Por Andrew Mills
DOHA, Nov 20 (Reuters) – Seven-time Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton put Mercedes in pole position for the first Qatari Grand Prix on Saturday with impressive dominance on the night circuit.
Championship leader Max Verstappen of Red Bull will start in second place on Sunday, after clocking almost half a second faster than the Briton. The Dutch driver is 14 points clear of Hamilton, with three races to go.
Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas finished third after he was fastest in practice.
“That last lap was beautiful, it was a really nice lap,” said Hamilton, who won the Brazilian Grand Prix last week after starting from 10th on the grid.
The defending champion was the first out of the pits on the final stage, setting a surprising time of one minute, 20.827 seconds to claim pole 102 of his career and fourth of the season.
The 36-year-old had already achieved provisional pole with a time of 1: 21.262 after being the fastest in the first and second stages of qualifying and also being the fastest in all sectors of the track.
The 0.455 margin between the two title contenders is the largest it has seen all season in a dry qualifying session.
Hamilton commented that he had not been feeling well on Thursday and Friday, when he was also working with his engineers until midnight.
“I had a little stomachache since Wednesday, but today I felt fantastic. I slept well last night, so that makes a big difference,” he said.
LACK OF RHYTHM
Verstappen, whose team has openly questioned the legality of Hamilton’s rear wing and raised concerns about the Mercedes’ impressive straight-line speed, noted that his car was only lacking some pace.
“It was a bit more difficult for us again in qualifying,” said the 24-year-old Dutchman, whose Mexican teammate Sergio Pérez came in 11th in a strategic setback for Red Bull.
“Checo (Pérez) is not even in Q3 (the final qualifying round), so it definitely shows that we are having a little more problems than normal.”
Pierre Gasly was fourth despite breaking his front wing on the pianos and suffering a puncture, leaving debris on the track, causing the yellow flags to fly briefly on his final lap.
Double world champion Fernando Alonso qualified fifth with Renault’s Alpine, while McLaren’s Lando Norris was sixth and Carlos Sainz seventh with Ferrari.
“I think there are certain circuits that seem to be better for our package and this is one of them,” said Alonso, whose team is tied on points with AlphaTauri, but ahead thanks to a victory in one race.
“Being at night, I know there shouldn’t be a big difference, but the track is quite cool at night and that helps a lot to overheat the tires,” added the Spaniard.
Yuki Tsunoda, from AlphaTauri, Esteban Ocon, from Alpine, and Sebastian Vettel, from Aston Martin, completed the top 10. (Written by Alan Baldwin in London, Edited in Spanish by Ricardo Figueroa)