A late-night stint with the engineers paid off for Lewis Hamilton as he took pole for the Qatar grand prix ahead of title rival Max Verstappen.
Seven-time Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton put his Mercedes on pole position for the inaugural Qatar grand prix.
Red Bull’s championship leader Max Verstappen, 14 points clear of his British rival with three races to go, will join him on the front row on Sunday but trailed by almost half a second .455 back, a difference team advisor Helmut Marko called “alarming”.
Valtteri Bottas was third in the second Mercedes in Saturday’s floodlit evening session with Pierre Gasly fourth for Red Bull’s sister team Alpha Tauri and ex-champion Fernando Alonso fifth for Alpine.
Hamilton clocked 1 minute 20.827 seconds on the 5.38-kilometre Losail International Circuit which in the past has only seen MotoGP racing. It was his fourth pole of the season and a record-extending 102nd overall.
“Yesterday was a really difficult day for me – I really struggled through that practice yesterday,” Hamilton said.
“I was here until midnight last night working with the engineers and found a little variation where I could improve, made some changes for third practice and it worked but – then you have to carry that through to qualifying.
“That last lap was beautiful, it is an amazing track to drive and it felt good.”
Verstappen admitted that Red Bull are struggling a little bit which also showed when team-mate Sergio Perez qualified no better than 11th.
“It’s been just a bit more tricky for us again in qualifying,” the Dutchman said. “I wish we could have fought for more…but nevertheless it’s still second, so it’s all to play for.”
The fall-out from last week’s GP in Brazil continued with a long drivers’ meeting failing, said Hamilton, to clarify what was acceptable on the track.
At Interlagos Verstappen escaped punishment for running his rival off the road as they duelled for first position.
The issue was discussed in a drivers’ briefing that lasted over an hour.
Hamilton then said the field remained unsure of the rules for overtaking.
“Every driver was asking for clarity but it wasn’t very clear. It is still not clear what the limits of the track are,” he said.
“It is clearly not the white line anymore when overtaking so we just go for it. We just ask for consistency so if it is the same for the last race for us in those scenarios then it is fine.
“It is not clear, they said it is going to be different with every steward, that is what they said.”
Asked if the lack of penalty for Verstappen meant he could now race more aggressively, Hamilton replied: “I would assume so, yes.”
Verstappen, meanwhile, was unhappy that what happened in the sanctity of the drivers’ briefing was now being played out in public.
“We discuss these kinds of things and they don’t need to go to the media,” he said.
Hamilton also said he intended to wear a new helmet supporting the LGBTQ+ community, which he has worn in Qatar, at upcoming races in Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi.
Campaign groups have highlighted discriminatory laws against women and LGBTQ+ individuals in Qatar and Hamilton added: “It’s important for me to represent that community.
“I know there are several situations that aren’t perfect and need to be highlighted. But I hope that someone reaches out and would love to know what is happening here and what they’re doing to help support the LBGTQ+ community.”