Lewis Hamilton on pole position ahead of Max Verstappen for Qatar Grand Prix

Reigning champion will start Sunday's race in front of title rival

Seven times Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton sealed pole position for the inaugural Qatar Grand Prix on Saturday.

Red Bull's championship leader Max Verstappen, 14 points clear of his British rival with three races to go, will join him on the front row but was nearly half a second slower in the floodlit evening session.

Hamilton's Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas will start in third in the first of three races in the Middle East, with Saudi Arabia and the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix to come.

Verstappen's teammate Sergio Perez was only 11th, putting Red Bull at a strategic disadvantage for the race.

Alpha Tauri's Pierre Gasly was fourth ahead of Alpine's Fernando Alonso, with McLaren's Lando Norris was sixth and Ferrari's Carlos Sainz seventh.

Hamilton won in Brazil last weekend and had the beating of the Red Bull around the Lusail International Circuit.

Mercedes showed their pace advantage in the final practice session and Hamilton would storm to pole under the lights in Doha with a time of one minute 20.827 — almost half a second faster than his main title protagonist, with Verstappen second.

“Yesterday was a really difficult day for me — I really struggled through that practice yesterday,” Hamilton said.

“I was here until midnight last night working with the engineers and found a little variation where I could improve, made some changes for third practice and it worked but — then you have to carry that through to qualifying.

“That last lap was beautiful, it is an amazing track to drive and it felt good.

“I had a bit of a stomach ache from Wednesday but I slept really well last night and that made a bit of a difference.”

Dutch driver Verstappen admitted Red Bull are “lacking a bit of pace” before Sunday's race. “I think it's more trickier for us again, [Sergio Perez] is not even in Q3 so it shows we're struggling a bit more than usual. Wish we could have fought for more,” he said.

“We've not done a race here, so there are a lot of unknowns, I don't think about it much, focus on the start, we'll see from there. We'll focus on the race in general.”

Bottas, meanwhile, admitted being left “confused” by his day's work. “It has been a good weekend so far, until qualifying for me, but not sure what happened overnight, said the Finn.

“I really had to push a lot in qualifying — I struggled quite a bit going into Turn 1 but I tried my best but I'm a bit confused as to what happened to the car overnight.

“I personally don’t have much to lose and I hope the grip is going to be good, but we have got two cars against Max so hopefully we can do something.”

Updated: November 20th 2021, 3:43 PM