Verstappen dominates to take pole position ahead of Mercedes as he closes in on third world title in Qatar
Max Verstappen was in scintillating form on Friday, taking a dominant pole position for this weekend’s Qatar Grand Prix. The Dutch driver set a blistering lap to comfortably beat George Russell and Lewis Hamilton in an action-packed affair in Lusail.
Verstappen clocked a stunning time of 1m 23.778s on his first – and only – lap in Q3, to beat Russell, in second, by 0.441s, and Hamilton in third, by over half a second – although he aborted his final lap in Q3 after sliding in the first sector.
There was plenty of confusion following the session as both McLaren drivers had their times deleted for exceeding track limits. Once the penalties were applied, Oscar Piastri was dropped to sixth after initially being third, while Norris will line-up 10th, after losing his time that had put him second.
Fernando Alonso wound up fourth for Aston Martin ahead of Charles Leclerc in fifth for Ferrari. Ahead of Norris, but behind Piastri, on Sunday will be the Alpines of Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon, in seventh and eighth, with Valtteri Bottas in an impressive ninth for Alfa Romeo.
FORMULA 1 QATAR AIRWAYS QATAR GRAND PRIX 2023
|1 Max Verstappen VER Red Bull Racing||1:23.778|
|2 George Russell RUS Mercedes||1:24.219|
|3 Lewis Hamilton HAM Mercedes||1:24.305|
|4 Fernando Alonso ALO Aston Martin||1:24.369|
|5 Charles Leclerc LEC Ferrari||1:24.424|
Yuki Tsunoda missed out on a place in Q3 by just 0.004s to Bottas, and will start Sunday’s race for AlphaTauri in 11th, with the Japanese racer set to line up on the grid alongside Carlos Sainz, who suffered a shock Q2 exit for Ferrari.
Sergio Perez, who had his fastest time deleted for exceeding track limits, will start in 13th for Red Bull – on a weekend where he could deny his team mate Verstappen the championship. Alex Albon wound up 14th for Williams after running wide on his final lap in Q2, with Nico Hulkenberg 15th for Haas.
Logan Sargeant narrowly missed out on a place in Q2 thanks to Albon, who knocked him out with his final lap in Q1. This leaves the Williams rookie in 16th for Sunday’s race, ahead of the visibly frustrated Lance Stroll in 17th.
Liam Lawson was 18th fastest for AlphaTauri, and he was joined in the bottom three by the Haas of Kevin Magnussen, with Zhou Guanyu set to start at the back of the field for Alfa Romeo.
AS IT HAPPENED
Q1 – Verstappen leads the way after action-packed 18 minutes
After just 60 minutes of running in unrepresentative hot conditions on Friday, the drivers were thrown straight into the deep end as they readied themselves for qualifying for Sunday’s race at a much cooler Lusail International Circuit.
Verstappen had earlier set the pace in the lone practice session, but with plenty of questions still in the air – as well as the unpredictability of the track and the Sprint weekend – could anyone challenge the two-time world champion?
As the first set of laps began to pour in, it was Norris who initially went to the top of the time sheets. But with his lap deleted for exceeding track limits, it meant Leclerc’s time of 1m 26.444s was the benchmark for the rest of the field.
On used softs, Verstappen tucked into second ahead of Alonso, Piastri, Gasly, Perez, Albon, Ocon, Stroll, and Sainz. And with nine minutes remaining, having not set a lap, Hamilton and Russell came out on softs after initially leaving the pits on used mediums.
But just as the times began to come in thick and fast, so did the deleted time notifications for exceeding track limits, with Leclerc, Gasly, Stroll, Albon and Magnussen all having faster times taken away.
The drivers then ducked into the pit lane for another set of tyres, just as Russell and Hamilton came across the line for their first laps on the softs, going second and third fastest, respectively, with Alonso now the pace-setter.
After a flurry of activity in the closing stages, it was Verstappen who once again set the pace with a time of 1m 25.007s, just over a tenth ahead of Norris in second, with Alonso ending up third, followed by the other McLaren of Piastri.
Russell went up to fifth on his final flying effort, with Leclerc in sixth for Ferrari, ahead of Sainz in ninth. Sandwiched between the Scuderia pair were their Alpine counterparts, with Gasly and Ocon in seventh and eighth.
Hulkenberg sealed the season qualifying battle at Haas when he went 10th fastest, and he was followed by Perez, Bottas, and Tsunoda. Hamilton scraped through on just one soft tyre in 14th, with Albon knocking team mate, Sargeant, out across the line.
The Williams rookie ended up in 16th, as he rued his performance in the high speed. The American was joined in the bottom five by Stroll followed by Lawson, Magnussen, and Zhou.
Knocked out: Sargeant, Stroll, Lawson, Magnussen, Zhou
Q2 – Hamilton surprise fastest as Sainz and Perez suffer shock exit
Just as the drivers got going after the short break, the stewards announced that they would be investigating Hamilton, Tsunoda, Lawson, and Piastri after the session. The quartet were suspected of failing to follow the race directors’ instructions of sticking to the maximum lap time.
But focus quickly switched to the action out on track as, once again, the fastest lap changed hands between multiple drivers. After the first runs it was Verstappen who once again proved to be quickest on his used soft tyres, leading both Russell and Hamilton.
Gasly was an impressive fourth ahead of the driver he replaced at Alpine, Alonso, with Leclerc in sixth. Perez was seventh fastest – although he complained of traffic on his lap – while Tsunoda continued to battle for AlphaTauri in eighth, ahead of Ocon and Albon.
With track evolution so high, no driver remained in the pit lane for the final runs, and it was Hamilton who caught the eye. He went fastest with a time of 1m 24.381s to lead Verstappen by 0.102s, with the McLarens of Norris and Piastri in third and fourth.
Russell was fifth, ahead of the Alpine pair of Gasly and Ocon, who continued to impress for the French outfit. Leclerc squeezed through ahead of Alonso, and Bottas – who made it into Q3 for the first time since Budapest.
Tsunoda was 11th for AlphaTauri, losing out on a place in Q3 by 0.004s to Bottas, while Sainz was a shock 12th for Ferrari. Perez had squeezed through to Q3 but had his time deleted for exceeding track limits and wound-up 13th, with Albon and Hulkenberg also knocked out.
Knocked out: Tsunoda, Sainz, Perez, Albon, Hulkenberg
Q3 – Verstappen takes a dominant pole as penalties dent McLaren’s hopes
Before the drivers got going for the pole position shootout, the stewards noted Sainz and Verstappen for an erratic driving incident in Q2. They later revealed that they would be investigating the former Toro Rosso team mates after the session.
But Verstappen, as he has done so often this season, dominated the rest of the field, delivering a whopping time of 1m 23.778s, with his nearest rival Hamilton, over half a second off the Red Bull driver’s time.
Russell was third ahead of Piastri, followed by Leclerc, Ocon, Alonso, Gasly, and Bottas, with Norris down in 10th after his time, that would have put him second, was deleted for exceeding track limits.
But as the drivers set off their final laps, Verstappen who had left the pit lane early, aborted his effort after running wide. But nobody could deny him pole, as Norris went second, before having his time once again deleted knocking him down to 10th.
That promoted Russell up to second, and in more bad news for McLaren, Piastri, who had looked set to line-up third, also had his time deleted for exceeding track limits, demoting him to sixth.
This meant Hamilton – who aborted his final lap after also running wide – was third for Mercedes. Alonso will now start fourth for Aston Martin, followed by Leclerc, the Alpines of Gasly and Ocon, and the impressive Bottas.
"We put it on pole, naturally you want to win the race [on Sunday], but first let's make sure tomorrow we have a good day as well," said Verstappen.
"I think the car is quick. Tomorrow – morning, afternoon, however you like it – I think it's going to be, again, a bit more difficult to get the tyres ready to work well with the sand coming onto the track as well.
"But it's a great start to the weekend, the car's working well – that's all I could hope for really."
With the qualifying for Sunday's race all set the drivers will now turn their attentions to Saturday's Sprint Shootout at 1600 local time. You can find out more about the action from Qatar by heading to the RACE HUB.