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A Rookie On Pole – McLaren’s Piastri Drives To First Place In A Dusty Sprint Shoutout

Written by Maria Fashchevskaya, Edited by Vyas Ponnuri

It is yet another sprint weekend in Formula One, as the travelling circus of Formula One is at the Losail International Circuit for the Qatar Grand Prix. It could be a special day for Max Verstappen, as he only needs to score three points in the upcoming sprint, outscoring his teammate Sergio Perez to be crowned World Champion for the third time in a row, this weekend.

Max Verstappen during the Sprint Shootout in Qatar; Image Credits: Clive Mason – Formula 1 via Getty Images

It was an unusual start to the sprint race day, as the drivers got another 10-minute practice session ahead of the Sprint Shootout. A regular investigation on tyre safety parameters carried out by Pirelli showed “A separation in the sidewall between the topping compound and the carcass cords on many of the tyres” on Friday.

The governing body FIA and Pirelli believed “A significant number of additional laps on these tyres could result in circumferential damage of the tyres with subsequent air loss, and tyres analysed with lower lap numbers showed a much-reduced extent of the issue”. Thus, the FIA brought the kerbs in turns 12 and 14 inwards this morning. The drivers went out ahead of Sprint qualifying to have a quick ‘learning session' of the new track limits.

Liam Lawson out-qualifies teammate again

Completely different conditions hit the drivers from the usual qualifying, as the track heated up more in comparison to Friday. With the start of the first Sprint Shootout, all the cars quickly lined up in the pit lane to get out as quickly as possible. Several lap times were deleted due to track limits. The wind-sensitive Ferraris seemed to have trouble at turn five, as the wind went sideways for them, causing them to exceed the track limits numerous times.

A spectacular performance came from Liam Lawson. The Kiwi landed in ninth place in sprint qualifying 1, outperforming his teammate Yuki Tsunoda again. The latter was left disappointed with his performance, exceeding track limits, and angrily shouting on the team radio. Logan Sargeant fell victim to the same issue, without having a representative lap time in SQ1.

Lance Stroll was disappointed in his performance. Image Credits: Dan Istitene - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images

Another disappointing performance knocked Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll out of qualifying. After yet another poor qualifying, eyes will be on the Canadian to control his emotions, and come back with a stronger performance in the actual Sprint.

Knocked out in SQ1: Lance Stroll, Alexander Albon, Yuki Tsunoda, Kevin Magnussen, and Logan Sergeant, respectively.

Hamilton is out of the top ten for Sprint

It was evident in the second shootout how quick the McLaren drivers were on the medium tyres under the track’s circumstances. Without exceeding the track limits, Lando Norris could have easily been on pole for Sunday, as he catapulted himself to first place and pitted right away, being sure of advancing into the top ten. His teammate Oscar Piastri followed him on the second row, after completing another flying lap in the closing minutes of Q2. Max Verstappen split the McLarens, and pitted mid-session, being safe of advancing, too.

However, drivers struggled not only with track limits. The wind blew at about 26.2 km/h half into the session, emerging as a crosswind in the first couple of corners. The track limit traps came down to turns five and 14, as the wind blew into the rear wing.

This caused the wind-sensitive Ferraris to have multiple deleted laps with track limits. As the session went into closure, Carlos Sainz pushed hard to get himself out of the elimination zone. Effectively knocking out Lewis Hamilton, the Spaniard advanced to the last shootout session, as the chequered flag was waved.

Lewis Hamilton did not advance to SQ3 in Qatar. Image Credits: Mark Thompson/Getty Images

At the same time, Lewis Hamilton did not imagine being knocked out in Q2 of the Sprint shootout. The team would have expected themselves to advance easily with both cars, however, only George Russell made it through. “A lot different to yesterday. Yesterday felt pretty decent. I don't know if it was the wind or the temperature being a lot hotter but the balance was completely off”, Hamilton said after the shootout. Track limits seemed to make a difference. “I had it mostly at Turn 13 with the changes they made.”

Hulkenberg completed his last flying lap, advancing into Q3, and knocking out Alpine’s Pierre Gasly in the meantime. Zhou Guanyu finished Q2 without a representative lap time too, caused by track limits, while Liam Lawson was knocked out too.

Knocked out in SQ2: Pierre Gasly, Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas, Liam Lawson, and Zhou Guanyu, respectively.

Rookie On Pole

The third Sprint shootout started with a seemingly lone impatient Max Verstappen waiting at the end of the pit lane to go out and set a time. As the session went green, he was joined by the two Ferraris for the final qualifying session this weekend. Most cars were waiting for the improvement of the track conditions, as the sun set in Qatar.

Verstappen’s first timed lap was deleted due to track limits at turn five – a popular corner for exceeding the limits, as seen throughout the shootout. Even stil, the McLarens set the pace on the track: While Oscar Piastri finished his first flying lap, Lando Norris beat his teammate’s time by 0.039 s with a 1:24.536 on the clock, with two minutes left in Q3.

It was a battle with the dusty winds at the conclusion of the Sprint shootout. George Russell finished his flying lap, moving into third place, but being immediately beaten. As Sergio Perez’s time got deleted, his teammate completed another lap but could not reach the pace of the McLaren drivers, only jumping ahead of Russell to third. “It was just quite tricky. Also with the wind the car was moving around a little bit more than yesterday but also not the best lap of my life”, Verstappen said after the shootout. "But it's ok, P3. Still quite a few laps in the Sprint so it will be quite interesting.”

Image Credits: Dan Istitene - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images

There was no doubt it would be a 1-2 for McLaren. However, Piastri’s final lap catapulted him to pole position, in an outstanding lap. “I actually want to give the FIA five minutes to confirm I am on pole”, Piastri joked after the shootout, however, being quite happy with his performance. "I struggled quite a bit in the first two parts of that qualifying then got my act together for the last one. Very happy, great work from the team.”

“Max is only starting third, so he's not a million miles away. We will try our best. A question mark on tyres, so we will do our best and see what we can pull off," the Australian rookie added. His teammate Lando Norris did not get to finish his flying lap, as he would have wished when he went wide in the last corner. "I'm happy for the team and Oscar but I did another bad job today. I'm just not happy. I'm not doing a very good job”, Norris said to Sky Sports. “Just mistakes, not putting the lap together when I need to. Easily quick enough for pole, I'm just not putting it together for pole.”

Do not miss the sprint, which is set to commence at 20:30 local time (17:30 GMT), to find out if Piastri will convert his sprint pole into a maiden victory, and Verstappen set to be crowned champion for the third time in Formula One.


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