Lewis Hamilton wins pole ahead of Max Verstappen for inaugural Qatar Grand Prix

Hamilton Qatar pole Verstappen
Hasan Bratic/DeFodi Images via Getty Images
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LOSAIL, Qatar –  Lewis Hamilton won the pole position, and Max Verstappen qualified second for the inaugural Qatar Grand Prix, setting up a showdown between the Formula One championship contenders at the very start of Sunday’s race.

Hamilton won the 102nd pole of his career, fourth of the season and first since the Hungarian Grand Prix in August. Hamilton trails Verstappen by 14 points in the championship fight with three races remaining.

He beat Verstappen by 0.455 seconds Saturday to win the pole at Losail International Circuit. The seven-time champion said his stomach had been bothering him since he arrived in Qatar, but a good night’s sleep helped his recovery.

Hamilton said his stomachache made opening day at the new circuit difficult, and he was fourth in both of Friday’s practice sessions.

“I really struggled throughout first practice and I was just really off,” Hamilton said. “I was here ’til midnight working with the engineers, who also always work so late, and found I lot of areas in which I can improve.”

Mercedes made changes in Saturday’s final practice and Hamilton said in qualifying he was aided by smart strategy that sent him on track with little traffic and a strong lap by the driver. It was a dominant showing for Hamilton, who was fastest in all three qualifying groups. He was the first driver to head out for a final qualifying run and was the only driver to log a lap in the 1 minute, 20-second range. He was nearly a half-second faster than Verstappen.

“That last lap was beautiful, it was a really sweet lap,” Hamilton said. “This track is amazing to drive, it is incredibly fast. It felt good.”

Verstappen said Red Bull was lacking pace and noted that teammate Sergio Perez failed to advance to the final qualifying group. Perez will start 11th.

“It’s been just a bit more tricky for us in qualifying,” Verstappen said. “We are struggling a bit more than normal. We’ve never done a race here, so there’s a lot of unknowns.”

The race is the first in a 10-year deal between F1 and Qatar.

Hamilton on Friday debuted a helmet that sported a rainbow in the colors of the Progress Pride flag that recognizes the LGBTQ+ community. He shared a photo of it on his social media feeds with the caption “We stand together” and said after qualifying he expects to wear the helmet at upcoming races in Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi.

Hamilton on Friday once again spoke out on human rights issues in the region and acknowledged F1 was closing its season in places “deemed as the worst in this part of the world” regarding human rights abuses. Campaign groups have highlighted discriminatory laws against women and LGBTQ+ individuals in the Gulf state, which will also host the World Cup next year.

He said after qualifying he’d not received any negative feedback about the helmet.

“It’s important for me to represent that community. I know there are several situations that aren’t perfect and need to be highlighted,” Hamilton said. “But I hope that someone reaches out and would love to know what is happening here and what they’re doing to help support the LBGTQ+ community.”

Valtteri Bottas, teammate to Hamilton at Mercedes, qualified third and was followed by Pierre Gasly of AlphaTauri. Gasly has been fast all weekend but a tire puncture near the end of qualifying slowed him. Gasly ran wide in the penultimate corner and his front wing shattered when he hit a curb, causing the tire puncture.

Fernando Alonso qualified fifth for Alpine and was followed by Lando Norris of McLaren and Carlos Sainz of Ferrari.

Yuki Tsunoda was eighth, about 0.2 seconds behind teammate Gasly, and followed by Esteban Ocon of Alpine and Sebastian Vettel of Aston Martin.

The weekend opened with the Brazil GP still the main topic of discussion as Mercedes contested the FIA decision not to penalize Verstappen for running Hamilton wide off course last week in Sao Paulo. Mercedes requested a review of the decision, which the FIA denied in the middle of a Friday press briefing between the principals of the two warring teams.

Red Bull has complained the rear wing on the Mercedes has been illegal in some races and Verstappen was fined last week in Brazil for touching the wing following a practice session.

“It’s difficult to know. Not only moving forward, but what has been already done and raced with in previous races,” Verstappen said. “I mean, we have footage from it, so these things can get highlighted. Let’s just hope that we’re going to have a good battle to the end.”

The 24-year-old Dutchman is seeking his first F1 championship. Hamilton, who is 36, has won four consecutive titles.

Lessons learned in three rounds of Extreme E pay huge dividends in the Copper X Prix for Tanner Foust

Foust Copper X Prix
McLaren Racing
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To paraphrase the Grateful Dead, what a long, unique trip it’s been for Tanner Foust in his first season with the Extreme E series as he took his early season lessons to Chile to compete in the Copper X Prix. And he’s learned his lessons well.

In February, McLaren announced they would expand their motorsports program with an Extreme E entry. They signed two talented rally drivers in Foust and Emma Gilmour – and paired them for the opening round in Neom, Saudi Arabia with just a few days of testing under their belts. Baked by the Arabian desert sun, it was trial by fire.

The duo performed well in their debut, advancing into the final round and finishing fifth. As Extreme E headed to another desert halfway across the globe for Round 4, it was a good time to catch up with Foust and ask about McLaren’s progress. The Copper X Prix was held this past weekend in one of the most extreme regions in the world: the Atacama Desert.

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“The shock going into the first race was the speed,” Foust told NBC Sports. “It was much higher than we had tested. We spent a lot of time around 100 miles per hour [in race trim] and our testing speeds were more in the 60 to 70-mile range. Then, once we sort of got around that, the car got updated so you can drive it even faster.”

In rally racing, some incidents are out of a driver’s control. Even peeking around another car can be dangerous because of potholes that have recently been gouged in the ground or large bushes that seem to sprout up between laps. A couple of rollovers brought Foust back to earth – but the pace was there and that was important.

“We had some challenges this season,” Foust said prior to the Copper X Prix. “We had a good start; made the final, which is a difficult thing to do in this series. I had two rolls in the first three events, but I have improved each time. Now we come into Round 4 in Chile in a pretty strong position. We have competitive times as a team. We are communicating really well and have our heads around this Odyssey vehicle.”

Foust’s words proved to be prophetic.

He won the Crazy Race – Extreme E’s version of a Last Chance Qualifier – and did so after passing the field. It was the same manner in which he qualified for Saudi Arabia’s finale, but this time things would be better. There were those hard-earned lessons on which to lean – and Foust had reps under his belt. He was not going to be caught off guard by any random obstacles.

Tanner Foust passed Sebastien Loeb heading to the Switch Zone in the Copper X Prix. (Photo by Sam Bagnall / LAT Images)

In the Copper X Prix finale, he pressured one of the best rally drivers in the history of the sport.

Pitching sideways through a tight left-hander late in his stint, Foust put his McLaren Extreme E Odyssey at the head of the pack in front of Sebastien Loeb as they headed to the Switch Zone. There, he would turn the car over to his co-driver Gilmour.

The Extreme E series pairs male and female drivers with both taking a turn behind the wheel.

After the driver change, Gilmour lost the lead momentarily to Loeb’s teammate Cristina Gutierrez, but as they charged toward the finish line, she surged ahead and crossed under the checkers first.

“What an improvement for the team over this year,” Foust said after the race. “We have struggled through some of the events, being in our first year in competition. We showed true pace this weekend; overtaking Sebastien Loeb was a highlight.

“Emma put in a great run in the Final. I was fortunate to go from last to first in the Crazy Race and then first in the Final but with some flag penalties, we had 20 seconds added to our time, which put us into fifth. It was a great feeling crossing the line first, I love this wide style track and the NEOM McLaren Odyssey was fantastic here.

“Hopefully we can continue that momentum into Uruguay.”

Loeb and Gutierrez were elevated to the top of the podium, but no one can take away the feeling of crossing under the checkers first.


Racing Responsibly

Since cars were first invented, racing has played a socially responsible role by improving safety. As Earth reaches a tipping point with climate change, racing needs to adapt to these new needs and requirements, which is where Extreme E’s unique strategy becomes increasingly important.

The Extreme E experience is more than simple racing. Each race is accompanied by a legacy program designed to offset damage done by climate change and to erase the footprint caused by the events.

Foust, a biology major from the University of Colorado, was given the chance to rekindle his interest and give back to the environment ahead of the Copper X Prix.

The Atacama is the oldest desert in the world at 150 million years. It is the driest place on earth and has the highest degree of ultraviolet light. And yet somehow life perseveres through underground rivers with oases dating back to Incan times. Foust participated in preparing a local habitat for the reintroduction of a critically endangered water frog to Chile’s longest river, the Loa, which snakes its way through the desert.

“I’m loving the experience,” Foust said. “I’m putting on a lot of Chapstick, a lot of sunscreen. What a fascinating part of the world. I never would have come here otherwise.

“I honestly am very honored to be a part of this sport. I am a huge believer in the fact that motorsports has done us good in the last 100 years. I think we benefit every single time we put our seatbelts on and drive down the road to the lessons learned in racing since the turn of the century. And I really hope motorsports continues that tradition.

“I think that motorsports like [Extreme E] does it in a responsible way, a gender-neutral way and a carbon-neutral way.”