Lewis Hamilton has been struggling with a stomach bug but in claiming pole for the Qatar Grand Prix the world champion proved he is very much fighting fit. Moreover, having comprehensively beaten his title rival, Max Verstappen, into second, the world champion made no bones that he would display this combative spirit again if required in Sunday’s race.
Hamilton took pole for this first Qatar Grand Prix after a dominant display under the floodlights of the Losail circuit. On top throughout, the Mercedes driver left Verstappen languishing four-tenths back despite revealing he had been suffering with a stomach ache earlier in the week.
Verstappen however may yet face further difficulties. Several hours after qualifying he was summoned to the stewards for allegedly failing to slow under double-waved yellow flags on his final run in Q3.
Pierre Gasly’s AlphaTauri had suffered a puncture so he had slowed on the start-finish straight as Verstappen finished his lap. The flags were briefly waved but Verstappen went through and improved his time. If he is found to have breached the rules he will face a grid penalty for the race. He will see the stewards on Sunday morning.
Hamilton holds the advantage but, after the politicking of the previous days, he was explicit that he would show no quarter if wheel to wheel with Verstappen. On Friday the stewards rejected Mercedes’ request for a review of the incident in Brazil where the Dutchman squeezed Hamilton off track as he attempted to overtake.
Hamilton noted that he had learned a specific lesson from that decision when asked if it meant he felt he could be more aggressive when overtaking. “I would assume so, yes,” he said. “[The mindset] in this race is what happened in the last race is OK.”
His opinion was backed by his teammate, Valtteri Bottas, who finished third. Hamilton then emphasised that even a long drivers’ briefing on Friday had not made the rules around overtaking any more coherent and consequently they would use Verstappen’s driving as a precedent.
“It’s not clear, every driver except for Max was asking for clarity,” he said. “It’s still not clear what the limits of the track are, it’s clearly not the white line any more when overtaking, so we just go for it. We just ask for consistency so, if it’s the same as the last race, then it should be the same for all of us.”
This was Hamilton laying down a clear marker. He is 14 points behind Verstappen with meetings in Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi to come after Qatar and 78 points still available.
The world champion will hope that after a masterful qualifying he can leave his rival behind on Sunday and avoid potential clashes. The Losail circuit is a physically demanding track with a series of testing high-speed corners but on its first Formula One competitive outing Hamilton more than had its measure.
He led through Q1 and Q2 and then continued with a clear statement of intent in Q3. On the opening hot lap he set a time of 1minute 21.262sec. It was a mighty run, with Hamilton pushing to the limit on a circuit where using the full width of the track and going to the very edge of the kerbs is key. He also had real pace and was particularly strong through the very quick final sector. Verstappen was fast in the tighter first sector but lost time through those final corners and was a tenth back.
With the track evolving, the final laps were key but Hamilton was eager to finish the job and, rather than waiting, went out first. He was immense, foundfinding time in the first and second sectors and going four-tenths quicker with a time of 1min 20.827sec. Verstappen went out last but could not improve and finished with a deficit with the foreboding air of a chasm.
This is Hamilton’s 102nd career pole but is only his fourth this year. T and his first since the Hungarian GP in August. It will be hugely welcome and may prove to be vital.
Following closely is difficult at Losail and, with overtaking likely to be very tricky and a one-stop strategy expected, track position will play a key part. Hamilton holds it now and, if he can maintain it through the 180-degree right-hander of turn one, he will go into this fight very much on the front foot.
AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly was fourth with Alpine’s Fernando Alonso in fifth. Red Bull’s hopes of having two cars in the mix at the front suffered a major setback however with Sergio Pérez failing to make it into Q3, finishing in 11th place.
Lando Norris was in sixth for McLaren and Carlos Sainz in seventh for Ferrari. Yuki Tsunoda was eighth for AlphaTauri, Esteban Ocon ninth for Alpine and Sebastian Vettel was 10th for Aston Martin.
Lance Stroll was 12th for Aston Martin and Charles Leclerc 13th for Ferrari. Daniel Ricciardo was 14th for McLaren with George Russell 15th for Williams.
Kimi Räikkönen and Antonio Giovinazzi were in 16th and 18th for Alfa Romeo. Nicholas Latifi was in 17th for Williams with Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin in 19th and 20th for Haas.