Qatar Grand Prix – It was an all-papaya battle at the end of the Shootout but Oscar Piastri prevailed to take pole for this evening’s Sprint.
The Shootout session was delayed slightly as there was an extra ten minute practice session added in before it. Called a Familiarisation Session, it was introduced to allow the drivers to get used to track changes that had been made at turns 12-13, after the circuit had been narrowed with paint bridging the gap between the sharp kerbs and new white line.
Sprint Shootout – 2023 Qatar Grand Prix
The reason for the changes was that after analysing the tyres used yesterday, Pirelli found that there was “a separation in the sidewall between the topping compound and the carcass cords on many of [the] tyres”.
It was felt that “a significant number of additional laps on these tyres could result in circumferential damage of the tyres with subsequent air loss” and that the issue was most probably caused by the “high-frequency interference between the tyre sidewall and the 50mm ‘pyramid’ kerbs used extensively at this circuit, aggravated by the propensity to ride those kerbs.”
Pirelli will analyse the tyres used in the Sprint later today and if the damage is still present then there might be restrictions made for the Grand Prix on Sunday – a limit of 20 laps for tyres and a minimum of three mandatory pitstops.
Once the Shootout got underway Caros Sainz started the timing sheets with a 1:29.047 and by the time the clock ticked down to the halfway point it was George Russell on top with a 1:26.359, 0.038 seconds ahead of Pierre Gasly with Lando Norris not much further behind. only eleven drivers had set times at that stage.
Track limits and deleted times were a feature of the session, as they were in qualifying yesterday, Gasly losing his time just after the halfway point.
Heading into the final couple of minutes Kevin Magnussen, Liam Lawson, Lance Stroll, Logan Sargeant and Zhou Guanyu were in the drop zone while Max Verstappen was in P1 with a 1:25.510 ahead of Norris and Russell.
In the end Russell got ahead of Verstappen with a 1:25.413 while Stroll, Alex Albon, Yuki Tsunoda, Magnussen and Sargeant were drivers who ended in the elimination positions.
The Mercedes were the first to head out for the ten minute fight for the top ten with Russell starting off with a 1:26.232. After five minutes of the session, it was the McLarens and Red Bulls holding the top of the charts – Norris with a 1:24.947, with Verstappen, Oscar Piastri and Sergio Perez the only cars within a second of the British driver’s time.
With two minutes to go, Norris, Verstappen and Piastri were still at the top while Gasly, Lawson, Carlos Sainz, Valtteri Bottas and Zhou were outside of the top ten – neither of the Alfa Romeo drivers had set times while Sainz’ time had been deleted.
Sainz managed to get himself out of the drop zone and that knocked Lewis Hamilton out, the Mercedes driver did have a couple of times deleted but even if his 1:25.626 had stood it wouldn’t have been enough to progress but it would have given him P11 instead of the P12 he ended up with. Gasly, Bottas, Lawson, and Zhou were the other drivers who won’t continue through to the P1 shootout.
Verstappen was the first to queue up at the pit exit waiting for the green light, the Ferraris then joined him in waiting. Verstappen kicked things off with a 1:24.543 but that didn’t stand for long as he got it deleted, so Sainz’ 1:26.961 became the time to beat.
With two minutes to go it was the McLarens holding the top of the charts, Norris with a 1:24.536, 0.039 seconds ahead of Piastri. Leclerc had been half a second back but had his time deleted so Perez was P3, his 1:25.374 was the only other semi-competitive time that had been set at that stage.
It was frantic at the end and while Verstappen could only manage P3 it was down to the McLarens to battle it out for the Sprint pole. Piastri took the flag before his teammate, the Australian setting a 1:24.454 to take the provisional P1, Norris though went wide in the final corner and was unable to improve so his rookie teammate will lead the McLaren front-row lockout later.
Russell will start P4 ahead of the Ferraris of Sainz and Leclerc while Hulkenberg took P7 ahead of Perez. Fernando Alonso had made it into P5 but that time got deleted so he will start P9 in front of Esteban Ocon.