RACE DEBRIEF

    Max Verstappen says it’s “all to play for” in Sunday’s inaugural Qatar Grand Prix, despite having qualified a full 0.455s adrift of title rival Lewis Hamilton in P2 – while team mate Sergio Perez will line up a galling P11 after dropping out on qualifying in Q2.

    Verstappen looked to be right in the fight with the Mercedes as qualifying got under way under the floodlights at the 5.38km Losail International Circuit – making its F1 debut this weekend – with Verstappen ending Q1 just 0.095s off Hamilton.

    QUALIFYING: Hamilton blitzes to crushing Qatar Grand Prix pole under the Losail lights

    But fast forward to Q3 and Verstappen’s best lap was a massive 0.455s adrift of Hamilton’s polesitting effort, as the Red Bull driver took P2 on the grid ahead of the second Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas – with Perez compounding the downbeat mood at Red Bull by dropping out in Q2.

    “I think [we were] lacking a bit of pace,” said Verstappen. “Checo's not even in Q3, so it just shows that we are struggling a bit more than normal. But nevertheless, we're still second, so it's all to play for. But of course, I wish we could have fought for more.

    Max Verstappen: 'Lacking pace' and 'difficult to match Mercedes' in qualifying

    “The last few races, qualifying has been a bit more of a struggle for us,” Verstappen added. “So we definitely of course need to understand and try to be better, like we always try to be. But my last lap I thought I had a really good lap, and then I heard the difference and I was a bit like, 'Well, I didn't even need to risk it then, if it's such a big gap.'

    “Nevertheless, I had a lot of fun out there; qualifying here has been really cool, it's a really beautiful track and a lot of fun to drive. Of course it would have been even more fun if we would have been a bit faster, but sometimes that happens… I think still being second is okay. But it's a big gap, and also for tomorrow, when it's such a gap, it's going to be tricky. But we never give up.”

    READ MORE: Hamilton shocked by gap to Verstappen in Qatar as he hints at more aggressive approach post-Brazil

    Verstappen, meanwhile, also confirmed that the late stoppage out on track of AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly – who suffered a puncture after running off track before pulling up on the pit straight – hadn’t affected his final Q3 run, with Verstappen telling the media in Losail: “I heard after the session he'd damaged his front wing. But from my side, was all okay.”

    Verstappen will potentially be vulnerable to the Mercedes at the start of the Qatar Grand Prix, the Dutchman starting on the less favourable dirty side of the grid.

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    Perez dropped out in Q2

    But he’ll also be without a wingman, with Sergio Perez having failed to make it out Q2, despite switching from medium to soft tyres in a bid to make it out of the second segment of qualifying – with Perez blaming tyre preparation for the disappointing drop-out, on a day when both AlphaTauris and Alpines, and one Aston Martin, made Q3.

    “I think we had the pace, definitely, to do much better than what we were able to do unfortunately,” said Perez. “We had everything in hand to really make a strong qualifying; we were quick all weekend, we were quick in FP3 but unfortunately we just didn’t put it together when it mattered.

    READ MORE: Gasly delighted with ‘amazing’ Qatar qualifying despite late puncture drama

    “Today it was more about tyre preparation. I couldn’t have a good clean out lap at all, somehow I was always good at finding a lot of traffic and that was hurting quite a bit going into the first sector, with very cold tyres, but then probably overheating it into the final sector.

    “There’s a long way to go,” concluded Perez. “I think there’s a lot that can still happen in the race. We will give our best and try and get a lot of points.”

    Red Bull currently sit 11 points adrift of Mercedes in the constructors’ standings, while Verstappen holds a 14-point lead over Hamilton in the drivers’.