Formula 1: Lewis Hamilton takes pole at Qatar GP, Max Verstappen second
- Lewis Hamilton won his 102nd career pole
- He trails Max Verstappen by 14 points in the championship race
- Valtteri Bottas will start third on Sunday
Riding on his new-found form at Sao Paolo, Lewis Hamilton secured the pole at the inaugural Qatar Grand Prix on Saturday. He was closely followed by championship leader Max Verstappen, who will start second in the main race.
Redbull's Max Verstappen trailed Hamilton by 0.455 seconds at Losail International Circuit. Following the Dutchman was Mercedes' second driver Valtteri Bottas. Alpha Tauri's Pierre Gasly will start fourth and Alpine's Fernando Alonso fifth.
Hamilton winning the 102nd pole of his career, fourth of the season and first since the Hungarian Grand Prix in August, makes the title race interesting with three races to go. Verstappen leads him by 14 points.
The seven-time champion said his stomach had been bothering him since he arrived in Qatar, but a good night's sleep helped his recovery.
“I really struggled throughout first practice and I was just really off,” Hamilton said. “I was here 'til midnight working with the engineers, who also always work so late, and found I lot of areas in which I can improve.”
Mercedes sent Hamilton on track with little traffic and a strong lap by the driver.
“That last lap was beautiful, it was a really sweet lap,” Hamilton said. “This track is amazing to drive, it is incredibly fast. It felt good.”
While Verstappen would look to etch closer to his first championship title with a win in Qatar, his partner Sergio Perez failed to advance to the final qualifying group. The Mexican will start 11th.
“It's been just a bit more tricky for us in qualifying,” Verstappen said. “We are struggling a bit more than normal. We've never done a race here, so there's a lot of unknowns.”
The race is the first in a 10-year deal between F1 and Qatar.
The weekend opened with the Brazil GP still the main topic of discussion as Mercedes contested the FIA decision not to penalize Verstappen for running Hamilton wide off course last week in Sao Paulo. Mercedes requested a review of the decision, which the FIA denied in the middle of a Friday press briefing between the principals of the two warring teams.
It was a tense 30-minute session between Mercedes head Toto Wolff and Christian Horner, team principal for Red Bull, and both agreed they have no relationship. But Horner also publicly questioned the legality of the Mercedes.
Horner believes the rear wing used by Mercedes in Mexico and Brazil was illegal and gave the rivals a significant straightline speed advantage. He vowed to protest Mercedes if the wing is used again.
Wolff was adamant the Mercedes is legal.
The starting grid for Qatar GP:
Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
Max Verstappen (Red Bull)
Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes)
Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri)
Fernando Alonso (Alpine)
Lando Norris (McLaren)
Carlos Sainz (Ferrari)
Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri)
With inputs from the Associated Press