Verstappen on pole as track limits cost McLaren
By Mat Coch
Saturday 7th October, 2023 - 5:13am
Max Verstappen has taken the 10th pole of the season in qualifying for the Qatar Grand Prix as both McLaren drivers had their laps deleted.
Lando Norris has been second fastest but had his Qualifying 3 lap deleted, promoting Russell to second and Piastri to third.
However, the Australian then had his own lap deleted, benefitting Lewis Hamilton.
Norris will line up 10th as a result, having had his initial lap also deleted for track limits, with Piastri falling to sixth.
Carlos Sainz and Sergio Perez will also start Sunday’s race down the order after both missed the cut into the session’s final phase.
It was a busy start with a traffic jam forming in the pit lane as the bulk of the field headed out as Qualifying 1 began.
Red Bull placed Max Verstappen towards the front of the queue but that saw him encounter traffic on his initial lap.
Mercedes had sent its drivers out on a set of medium tyres, the only team to differ from the red-walled soft rubber.
Having gone fastest, Lando Norris had his 1:26.043s deleted for track limits at Turn 5.
He was the second driver to have a lap scrubbed, Lance Stroll having also run wide at the Turn 5 right-hander.
With just an hour of practice ahead of qualifying and no support programme, the track remained dusty, especially off line.
That saw Mercedes abandon its attempts to run the medium tyres, boxing George Russell and Lewis Hamilton to swap them onto soft tyres with nine minutes remaining.
At the time, Fernando Alonso was fastest with a 1:25.685s from Esteban Ocon, Charles Leclerc, and Verstappen.
Track evolution was enormous, Valtteri Bottas going second fastest on his second run.
That quickly became third when Russell recorded his first lap on soft tyres, a 1:25.908s to slot in second.
Big gains were being made placing a huge emphasis on simply being on track in the final moments.
The segment ended with Verstappen fastest from Norris, then Alonso and Oscar Piastri.
Liam Lawson failed to make the cut, he was eliminated together with Alex Albon, Lance Stroll, Kevin Magnussen, and Zhou Guanyu.
Piastri opened proceedings in Qualifying 2, setting a 1:25.348s on a set of used soft tyres – a time Verstappen bettered by 0.6s also on old rubber.
Mercedes diverted and bolted new soft tyres to its cars, Russell going second best with a 1:24.964s with Hamilton 0.2s slower in third.
Opting to run out of sequence with the bulk of the field, Ferrari sent Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc out on to a largely silent circuit midway through the session.
Sainz aborted his lap after losing time in the first third of the lap when he had a snap of oversteer at Turn 5.
Leclerc had a similar moment at the right-hander to prompt him to also abandon the effort.
The final Qualifying 2 runs began with McLaren, Piastri going fastest with a 1:24.724s, quickly bettered by team-mate Norris by 0.039s.
Predictably, the pair dropped behind Verstappen who recorded a 1:24.483s after encountering an ‘erratically’ driving Sainz on his warmup lap.
The Spaniard missed the cut, as did Yuki Tsunoda, Sergio Perez, Alex Albon, and Nico Hulkenberg.
Perez was dumped out of Qualifying 3 after his final flying lap was deleted for track limits while Sainz just lacked pace in his Ferrari.
Qualifying 3 began with a wild slide for Leclerc after being caught out at Turn 4 on his first timed lap.
Piastri demonstrated McLaren’s pace to claim provisional pole with a 1:24.540s.
Verstappen quickly topped that by 0.7s with the first 1:23s lap of the session.
Mercedes then rose to second and third best with their first run, Hamilton ahead of Russell.
Norris would have been second best had his lap not been deleted for track limits, Turn 5 again the hot spot.
With just over three minutes remaining, the field ventured back out, though not without incident.
Russell stopped in pit lane, halting team-mate Hamilton who had Piastri and Pierre Gasly in queue behind him.
It left little more than two minutes for them to get back to the line to start their flying laps, making it precariously tight for Piastri and Gasly.
Norris did not have a recorded time as he began his flying lap, rising from 10th to second with a 1:24.074s though with track limits concerns at Turn 11.
Verstappen aborted his run but remained on provisional pole, while the chequered flag waved with Russell third ahead of Piastri.
Next best was Hamilton, who had a massive slide on his final flying lap, followed by Fernando Alonso, Leclerc, Gasly, Esteban Ocon, and Bottas.