Doha, Qatar – Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) will take the lead in the first Qatari Grand Prix in Formula 1 history, Round 20 of 22 this season, after overtaking championship leader Max Verstappen (Red Bull).
Hamilton is just 14 points behind Verstappen, who qualifies for the last three races of the year. The two contenders will start, on Sunday, at the Losail Circuit, in front of Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) and Pierre Gasly (Alvatore), in the second row.
This is Hamilton’s top seed since Hungary on August 1, and 102nd of the 37-year-old’s career, as he is chasing his eighth world title this season.
By winning last Sunday with a stunning victory in Brazil, where he started only 10th after a penalty kick, Hamilton has regained seven points from Verstappen, who is seeking, 24, for a first world crown.
‘It’s hard to guess’
“It’s a very fast lap, it’s not the easiest circuit to follow each other” and thus can be bypassed, Hamilton explained, particularly pleased with his performance: “My last lap … was very beautiful […] Especially at night under the spotlight.”
This is the first time that Formula 1 has visited Qatar, as the riders discover the Losail circuit (5,380 km), which is usually used by Moto GP.
“I wasn’t expecting such a gap,” said Hamilton, who beat Verstappen for 455/1000, stressing “the work of the whole team” late Friday night after free practice.
But the Dutchman, “more or less satisfied with the car in qualifying”, noted that Red Bull had been “more difficult lately in qualifying…but sometimes we just don’t get fast enough”.
“It’s hard to predict what will happen because we’ve never raced here,” the driver continued.
Strategy could play an important role on Sunday, knowing that Mercedes will be able to count on Bottas for third…Unlike Red Bull, its second driver Sergio Perez is only 11.
Gasly, who finished fourth despite a holeshot at the end of the session and stalled at the finish line, equalized his best result in qualifying.
Fernando Alonso (Albin) and Lando Norris (McLaren) will be third on the starting grid for the Grand Prix, which will take place at night, like qualifying. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari), Yuki Tsunoda (Alpha Toure), Esteban Ocon (Albin) and Sebastian Vettel (Aston Martin) complete the top ten on the grid.
Quebecer Lance Stroll, aboard an Aston Martin, will start from 12th.
“I had a really good feeling with the car today, but overall after I fell short by a tenth of a second in the second qualifying session I left feeling like we could have made more of that session,” Stroll admitted.
“The advantage of starting from 12th is that it gives us the choice of racing tires. We will see how we can take advantage of that because it gives us more options,” added Stroll, who said he loved what he had found so far from Losail.
Ten years of F1 in Qatar
In the longer term, Qatar signed a 10-year contract with Formula 1 in 2023, drawing criticism from international NGOs, which condemn the treatment of hundreds of thousands of workers, especially from Asia, on major construction sites. FIFA World Cup 2022.
In the face of criticism, Qatar claims it has done much to improve working conditions for migrant workers.
While the World Cup will start a year later the day after the Grand Prix on Sunday, FIFA President Gianni Infantino was in the ring on Saturday.
Hamilton, very committed to the defense of minorities, is also this weekend wearing on his helmet the colors of the rainbow flag, the symbol of the LGBT community, and other ribbons of black, brown, blue, pink and white and the words “We Stand Together”.
“I will use the same helmet for the remaining two races after this race,” Hamilton explained, while F1 is expected to be in Saudi Arabia for the first time as well (December 5), and then in Abu Dhabi (December 12) at the end of this intense title fight.
“It is important for me to represent the LGBTQ+ community, there are situations here that are not ideal and should be highlighted,” he said.
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