Oscar Piastri led a stunning McLaren front-row lockout in the 2023 Qatar Grand Prix sprint shootout, securing McLaren’s first ‘qualifying’ win since 2012 as Lando Norris went off at the final corner on his last flying lap.
Verstappen will clinch the drivers’ championship in the sprint race later if he finishes in the top six, and looks good to secure that after qualifying third with his Red Bull teammate and only title challenger Sergio Perez down in eighth.
Lewis Hamilton was the big-name elimination earlier, he only managed 12th and saw his final SQ2 lap deleted for track limits, but that time wouldn’t have been enough for the top 10 anyway.
A chaotic Friday night in Qatar saw changes to the schedule, with an extra 10-minute practice run preceding the sprint shootout. And with the FIA changing track limits at turns 12 and 13, plenty of drivers were caught out by lap deletions keeping race control busy throughout the session.
George Russell wasn’t one of them though, he continues to look very strong in Qatar and topped the first session, then managing fourth in SQ3 after also qualifying second for the grand prix.
Fernando Alonso was fifth but then saw that time deleted allowing the Ferraris to lock out the third row led by Carlos Sainz, with Nico Hulkenberg continuing his fantastic weekend with a seventh-place finish.
With Alonso ninth, Esteban Ocon rounded out the top 10 with Alpine continuing to perform at the Losail International Circuit.
Lance Stroll endured more pain in Qatar though, after failing to survive Q1 on Friday he was yet again around a second behind Alonso in the sprint shootout and could only manage 16th.
Stroll, Alex Albon, Yuki Tsunoda, Kevin Magnussen and Logan Sargeant were all knocked out in SQ1, with Tsunoda furious over team radio.
However, that gave a reprieve to Zhou Guanyu, who had originally been knocked out by just five-thousandths of a second.
Track limits continue to dominate Qatar conversation
News after FP1 and qualifying was dominated by everything except the competitive order and Verstappen‘s pole position, with track limits, sand, grip, wind and the sunset all earning the ire of various drivers.
And track limits continued to cause plenty of problems for drivers, despite the rules being changed to help drivers at two corners. With winds dropping from Friday’s 35 km/h gusts, but not by much, Ferrari were particularly affected, leaping across the track several times.
And that wind meant it was even more difficult for drivers to keep it on track as Hamilton, Charles Leclerc, Pierre Gasly, Tsunoda and Sargeant were among those caught out in SQ1 – the American failing to set a representative time thanks to multiple deletions.
Things didn’t get much better in the later sessions either, though it was often the same drivers being denalised across the afternoon.
However, the short practice session ahead of qualifying did seem to help teams, with drivers and setups much more dialling in.