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Max Verstappen strolls to Qatar GP pole after McLaren track-limit woes

Verstappen came out on comfortably on top after a scrappy session behind.

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Max Verstappen eased to pole position for the 2023 Qatar Grand Prix as Lando Norris took provisional second, but struggled with track limits throughout Q3 and was knocked off the front row after going wide on his final flying lap.

No one could get close to Verstappen, though Norris was three-tenths away before his lap time was deleted, and George Russell was the only other driver within half a second as the Mercedes man bagged second.

Rapid track evolution characterised the session with plenty of drivers improving on their final runs and several big names being caught out as a result.

But Verstappen was so dominant that he could abort his last flying lap and still finished well ahead of the pack as Oscar Piastri was promoted to third following his teammate’s woes.

However, Piastri was then also stripped of his final lap, and will start the race from sixth, promoting the second Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton up to third on the grid.

McLaren’s disappointment was good news for Hamilton who is only 33 points behind Sergio Perez in the battle for second in the drivers’ championship, as the Red Bull driver was eliminated in Q2 once again in 2023.

He was one of several big-name eliminations, with both Carlos Sainz and Lance Stroll also left frustrated.

Fernando Alonso looked competitive early on, finishing Q1 in third on a weekend Aston Martin hoped to be more stronger, but that challenge faded through the evening and he could only manage sixth before being promoted to fourth, while Ferrari had an even more disappointing evening.

Alongside Sainz’s surprise Q2 exit, Charles Leclerc was back in seventh on the track, moved up to fifth following the lap time deletions.

Alpine were big winners in Qatar though, as they had only reached Q3 once in the last six races, but all that changed when both Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly both made the top ten this time.

In Q1, Logan Sargeant looked set to out qualify Alex Albon for the first time this season when he led going into their final runs of the session.

However, Albon was the last driver over the line and just edged his teammate down into Q1 elimination by less than a tenth, making his streak 17-0 for 2023.

Big-name eliminations steal headlines

Lance Stroll on Friday at the 2023 Qatar GP | Aston Martin F1 Team

The early eliminations were a bigger story than the battle for pole at the Losail International Circuit, with excitement after both the first and second qualifying sessions.

Stroll looked gutted, angry yet empty after his Q1 elimination, he punched a wall of Aston Martin‘s garage before attending a mute TV appearance in what could be his sixth-last Formula 1 qualifying session ever.

He was over a second behind Alonso in the first session, almost the same gap Perez held to Verstappen in Q2. The Mexican had his time deleted so dropped to 13th after his lap was deleted for a track limits violation, but Carlos Sainz was the most surprising victim.

He was three-hundredths off safety in Q2 and will start the grand prix in 12th, just ahead of Perez.

Adam Dickinson
Adam Dickinson
An international multi-award-winning journalist, Adam Dickinson has written for Total-Motorsport.com since June 2022 and also contributes to TNT Sports, Eurosport and the Rugby Paper. He's also had articles published in the Daily Telegraph and several local newspapers, previously worked for Last-Lap.co.uk and FeederSeries.net in motorsport, and graduated with a First-Class Journalism Degree from the University of Sheffield having also studied in Oklahoma. Adam started watching F1 by accident in 2007, catching the last race in Indianapolis, and attended his first race as a journalist at the 2023 British Grand Prix.
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