Lewis Hamilton dominated qualifying for the Qatar Grand Prix to take pole position ahead of title leader Max Verstappen.
The Briton never looked threatened through the grid-setting session, and so strong was his form that both laps set in the pole shootout were good enough to ensure his supremacy over Red Bull Racing’s team leader at the head of the grid.
Pole number 102 for @LewisHamilton 👊
— Formula 1 (@F1) November 20, 2021
But his second lap will have been a heavy blow to Red Bull Racing, his 1m20.827 besting the Dutchman by 0.455s. And with Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas third on the grid but Sergio Perez floundering in 11th in the second Red Bull, Hamilton is well placed to convert pole to victory and make further inroads on his points deficit.
“That lap was beautiful,” he said. “It was a really sweet lap. This track is amazing to drive.”
Verstappen admitted the picture for Red Bull Racing is worse than simply not having the pace, with Perez’s low qualifying position indicative of bigger problems.
“I think it’s been just a bit more tricky for us,” he said. “Checo’s not even in Q3, so it just shows we are struggling a bit more than normal. But nevertheless, we’re still second, so all to play for.”
Bottas had been quicker than Hamilton throughout practice but lost the initiative in qualifying, a slip backwards the Finn was at a loss to explain.
“It’s been a good weekend so far until qualifying,” he said. “In qualifying I struggled quite a bit, especially in Turn 1. I struggled to get the tires read. A little bit confused what happened with the car overnight.”
The top three will all start on the medium tire, neutralizing strategy to a degree, notwithstanding the unknowns of the new track. But Bottas hinted Mercedes’s numerical advantage could come into play: “We’ve got two cars against Max, and I’m sure we can do something.”
Pierre Gasly converted his strong practice form into fourth on the grid for AlphaTauri, but he was just 0.03s ahead of Fernando Alonso for the resurgent Alpine in the two teams’ battle for fifth in the constructors standings.
Lando Norris was sixth for McLaren, the Briton a tenth quicker than Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz.
Yuki Tsunoda was a commendable eighth just over 0.2s behind teammate Gasly but a similar margin ahead of Alpine’s Esteban Ocon, who struggled with brake vibrations early in the qualifying hour.
Sebastian Vettel completed the top 10, the Aston Martin driver almost two seconds off the pace.
Perez was the biggest scalp of Q2, knocked out in 11th by more than 0.1s. The Mexican had initially tried to set a top-10 time on the medium tire, but an uncompetitive lap forced him to switch to the soft for his final run, though even that wasn’t enough to make the pole shootout.
Lance Stroll followed in 12th ahead of a wayward Charles Leclerc, who was mystified by his lack of pace relative to his Q3-bound Ferrari teammate Sainz.
A challenging day for Charles Leclerc 🙁
— Formula 1 (@F1) November 20, 2021
Daniel Ricciardo was an underwhelming 14th, almost 0.4s slower than McLaren partner Norris, while George Russell qualified 15th for Williams.
Kimi Raikkonen led those eliminated in Q1, the Finn closely matched with Williams driver Nicholas Latifi and Alfa Romeo teammate Antonio Giovinazzi, the trio separated by just over a tenth of a second in places 16 to 18,
Mick Schumacher will lead Haas teammate Nikita Mazepin in 19th and 20th at the back of the grid, the Russian almost 2.5s slower than the German after missing two of the three practice session with car problems.