Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen captured pole position at the Qatar Grand Prix ahead of Russell and Piastri after a strong qualifying session in Lusail, putting him in a solid position to take the driver’s championship this weekend.
Q1 – Sargeant, Stroll eliminated, track evolution sees times tumble
The drivers were quick to get out on track when the green light lit up to start their warm up laps on the sandy surface of Lusail International Circuit. Field front-runner Max Verstappen was first to set a time with a 1:26.884. Fernando Alonso, who had a strong free practice one, took the lead soon after with a 1:26.715. First place continued to be passed around as the drivers completed their first laps, with Charles Leclerc taking the lead briefly before Lando Norris set the fastest lap, which was promptly removed for track limits. Verstappen’s second lap placed him in second, four hundredths away from Leclerc’s time of 1:26.444.
Alonso’s second lap saw a considerable improvement, putting him in first with a 1:25.685 as the track continued to grip up. Times were expected to improve quickly as the dust cleared through the session. Norris began a second lap to put his name on the board, but backed out in the second sector. Track limits would prove to be an issue for the drivers, with Oscar Piastri also losing a lap to track limits in the last seven minutes of running. Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and George Russell waited until later in the session to do their first laps, and both found their way to the top five. With six minutes to go, it was Lance Stroll, Zhou Guanyu, Liam Lawson, Kevin Magnussen and Norris—yet to put in a time— in the elimination zone.
Leclerc put in a 1:25.452 to take the lead with about four minutes to go. Norris’ first classified lap allowed him to capture first soon after with a 1:25.131, but he quickly lost it to Verstappen with two minutes to go after the championship leader put in a 1:25.007. Lawson, Nico Hülkenberg, Stroll, Zhou and Magnussen made up the bottom five with a minute to go, with the knock-out time expected to be about 1:26. Alex Albon at risk in fifteenth.
As the checkered flag came out, Magnussen, Lawson and Zhou were unable to improve their times, and were officially out in Q1. Stroll improved his time, but remained in the bottom five in seventeenth place— making for another frustrating session for the Canadian driver. Logan Sargeant ended up being knocked by team-mate Albon out by a tenth of a second, missing out on the opportunity to outqualify his team-mate for the first time and a Q2 appearance.
Eliminated: Logan Sargeant, Lance Stroll, Liam Lawson, Kevin Magnussen, Zhou Guanyu
Q2 – Sainz, Pérez knocked out after rush to the line
With five drivers eliminated from the running, the challenge began to secure a top ten position. Every driver apart from Albon and Norris had an initial lap in by the eight minute mark, and it was Verstappen leading with a 1:24.758 followed by Russell, Hamilton, Gasly and Alonso. By the five minute mark, the elimination zone consisted of Piastri, Hülkenberg, Carlos Sainz, Valtteri Bottas and Norris. Sainz’s next attempt to exit the bottom five resulted in him aborting the lap, putting the pressure on as the time winded down. The McLarens of Norris and Piastri were improving with three minutes to go, and the pair captured first and second place respectively. A case of potential impeding between Leclerc and Verstappen occurred in the last two minutes on their out laps— it was unclear whether race control would investigate the incident. Esteban Ocon, Albon, Hülkenberg, Sainz and Bottas made up the bottom five with a minute to go.
The final seconds of the session saw a chaotic shuffling of the order. Sainz put in a time for ninth, which would not be enough to make it to Q3 as Bottas and Sergio Pérez overtook him in the times. Yuki Tsunoda, who was at risk of elimination, ended up in the bottom five. Albon’s final attempt saw him go outside the white line, and he had no chance to make up positions. Pérez was caught out in the rush of the final seconds, getting eliminated in Q2 once again.
Eliminated: Yuki Tsunoda, Carlos Sainz, Sergio Pérez, Alex Albon, Nico Hülkenberg
Q3 – Verstappen takes pole, McLaren lose out due to track limits violations
The final ten drivers remaining were out for the last time as they vied for pole position in Qatar. Verstappen was once again in the lead with a 1:23.778 after every driver made their first attempt, followed by Hamilton and Russell. Piastri was fourth, leading Leclerc, Ocon and Alonso. Gasly, Bottas and Norris, who had yet to set a time following another lap deletion, rounded out the top ten. The wind was proving to be a tricky aspect in Lusail, with Leclerc going wide on his out lap. Norris endured another lap deletion after taking the lead.
Verstappen was first to exit the pits to make his second attempt. Russell stopped in the pit lane on his way out, which held up some other drivers and prompted questions regarding whether he should be penalized. Verstappen’s impressive 1:23.778 held up, earning him pole position for Sunday’s Grand Prix. Norris’ final lap saw him take second place, although another clear infringement of track limits called the classification into question. Russell qualified third, followed by Piastri and team-mate Hamilton in fifth. Alonso, Leclerc, both Alpines of Gasly and Ocon, and Bottas rounded out the top ten.
Track limits infringements ultimately turned McLaren F1 Team’s qualifying upside down. Race control deleted Norris’ lap as the drivers entered parc fermé, dropping him to tenth since he had no banker lap. Piastri’s fastest time was also deleted after the session, dropping him to sixth place.