Oscar Piastri will start Formula 1’s Qatar Sprint from pole as McLaren locked out the front row. Max Verstappen, who needs just three points to confirm a third consecutive title tonight, will start from third.
As a result, the track had been narrowed by 80cm between Turns 12 and 13 with a painted kerb added before the ‘pyramid’ kerb on corner exit. If the problem persists after this evening’s Sprint, the FIA and Pirelli may enforce a mandatory three-stop race for Sunday’s Grand Prix.
With just 12 minutes to clock a time in SQ1, all drivers took to the circuit on the Medium compound. With a lack of support series and the sun setting, lap-times would only improve throughout the session.
However, changes to the track limits at Turn 13 saw many drivers have their lap-times deleted. Charles Leclerc found himself on the bubble at the end of SQ1 after leaving the track at Turn 5 after being affected by wind. Lance Stroll and Alex Albon also had moments in the same corner.
Leclerc would evade the drop zone with his final lap in SQ1. Stroll and Albon were less fortunate and were eliminated from the session. Yuki Tsunoda, Kevin Magnussen and Logan Sargeant were also eliminated.
The Medium compound was also mandatory for SQ2 and track limits remained a recurring theme as Leclerc and Lewis Hamilton both lost their opening lap-times.
After the first run, the McLaren of Lando Norris 1:24.947 saw him sit two-and-a-half tenths clear of Max Verstappen, and a further half-a-second of the provisionally third-placed Oscar Piastri.
With just over three-minutes to go in the session, five cars were left without a time on the board.
Norris’ benchmark remained unbeaten, but after another track limits violation, there was a shock exit for Hamilton. Even had his time not been deleted, the Briton would not have advanced to SQ3. Meanwhile, Mercedes team-mate Russell improved to second place in the session.
Hamilton will start the Sprint in 12th. Also eliminated were Pierre Gasly, Liam Lawson, Valtteri Bottas and Guanyu Zhou,
The Soft compound returned for SQ3 although half of the field delayed their return to the track in the hope that conditions would continue to improve with more running and the lower temperatures.
Verstappen posted a 1:24.543 in his first effort, however that was deleted for track limits. Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc saw two laps deleted for the same offence.
That left Sergio Perez on provisional pole until the McLaren’s delivered an eight-tenth improvement on the Mexican’s benchmark. Norris sat just 0.039s clear of Piastri heading into the final run.
All driver’s were visibly struggling with the adjusted track limits and the tricky conditions out on the circuit.
Max Verstappen was unable to match the benchmark set by Norris, which meant all attention shifted to McLaren as Sergio Perez had his final run deleted.
Piastri managed to improve his time to a 1:24.454 to jump to pole as Norris ran wide in the final corner.
Verstappen will lineup in third behind the all-McLaren front row. The Dutchman needs just three points in the Sprint to confirm a third consecutive Driver’s Championship this evening.
George Russell’s strong one-lap pace in Qatar continued into Saturday as he claimed fourth place. The two Ferraris, headed by Sainz, follow.
Following lap time deletions for Perez, Nico Hulkenberg will start seventh. Fernando Alonso’s sole lap time was also deleted. He will start ahead of Esteban Ocon who did not set a timed lap.
The Formula 1 Qatar Grand Prix Sprint gets underway at 20:30 local time.