kevin Magnussen was nineteenth ahead of Guanyu Zhou.
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