Verstappen concedes Red Bull 'struggling more than normal' after blistering Hamilton takes Qatar pole

By Sports Desk November 20, 2021

Max Verstappen conceded Red Bull are struggling for pace after a "beautiful" lap from Lewis Hamilton saw the Mercedes driver take pole for the Qatar Grand Prix.

Hamilton, who cut Verstappen's lead in the drivers' championship to 14 points with his victory in Sao Paulo last time out, was quickest on Saturday with a blistering lap of 1:20.827.

Verstappen could not get close to that and was left to settle for second for the first Formula One race in Qatar, the Dutchman finishing 0.455 seconds off the pace.

Valtteri Bottas was third for Mercedes, with Red Bull's setback of Verstappen being unable to get ahead of Hamilton on the grid exacerbated by Sergio Perez failing to make it out of Q2.

Perez will start in 11th, meaning it is Hamilton who has a clear edge going into another crucial race.

Speaking after qualifying, Verstappen said: "[We're] lacking a bit of pace, it's been just a bit more tricky for us, again, in qualifying.

"It just shows we're struggling a bit more than normal. All to play for, but I wish we could have fought for more.

"There's a lot of unknowns, we just need to work on our start and we'll see where we end up."

The difference between Hamilton and Verstappen marked the largest pole margin in dry qualifying this year, with things looking up for the seven-time world champion after a challenging week.

"Yesterday was a really difficult day, Thursday and Friday I wasn't feeling too well, really had to dig deep," said Hamilton.

"I was here until midnight last night, working with the engineers, we found a lot of areas where I could improve. 

"We didn't have any traffic, that last lap was beautiful, this track is amazing to drive.

"I felt fantastic today, slept really well last night, that made a big difference."

Asked about strategy for the race, Hamilton added: "It's not the easiest of circuits to follow, but it's also not massively degrading on the tyres.

"It could be a one or two [stop], we'll find out tomorrow. It's nice and wide into turn one, so we'll be giving everything."


PROVISIONAL CLASSIFICATION

1. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
2. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) +0.455s
3. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) +0.651s
4. Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri) +0.813s
5. Fernando Alonso (Alpine) +0.843s
6. Lando Norris (McLaren) +0.904s
7. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) +1.013s
8. Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri) +1.054s
9. Esteban Ocon (Alpine) +1.201s
10. Sebastian Vettel (Aston Martin) +1.958s

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    Carlos Sainz declared he is "ready to fight for it" as the man from Madrid chases Spanish Grand Prix glory on Sunday.

    The Ferrari driver, 27, has had nine podium finishes in his career but has yet to take the top step, and doing so at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya would be ideal.

    Ferrari have won this race 12 times previously, secured 38 podium finishes and earned a record 485 points, and it will be up to Sainz and pole-sitter Charles Leclerc to follow the illustrious example of Prancing Horse greats of years gone by.

    Sainz has collected points in each of his seven Spanish Grand Prix appearances, finishing between sixth and ninth each time.

    He has loftier ambitions for Sunday's race after qualifying in third position, behind Leclerc and last year's champion Max Verstappen, but knows that however well he might drive, other factors will come into the equation, not least how the tyres cope in the sizzling Barcelona heat.

    "I think there's two key aspects," Sainz said. "There's the start and the tyre management that you need to get right to win here. Strategy, obviously being more than one stop, will be key also.

    "There's many things in a 66-lap race that can happen. I'm ready to fight for it. Ready to get a good start, ready to try to get ahead. Ready to try and push from there."

    Referring to team-mate Leclerc and Red Bull's Verstappen, who have respectively won twice and three times in the five races held so far this season, Sainz accepted both were a hard act to match.

    The home favourite said: "Obviously, these guys have proved they have very good pace [on Saturday] and recently, but I think anything's possible."

    This is the 52nd Spanish Grand Prix and the 32nd to be staged at this particular circuit. Of the previous 31 winners at the race's current home, some 28 have started on the front row. Two have come from the second row, while only Fernando Alonso, who started from fifth in 2013, has gone on to win from further back on the grid.

    Sainz has observed the rear of his car is "very light" and suggested that consequently he was having to curb his natural instincts.

    Ferrari racing director Laurent Mekies urged caution about race prospects, saying rival teams might prove more competitive than proved the case in qualifying.

    "And I think that any aspect, from the start to tyre degradation, which will probably be the highest we have seen so far this season, could make the difference," Mekies said.

  • Hamilton 'gutted' by P6 but thinks Mercedes can challenge Ferrari in Spain Hamilton 'gutted' by P6 but thinks Mercedes can challenge Ferrari in Spain

    Lewis Hamilton was "a little bit gutted" by qualifying sixth for the Spanish Grand Prix but is confident Mercedes can challenge Ferrari on race day. 

    Mercedes have endured a dismal start to the season and struggled to match the pace of the Red Bulls and Ferraris, with Hamilton's only podium coming when he finished third in Bahrain. 

    There have been significant signs of improvement at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya – where Charles Leclerc pipped Max Verstappen to pole – but the seven-time champion was still outqualified by team-mate George Russell, who will start from fourth. 

    However, Hamilton hopes to be able to mix it with the Ferraris ahead of him on Sunday. 

    "The team have done a great job so a big, big thank you to everyone for keeping pushing back at the factory because we don't have bouncing in a straight line, which is a huge improvement for us. And the car has generally been nicer this weekend," Hamilton told Sky Sports. 

    "I am a little bit gutted [being sixth] because I want to be further up ahead, and you've obviously seen George is able to put it up further ahead than me, but I will keep pushing. 

    "[Friday practice] was our best race pace that we've had so if we could start racing with the Ferraris, for example, that would be amazing. 

    "I think the Red Bulls look like they might be quickest but we look like we could maybe compete with the Ferraris tomorrow and that is a big step for us." 

    Team principal Toto Wolff thinks the bouncing issues that have plagued Mercedes being solved has primed them to make further strides as the season continues. 

    "I think we have taken a solid step into Barcelona. You try to keep your expectations at a realistic point and I think where we slotted in is somehow the best we could have expected," said Wolff. 

    "My belief is we have a race car more than a qualifying car, but we're going to see tomorrow how it went for the others. I think with Red Bull, they always have the tendency of being much stronger in the race than the Ferraris. 

    "We know how to unlock more performance, but we're not yet there. It's step by step. The other teams have continued to develop their cars when we've been in a sort of pause moment to find out about the bouncing. 

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  • Leclerc recovers from spin to take Spanish Grand Prix pole as DRS failure costs Verstappen Leclerc recovers from spin to take Spanish Grand Prix pole as DRS failure costs Verstappen

    Charles Leclerc recovered from a Q3 spin to take pole as Max Verstappen was left to rue a DRS failure in qualifying for the Spanish Grand Prix. 

    Ferrari driver Leclerc span out at turn 14 on his first flying lap but produced an immense time with his next and only completed attempt, to ensure he will start from the front of the grid. 

    All four of the Monegasque driver's Formula One victories have come after starting on pole. Some 28 of the past 31 winners at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya qualified on the front row.

    Verstappen aborted his final lap after reporting a loss of power, with Red Bull team principal Christian Horner confirming to Sky Sports that was due to a DRS issue. 

    The Dutchman will consequently start from second, with Ferrari's Carlos Sainz in third.

    "I feel good. It was a difficult session, especially in Q3 because I made a mistake in the first run and then only had one lap," said Leclerc.

    "But it went extremely well, I had a few moments but made it stick and very happy with pole position. It was a very good lap and the car was amazing too, so very happy.

    "We've been struggling with tyres in the last few races compared to Red Bull, so Max is just behind. If we don't manage those tyres we will lose that advantage, so we need to get on top of it.

    "I hope we can do a one-two. It will be great for the team and we will give it our all."

    Verstappen acknowledged he may not have been able to beat Leclerc's time but still felt second was a good return for the team.

    "It's always difficult to tell, I couldn't do my final run. Either the DRS didn't open or I just lost power," he said.

    "It's a bit of a shame, but overall to be on the front row here looking at the whole weekend here, it's a good achievement, but I'd have liked to go for that final run.

    "Hopefully, our car will be a bit kinder on the tyres again, but it's difficult to tell at the moment."

    Sainz added: "I think everything is possible tomorrow. We are definitely going to try our best to get ahead at the start and lead from there, but it wasn't the ideal qualifying because I couldn't set a good lap on the used tyre."

    George Russell was fourth and Lewis Hamilton qualified sixth as Mercedes' record run of nine straight poles in Barcelona came to an end.

    Mick Schumacher will start 10th after making it through to Q3 for the first time in his career, while home favourite Fernando Alonso was eliminated in Q1 alongside the two controversially remodelled Aston Martins.

    PROVISIONAL CLASSIFICATION

    1. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) 1:18.750
    2. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) +0.323s
    3. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) +0.416s
    4. George Russell (Mercedes) +0.643s
    5. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) +0.670s
    6. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) +0.762s
    7. Valtteri Bottas (Alfa Romeo) +0.858s
    8. Kevin Magnussen (Haas) +0.932s
    9. Daniel Ricciardo (McLaren) +1.547s
    10. Mick Schumacher (Haas) +1.618s

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