Hamilton on pole for inaugural Qatar F1 Grand Prix

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The Mercedes driver beat championship rival Verstappen, who finished second for Sunday’s race.

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Britain’s Lewis Hamilton will start from pole ahead of world championship rival Max Verstappen at the first Qatar Formula One Grand Prix on Sunday.

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Mercedes’ Hamilton clocked one minute 20.827 seconds on the Losel International Circuit, which has only seen MotoGP racing in the past.

It was Hamilton’s fourth pole of the season and a record 102nd overall.

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Red Bull’s Verstappen fell behind by about half a second, an inter-team consultant Helmut Marko called “dangerous”.

Valtteri Bottas was third in the second Mercedes.

Verstappen is on top of the championship, 14 points ahead of Hamilton, with three races left in a fierce title duel, and Hamilton will hope his pole will help him further narrow the deficit on Sunday.

The qualifying time difference will give Red Bull a restless night – almost half a second, a clear sign Hamilton’s new engine installed last weekend has breathed new life into his quest for an unprecedented eighth world title.

Hamilton has picked up some momentum after an impressive 10th win on the grid last weekend in Brazil.

“I was here until last night working with engineers who always work so late, they’re so hardworking, and I found so many areas that I could improve,” Hamilton said.

Mercedes got an unexpected advantage in the titular title fight with Red Bull, after Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Perez failed to make the Q3 top 10 shoot-out.

With the Mexican in the sixth row on Sunday’s grid, Red Bull’s strategy to upset Mercedes rests on Verstappen.

Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz (front) qualified in seventh place ahead of teammate Charles Leclerc, who could only manage 13th place [Hamad I Mohammed/Pool/Reuters]

Qatar F1 Facts

Sunday’s race is the first in a 10-year deal between F1 and Qatar, and teams are still learning the track. Qatar will be the 36th country to host Formula One.

Start time: 5 pm (14:00 GMT).

Lap Distance: 5.38 km (3.34 mi)

Total Distance (57 laps): 306.66 km (190.54 mi)

The circuit has hosted MotoGP since 2004, becoming a night race in 2008 when it also opened the season.

Track: Fast and flowing and has 16 medium and high speed corners.

Weather conditions: Hot and similar teams are used in Abu Dhabi.

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