Sir Lewis Hamilton will start the first ever Formula 1 Qatar Grand Prix from pole position after a dominant qualifying display from the Mercedes driver, beating out title rival Max Verstappen by nearly five tenths of a second.
Hamilton had struggled in parts of the practice sessions as the world champion got to grips with the nuances of the Losail International Circuit, but managed to pull out a stellar lap to be the first driver top dip below 1 minute and 21 seconds with a time of 1:20:827, putting him +0.455 ahead of the Red Bull of Verstappen and over six tenths faster than teammate Valtteri Bottas.
One of the major shocks of the session and that which holds the most significance for the ongoing title battle was the surprise of Sergio Perez finding himself knocked out in Q2 despite the team switching him onto the soft tyres after an initial bid to go through to Q2 and the race on the mediums failed to yield the necessary pace.
The switch failed to work however, as the Mexican found himself almost four tenths adrift of the pace of his championship-chasing teammate, qualifying a disappointing 11th and complaining to his engineers over the radio after the session that his track position had cost them.
Verstappen said in his post-race interview that the session had proven “tricky” for the Red Bulls and that they were “struggling more than normal” as evidenced by the surprise early exit of Perez, and Mercedes look once again in a strong position heading into Sunday’s race.
Despite looking initially that they would be able to show some pace in the session, both Ferraris seemed to drop away as track temperatures fell, with Charles Leclerc coming on the radio baffled as to where the extra speed was to be found.
The day would get even worse for Leclerc as he was unable to get out of Q2, and the Monegasque will start tomorrow’s race from a lowly 13th, telling his team when he came back into the pits that he had “no idea” what had gone on. Meanwhile his teammate Carlos Sainz just about made it into Q3 in 10th, and ultimately finished the final session in seventh.
The Scuderia’s rivals for third place in the constructors’ championship McLaren also struggled to get their cars in the zone at Losail, with Lando Norris squeezing into Q3 in ninth just ahead of former teammate Sainz, while Daniel Ricciardo once again missed out on Q3 and ended up in 14th, ahead of the Williams of George Russell.
There was better news for AlphaTauri and Pierre Gasly, with the Frenchman consistently finding himself in the top five throughout the practice and first two qualifying sessions and managing to once again exceed expectations to put his car in fourth despite a late puncture at the end of Q3, ahead of teammate Yuki Tsunoda who also made it through to Q3 and will start the race from eighth.
Elsewhere it was a good session for Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel, who made it into the top 10 for the first time in seven races and will start from 10th on the grid in Qatar.