The world champion Mercedes will start the third race of the final race of the Formula 1 season from pole position on Sunday.
Formula 1 GP Qatar – First impressions from the race weekend in Doha
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DOHA (SID) – The title struggle is nearing climax, pressure on Max Verstappen is also growing in Qatar qualifying: Lewis Hamilton takes center stage in the lighted race – and the Dutchman must fear a penalty.
DOHA (SID) Lewis Hamilton waved a smile to the crowd, his black racing suit gleaming in the spotlights: For the world champion, suddenly everything is going according to plan again at the most important stage of the season. One week after the big win in Brazil, he will start from pole position in his first Formula 1 race in Qatar on Sunday (3pm CET/sky).
Pressure is mounting on World Cup leader Max Verstappen – especially now that he has to fear a penalty. The Red Bull driver qualified for second, but he has to answer to the hosts on Sunday afternoon (11:00 am CET): He was said to have not slowed enough in qualifying under the yellow flag. For a similar offense, Sebastian Vettel has already received a five-point penalty on the base grid this season.
Small consolation for Verstappen: Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas, who finished third on the grid, is being investigated over the same claim. If the Finn is also penalized, he will not stand as a barrier between the two opponents at the World Cup.
“I sat with the team yesterday until midnight, and we found a lot that I could improve,” Hamilton said after qualifying. He wasn’t familiar with the pace in free practice: “I didn’t feel good on Thursday and Friday.”
Verstappen has a lot to lose: the lead over Hamilton in the World Cup is only 14 points, in the remaining three races the Englishman can still intercept him alone.
For the first time, Formula 1 is visiting Qatar, and the track was recently added to the calendar for Australia. The course, which was already built for motorcycles, was alien to the teams and drivers, with Red Bull boss Christian Horner saying: “It’s unknown to all of us.” Some drivers did not have the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the track in the simulator beforehand.
So the balance of power was uncertain when the teams first came to the Losail Circuit near Doha before the weekend. But Mercedes, which had swayed at high speeds on the straights the last time Hamilton won in Brazil, appears to have an advantage, as suggested by the first Friday and Saturday training sessions.
That impression continued into qualifying – however, Verstappen got a lot from Red Bull. His teammate Sergio Perez failed to make it to the final section in 11th place, but the Dutchman kept putting pressure on Mercedes. In the end, it was enough at least to move between the silver arrows.
Verstappen’s potential improvement on the last lap was no longer possible: Yuki Tsunoda was driving hard over the curb, a tire exploded on Japan’s AlphaTauri, and the following drivers had to brake. Vettel couldn’t use his last lap either.
Vettel said: “It’s a shame. It was fine anyway, I’m satisfied. We went down against Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren.”
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