Max Verstappen took pole position for the Qatar Grand Prix as Lando Norris was denied a place on the front row twice for track limits infringements.
Both of Norris’ times set in Q3 would have been good enough to line up alongside the Red Bull driver, but he will start 10th after seeing both Q3 times deleted for running wide – with George Russell set to line up P2 instead, with Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso and Charles Leclerc rounding out the top five after Oscar Piastri also lost his best time, which was good enough for third.
Elsewhere, Lance Stroll aired his frustration in appearing to shove his personal trainer out of the way in the garage after a Q1 exit, while Carlos Sainz and Sergio Perez were both eliminated in Q2.
Lance Stroll suffers another Q1 exit, Fernando Alonso challenges in early part of qualifying
With the latest Sprint to come on Saturday, qualifying was shifted to Friday as the grid was set for Sunday’s Qatar Grand Prix – and the teams only had one hour to prepare in practice before getting going under the lights at Lusail.
With such little running, it was perhaps unsurprising to see the drivers want to get out on track early and clock as many laps as possible in Q1, with dust still being kicked up from underneath the cars as they went around.
The temptation to push the limits and the flat surface saw track limits come into play too, with both Lando Norris and Lance Stroll seeing times deleted early on – Norris in particular disappointed with his being the quickest lap of the session up to that point, though the likes of Alex Albon and Oscar Piastri also saw their times deleted.
Fernando Alonso, podium finisher in Qatar two years ago, found a huge chunk of time to move onto a 1:25.685, seven tenths clear of Esteban Ocon in second halfway through Q1, but as ever, the main focus would be on the unlucky five drivers to drop out in the first stage of qualifying.
With the surface being cleared of dust and the full relaying of the Lusail Circuit, track evolution was significant throughout the session, placing big significance on the final runs of the session.
Kevin Magnussen could not improve enough to drag himself out of the bottom five, neither could Liam Lawson, Zhou Guanyu, Lance Stroll and Albon pipped team-mate Logan Sargeant at the last to put himself through to Q2.
Verstappen was quickest on a 1:25.007, with Norris, Alonso, Piastri and George Russell rounding out the top five as qualifying advanced.
Stroll was seen pushing his Aston Martin colleagues away as he climbed out of his car, with team members looking to offer support as he was eliminated – but the Canadian was in no mood to be consoled after another frustrating exit.
Carlos Sainz and Sergio Perez in shock Q2 exit for Qatar Grand Prix
But for the remaining drivers, it was onwards to Q2 – and there was more time to be found on track as times continued to improve across the board during qualifying.
Verstappen’s benchmark improved to a 1:24.758 after his first run on used tyres, trailed by the Mercedes duo of Russell and Lewis Hamilton but, once again, the final runs would be crucial with the track improving all the time.
Both McLaren drivers were able to briefly knock Verstappen off the top in the final few minutes of the session, but the Dutchman was left with a hairy moment on track as he came up close behind Carlos Sainz on his out-lap, claiming he almost crashed into the Ferrari driver while winding up for his flying lap, which will be looked at by the stewards after the session.
But as for Sainz, he crossed the line eighth quickest but was quickly overtaken by several others as he fell into the drop zone, and for Sergio Perez, he set a time quick enough for the top 10 that was deleted for a track limits violation, leaving him 13th on the grid for Sunday’s race.
Alex Albon ran wide at Turn 12 to end his best attempt, with Nico Hulkenberg set to line up 15th and Yuki Tsunoda out in 11th, while Valtteri Bottas received a reprieve and squeezed through to Q3 with Perez being eliminated.
Max Verstappen takes Qatar Grand Prix pole
The tailwind into the double-right of Turns 4 and 5 led to a tough proposition for the drivers to navigate throughout qualifying, with Charles Leclerc forced to abort his first Q3 attempt after running wide at Turn 4 in the process, though he was far from the first to do so.
A 1:24.088 from Norris was the quickest time of the weekend so far, but was swiftly deleted for track limits on the exit of Turn 5, before Verstappen topped it with a 1:23.778 – some half a second clear of the rest of the field after the first runs, though Norris would have been thet Red Bull driver’s nearest competitor.
Norris crossed the line again to go second quickest, and Verstappen made a mistake early in his final flying lap that left him needing to abort it – though such was his advantage that it did not make a material difference come the end of the session.
Russell, Piastri and Hamilton all improved to fall in behind Verstappen, but after a wait, Norris’ time was deleted again after running wide on the exit of Turn 10, leaving him starting 10th on Sunday.
But after the session, Piastri was being interviewed in parc fermé when he was told that his best lap was deleted, leaving him down in sixth for the start of the race.
All eyes will be on the Sprint on Saturday, but the grid is now in place for Sunday’s Qatar Grand Prix.
Qualifying classification: 2023 Qatar Grand Prix
1 Max VERSTAPPEN Red Bull 1:23.778
2 George RUSSELL Mercedes +0.441
3 Lewis HAMILTON Mercedes +0.527
4 Fernando ALONSO Aston Martin +0.591
5 Charles LECLERC Ferrari +0.646
6 Oscar PIASTRI McLaren +0.762
7 Pierre GASLY Alpine +0.775
8 Esteban OCON Alpine +0.985
9 Valtteri BOTTAS Alfa Romeo +1.280
10 Lando NORRIS McLaren NO TIME
11 Yuki TSUNODA AlphaTauri 1:25.301
12 Carlos SAINZ Ferrari +0.027
13 Sergio PEREZ Red Bull +0.161
14 Alexander ALBON Williams +0.406
15 Nico HULKENBERG Haas +0.482
16 Logan SARGEANT Williams 1:26.210
17 Lance STROLL Aston Martin +0.135
18 Liam LAWSON AlphaTauri +0.425
19 Kevin MAGNUSSEN Haas +1.036
20 ZHOU Guanyu Alfa Romeo +1.222