F1 – Qatar GP – Qualifying

Marhaba, MiniFans! Lately, we have gotten used to seeing new tracks on the calendar, and this is one of those occasions. THe circuit is very well known for bike racing fans but is a bit more of an enigma for the Formula 1 crowd. Nevertheless, drivers and teams alike are all in the same boat and have used their free practices to get used to the new track, as well as race direction’s ever changing track limits, which have finally been reduced to three corners.

As usual, the first two on the track in Q1 were the Haas, with Mazepin in special need of laps due to having missed a lot of time in practice due to problems with the car. Times were quick from the get-go from the fastest cars, but they still were being careful with their cars, unlike those fighting to make it to Q2. The weekend has proven the circuit has no mercy with wings and floors, so the risk wasn’t worth it for them. After one great lap by Russell in his Williams, everyone except for Red Bull went back out for one final lap, encountering a queue of cars in the last sector. No major changes happened to the order and the usual suspects were the ones left behind. The eliminated drivers in Q1 were Raikkonen (P16), Latifi (P17), Giovinazzi (P18), Schumacher (P19) and Mazepin (P20).

Mediums came out from the beginning in Q2 to test potential times and still have a margin of error in case it wasn’t enough for some, but others decided to skip the first step and do both runs with softs. Leclerc was one of the drivers with many doubts swimming in his head, as he had no idea how he was nine tenths away from his teammate. Another one was Pérez, who was more than half a second away from Verstappen. Unlike them, Sainz seemed happy with the harder tyres, so he kept them for his second run, but his try was almost in vain. He barely scrapped through, thanks to others also not improving their times too much, as the track hadn’t shown the improvement it had just a handful of minutes prior. Those who had been waiting for it in order to put their best work in were left in disappointment, including Red Bull’s second driver. The eliminated drivers in Q2 were Pérez (P11), Stroll (P12), Leclerc (P13), Ricciardo (P14) and Russell (P15).

Q3 was where we started to see the really low times and the risky moves. Breaking the car wasn’t as much of a concern anymore, so they all went flat out, helping themselves to every available centimetre of kerb they could find in their pursuit of pole. Hamilton came out on top first, but Verstappen managed to split the silver arrows in half. In their second run, the British driver was the first one out, using every single spot of track he wanted and cutting four tenths off his own time. A brief yellow flag, caused by Gasly and a punctured tyre from his own front wing detatching over a kerb hit, made drivers lift but it wasn’t too clear who had been affected by it. Due to this confusion, the order for tomorrow’s remained the same as it had been after the first run.

In the first real battle of the weekend, Verstappen was left without a right-hand man, as Pérez couldn’t make it to Q3. It was almost a guarantee that Mercedes would be in front, seeing their times during the rest of the weekend, but what wasn’t clear was the order. However, Hamilton knows how to respond to these events and settled comfortably in first. Max’s saving grace, after knowing his teammate would not be able to start near him, was managing a first row alongside his biggest rival. Starts have proven to be key this championship, so it will be interesting to see how both drivers interpret one in a brand-new circuit for them.