Bengaluru/Doha, November 20: Lewis Hamilton grabbed the pole for the inuagural Qatar Grand Prix with a blistering lap of 1:20.827sec under lights at the 5.3kms long floodlit Losail International Circuit, with FIA F1 World Championship title rival Max Verstappen lining up alongside him in second.
Mercedes' reigning world champion had the momentum heading into Q3, having been fastest in each of the previous two segments, and put himself in supreme shape after the first runs with a clinical lap.
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.
Bottas slotted into third, ahead of Pierre Gasly, who had the shine taken off his stunning performance when he ran well wide at the penultimate corner. That dragged him onto a kerb, which shattered his front wing and led to a puncture.
That forced some drivers to back out of their final results, though Fernando Alonso's first effort was still good enough for a very impressive fifth in what is his second top-five start in the last five races.
Lando Norris put McLaren sixth, to give them the edge in the tight fight with Ferrari for P3 in the constructors' FIA F1 World Championship, but Carlos Sainz was only a place behind for the Scuderia, as he outqualified his team mate Charles Leclerc for the third successive race.
Yuki Tsunoda continued his great weekend in the circuit which is in the outskirts of Doha with eighth, putting both AlphaTauris in the top 10 for the fourth time in five races.
In a qualifying session watched among many by Qatar Olympic Committee President Sheikh Joan bin Hamad Al Thani and FIFA chief Gianni Infantino, Esteban Ocon made Q3 for the first time since Russia and will start ninth with Sebastian Vettel closing out the top 10, following his first Q3 in eight races.
Since 2010, the pole-sitter at new circuits has always gone on to win the FIA F1 World Championship. Hamilton starts in that slot. Can he put a dent in the 14-point deficit to Verstappen?
Or will Verstappen get ahead into Turn 1? Sunday's (November 21) race begins at 5pm local time (7.30pm IST).
Indian audience can catch all the action live on Star Sports Select 2 channel. Buck up guys!
The inuagural Qatar GP happens on the same day which marks the one-year countdown for the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup.
The Losail International Circuit is set to stage a first F1 Grand Prix, as a replacement for the cancelled round in Australia.
It will be the 20th race of 2021 FIA F1 World Championship, with only the Saudi Arabian GP on December 5 and the Abu Dhabi GP on December 12 to come after the event in Qatar, completing literally a Middle East desert swing.
THE TOP-10 GRID AT LOSAIL
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