Piastri beats Norris and Verstappen to pole during Sprint Shootout thriller in Qatar
Oscar Piastri came out on top at the end of a frenetic Sprint Shootout session at the Qatar Grand Prix, getting the better of McLaren team mate Lando Norris and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen for a landmark pole position.
Piastri, who had not topped a qualifying session in F1 before, produced a stunning time of 1m 24.454s as the Shootout drew to a close to finish just under a tenth clear of Norris, whose final lap time was deleted for exceeding track limits.
Max Verstappen, having lost his initial time over track limits, managed to get an effort on the board at the chequered flag, but it was not enough to deny Piastri and Norris, who will form the first all-McLaren front row of any kind since the 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix.
After a surprise SQ2 exit for Lewis Hamilton, another to be stripped of lap times in a session dominated by track limits, it was George Russell who led Mercedes’ charge in fourth, followed by the Ferraris of Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc.
FORMULA 1 QATAR AIRWAYS QATAR GRAND PRIX 2023
Sprint Shootout results
|1 Oscar Piastri PIA McLaren||1:24.454|
|2 Lando Norris NOR McLaren||1:24.536|
|3 Max Verstappen VER Red Bull Racing||1:24.646|
|4 George Russell RUS Mercedes||1:24.841|
|5 Carlos Sainz SAI Ferrari||1:25.155|
Leclerc had laps of his own deleted across the SQ3 phase, but managed to recover and beat the eye-catching Haas of Nico Hulkenberg, who claimed seventh, with Sergio Perez (Red Bull), Fernando Alonso (Aston Martin) and Esteban Ocon (Alpine) all falling foul of track limits in P8 to P10.
While Ocon progressed to SQ3, team mate Pierre Gasly just missed out in 11th, with Hamilton only 12th after his track limits violations during the middle phase. Alfa Romeo pair Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu were split by the AlphaTauri of Liam Lawson (the latter two caught out by track limits) at the foot of the SQ2 order.
Lance Stroll followed up his Q1 exit on Friday with an SQ1 elimination, having run wide at Turn 5 as the first phase drew to a close, leaving the Aston Martin man 16th on the grid from Williams driver Alex Albon, who lost his best lap time for exceeding track limits.
AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda, the other Haas of Kevin Magnussen and the second Williams of Logan Sargeant saw their lap times deleted for running over the white line that defines the track, leaving them 18th, 19th and 20th respectively for the 100-kilometre Sprint race later on Saturday.
AS IT HAPPENED
SQ1 – Russell leads Verstappen and Norris as track limits dominate
Following Friday’s running at Lusail, F1 tyre supplier Pirelli spotted an issue during their routine analysis that was believed to have been caused by interference between the sidewall and the track’s ‘pyramid’ kerbs – prompting the FIA to announce new safety measures and an additional practice session ahead of the Sprint Shootout.
With track limits also revised at Turns 12 and 13, drivers were given a 10-minute “practice familiarisation session” at 1600 local time, allowing them to assess the changes and general track conditions, while pushing the start of the Sprint Shootout back to 1620.
When the Shootout action got under way, and with the sun beginning to set, it was Verstappen who set the early pace with a 1m 25.510s on the medium compound tyres mandated for SQ1 and SQ2, prior to softs being unleashed in SQ3.
Aiming to bounce back from his deleted time in Friday qualifying, Norris slotted into second, followed by Russell, Piastri and Alonso, with a host of drivers seeing their lap times deleted for exceeding track limits – Hulkenberg, Sargeant, Gasly, Leclerc, Stroll, Zhou and Hamilton all losing out.
That meant Stroll – eager to put a difficult first day behind him – sat inside the drop zone with a couple of minutes remaining, alongside Magnussen, Lawson, Zhou and Sargeant, though there would still be time for another flurry of runs.
While Verstappen and Norris watched the rest of action from the pits, seemingly happy with their initial times, Russell took the opportunity to go again and work his way down to a 1m 25.413s, putting his Mercedes just ahead of the Red Bull and McLaren.
Gasly was a high-flying fourth for Alpine, in front of Sainz, Alonso, Piastri and team mate Ocon, with Perez and Lawson completing the top 10 from Leclerc, Hamilton, Bottas, Hulkenberg and Zhou, who was the last driver to progress to SQ2.
Stroll’s bid to get himself out of danger came undone with an off-track excursion at Turn 5, leaving him 16th, with Albon, Tsunoda, Magnussen and Sargeant also falling at the first hurdle, having all lost lap times late in the session due to exceeding track limits.
Knocked out: Stroll, Albon, Tsunoda, Magnussen, Sargeant
SQ2 – Norris on top as Hamilton suffers surprise exit
As SQ2 began, news came in that the stewards would be investigating Russell, Hamilton, Gasly, Lawson, Sargeant, Tsunoda, Stroll and Albon post-session for allegedly failing to follow the Race Director’s instructions regarding maximum delta time.
When the first lap times rolled in, Norris assumed P1 on a 1m 24.947s, followed by Verstappen and Piastri, while Leclerc, Hamilton, Zhou and Sainz all lost early lap times due to track limits, meaning they had to regain their composure and go again.
After the final runs, which Norris and Verstappen opted out of once more, it was the McLaren driver who remained on top with his high 1m 24s effort, just in front of Russell, Perez and the reigning double world champion.
Alonso took fifth, with Ferrari pair Leclerc and Sainz sixth and seventh respectively, while Piastri, the impressive Hulkenberg and Ocon grabbed the final spots in SQ3 – the Alpine driver progressing at the expense of team mate Gasly.
Hamilton was a shock SQ2 eliminee after he lost another lap time over track limits, leaving him 12th from former team mate Bottas, with Lawson and Zhou – also falling foul of the track limits rules again – the final drivers to drop out.
Knocked out: Gasly, Hamilton, Bottas, Lawson, Zhou
SQ3 – Piastri charges his way to the top of the times
Verstappen stated his intentions when the final SQ3 phase kicked off, pumping in a 1m 24.543s on soft rubber, but that was swiftly deleted due to a track limits violation, paving the way for Norris and Piastri to move into P1 and P2 respectively.
That set up a tense finale in which the McLaren team mates and a recovering Verstappen all battled for pole, but it was the Australian rookie who delivered when it mattered to clock a 1m 24.454s, while Norris’ challenge came to an end with a wild moment at the final corner.
Verstappen had to settle for third on the timesheets, a couple of tenths adrift of pole, but he is still in a strong position to secure a third straight drivers’ title in the Sprint race that follows later this evening – with team mate Perez back in eighth.
Russell put his Mercedes fourth in Hamilton’s absence, with Ferrari duo Sainz and Leclerc in fifth and sixth, Hulkenberg showing competitive one-lap pace again en route to seventh, ahead of Perez, Alonso and Ocon, who lost further lap times over track limits.
There could yet be a twist in the tale before the Sprint begins, with Norris also noted for allegedly failing to follow Race Director’s notes over maximum delta time, joining the aforementioned group of drivers listed between SQ1 and SQ2.
“I’m very, very happy,” pole-sitter Piastri reflected. “It was a pretty good lap. I saw Lando on the big screen, he made mistake at the last corner, so I don’t know what his lap was looking like, but no, I’m very, very happy. I struggled quite a bit in the first two parts of that qualifying and then got my act together a bit more for the last one.”
Drivers will now take a break before lining up on the grid for the 100-kilometre Sprint race at 2030 local time. Head to the RACE HUB to find out how you can catch the action.