Max Verstappen claims pole position in Qatar on the weekend he could clinch the Driver’s Championship, with George Russell starting Sunday’s race second, and Lewis Hamilton third

  • Max Verstappen claimed his 30th career pole in Qatar on Friday night
  • The Dutchman could win the World Championship in the Sprint on Saturday 
  • George Russell took second place, while Lewis Hamilton will start in third 

Max Verstappen opened what is likely to be his title-clinching weekend by securing pole position for the Qatar Grand Prix.

The 26-year-old Dutchman was the irresistible force he has been all season under the Losail International Circuit’s lights as he made himself the firm favourite for his 14th victory from 17 during his magical season.

But, in a strange twist of scheduling, the full-distance race may be irrelevant to Verstappen’s ambitions of becoming the 11th triple world because he is expected to wrap up the honours in Saturday’s 19-lap sprint.

Formula One have implemented a new format for the six sprint weekend this season, with Saturdays given over entirely to the shorter-distance stuff: a further qualifying session in the afternoon to determine the starting positions for the evening’s sprint.

It is a strange day without moorings to the main event on Sunday – or what would be the main event but for the probability of Verstappen having already blown out his candles by then. Indeed, he hinted he would stage a mini-celebration if he concludes his year-long procession to glory before the grand prix itself.

Max Verstappen claimed his 30th career pole position by winning the qualifying in Qatar

If his team-mate Sergio Perez, the only remaining mathematical challenger to the inevitable, fails to score six points in the sprint – which means finishing third or higher – then it is all over. Whatever happens, three points for Verstappen on Saturday – sixth or better – would settle it.

The bad news for Perez is that he is struggling for pace here 18 miles north of Doha. The Mexican qualified a lowly 13th, his struggles compounded by having his best time deleted for exceeding track limits at Turn 5.

Verstappen was in charge most of Friday evening, though he complained of nearly hitting Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz during Q2. ‘What’s he doing man?’ he exclaimed. ‘He’s defending. Did you see that? I almost crashed into him.’

He also ran off track right at the death, but he had already bagged a time four-tenths ahead of the rest in front of a relatively small crowd. Mercedes’ George Russell was second best once his fellow Brit, McLaren’s Lando Norris, was demoted to 10th for driving over the white lines.

A further rearrangement was imposed minutes later when Norris’s team-mate Oscar Piastri was dumped from third fastest to sixth for the same offence. That paved the way for Lewis Hamilton, in the other Silver Arrow, to qualify third.