Lewis Hamilton beats Max Verstappen by almost half a second as title momentum swings towards seven-time champion; Valtteri Bottas third, Sergio Perez knocked out in Q2; Hamilton and Verstappen on front row for Qatar GP, live on Sky Sports F1 on Sunday at 2pm
By Matt Morlidge
Last Updated: 20/11/21 4:06pm
Lewis Hamilton will start on pole position ahead of Max Verstappen for the Qatar GP after an utterly dominant qualifying performance, underlining his form heading into the championship’s crucial final races.
In F1’s first-ever shootout at Doha’s Losail circuit, hosting round 20 of 22 this year, Hamilton was in control throughout and topped Q1 and Q2 before stretching an even bigger gap to his rival in the closing stages.
Hamilton finished his sublime final Q3 lap 0.455s ahead of the title-leading Verstappen, the largest margin between the pair in a dry qualifying session this year with Mercedes stealing a march on Red Bull.
“That last lap was beautiful – it was a really sweet lap,” said Hamilton.
Split by just 14 points in the standings, Hamilton and Verstappen will line up on the front row together for the seventh time this season in Sunday’s must-watch race, live on Sky Sports F1 at 2pm.
Valtteri Bottas, who had appeared the man to beat heading into qualifying, was a surprising two tenths further back in third, although Verstappen’s Sunday mission will be made harder by Sergio Perez’s absence from the top positions.
Perez will start only 11th in the other Red Bull after being knocked out in Q2 under the bright Saturday night lights.
Pierre Gasly qualified fourth for AlphaTauri despite a dramatic final-lap puncture after his front wing broke over the kerbs, with the Frenchman almost inadvertently wrecking drivers’ laps as he grounded to a halt.
Fortunately, his first lap time was good enough to seal a second-row start, just ahead of an in-form Fernando Alonso – who equalled his qualifying best this season – and Lando Norris in the McLaren.
Norris will start the race sixth ahead of Carlos Sainz, with the close McLaren vs Ferrari battle continuing. Both teams also had a driver knocked out in Q2 – Daniel Ricciardo was a disappointing 14th and Charles Leclerc 13th.
Qatar GP Qualifying results – top 10
1) Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes
2) Max Verstappen, Red Bull
3) Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes
4) Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri
5) Fernando Alonso, Alpine
6) Lando Norris, McLaren
7) Carlos Sainz, Ferrari
8) Yuki Tsunoda, AlphaTauri
9) Esteban Ocon, Alpine
10) Sebastian Vettel, Aston Martin
Hamilton does talking on the track | Can Verstappen respond?
Amid protests and accusations in a title fight that has escalated off the track more than on it over the last week, Hamilton and Mercedes did their talking, in style, with a qualifying thrashing that has painted a clearer picture of the late-season pecking order.
In this form, the world champions – even with Hamilton’s drivers’ championship deficit – will certainly take some toppling over the final three races.
“They’ve just destroyed Red Bull,” admitted Sky F1’s Jenson Button.
In truth, Mercedes have been significantly faster ever since leaving Mexico City two weeks ago. Their Brazil form, which saw Hamilton overtake 24 cars in two days, has continued in Qatar.
Red Bull did appear closer for much of qualifying than they had managed in practice – Verstappen set the pace to start Q1 – although that was as good as it got and their deficit at the end of Q3 will surely raise alarm bells.
Another headache for Sunday is that Verstappen, now with only one pole from the last six rounds, will start on the ‘dirty’ right side of the grid from second. As there are no support races at F1’s newest circuit, the left side of the grid, the racing line, becomes all the more important.
“I think probably one and three is the version we would have opted for,” admitted Mercedes boss Toto Wolff.
But Verstappen has certainly proved this year that he flourishes with his back against the wall, and F1 2021 has certainly proved that it would be daft to make predictions. One thing that we can expect is – a week after a wheel-to-wheel battle that only got settled in a stewards’ decision in Qatar – another fierce fight between the title protagonists.
It’s crunch time for Verstappen and Hamilton, and you can watch the first of three races to finish the season all live on Sky Sports F1.