F1 2021: Verstappen under investigation for Qatar qualifying as Sao Paulo saga rumbles on

By Sports Desk November 20, 2021

Max Verstappen heads into Sunday's Qatar Grand Prix well off the pace of Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes and under investigation by the stewards, with the fallout over the title rivals' battle in Brazil refusing to die down.

Verstappen is under investigation for refusing to slow down under waved yellow flags in qualifying.

The world championship leader has been summoned to the stewards having apparently failed to respond to single waved yellows on his final lap after Pierre Gasly suffered a puncture on the pit straight.

If found guilty, he will likely face a grid penalty having qualified second behind Hamilton, who set a blistering time of 1:20.827.

Mercedes' Valtteri Bottas (third) and Ferrari's Carlos Sainz (seventh) are also under investigation for the same offence.

Qualifying came after an elongated drivers briefing that lasted over an hour as they sought clarification over what represents fair driving following the tussle between Verstappen and Hamilton in Sao Paulo, which saw the latter forced off track as they fought for the lead.

Asked if the FIA had succeeded in clarifying the issue, Verstappen told the drivers' media conference: "I think it's always trying to align everyone in having the same process in the way you think, everyone.

"Everyone is different, right? And everybody I think has their own way of racing and defending and overtaking, and of course very hard for the FIA as well to, how do you say it? To get everyone on the same line.

"Of course, they decide but every driver has a different opinion. And I think yesterday [Friday] it was all about sharing their opinions, and then the FIA explaining their process of thought behind it. So, I think we came a long way, and it was a very long briefing. So, yeah, I think at the end it was pretty clear."

Hamilton, though, had a very different view.

"It's not clear. Every driver, except for Max, was asking just for clarity, most drivers were asking for clarity, but it wasn't very clear," he said. 

"So, yeah, it's still not clear what the limits of the track are. It's clearly not the white line anymore, when overtaking but… yeah, we just go for it. We just ask for consistency. So, if it's the same as the last race then it should be the same for all of us in those scenarios and it's fine."

With victory, Hamilton could trim Verstappen's lead to seven points were the Dutchman to finish second, and he has every reason for confidence with his Mercedes taking pole by a gap that surprised even himself.

"Probably the last three races in qualifying we have been ahead of them, which has been a bit of a surprise," added Hamilton. 

"Today definitely wasn't expecting to have as big a gap as that. I looked, I was relatively comfortable and was around tenth or so ahead throughout the session, but to be able to pull out that extra time felt great and it's a great showing of the hard work, all the guys, as I said we were here until midnight last night. The guys were here even later than that. Really great work from everyone.

"Long-run pace is good. We always end up getting closer… or our pace closes up to each other when it comes to race pace and yeah, I think the car is in a good place. It's a difficult circuit to follow so, yeah, I'm looking forward to the start."

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  • Hamilton and Verstappen confident of dethroning Norris at Spanish Grand Prix Hamilton and Verstappen confident of dethroning Norris at Spanish Grand Prix

    Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen are confident they can claim victory from the clutches of Lando Norris ahead of Sunday's Spanish Grand Prix. 

    The pair, who have won the previous eight Spanish Grands Prix between them (three for Verstappen and five for Hamilton), start second and third on the grid in Barcelona. 

    The seven-time world champion out-qualified team-mate George Russell for only the second time this season as the Mercedes drivers took third and fourth, underlining their re-emergence as contenders close to the front after a series of car developments. 

    “I’m really happy, thank you everyone I’m super happy to be here in the top three," Hamilton said. "It’s been a difficult year and a huge amount of work from everyone back at the factory, and finally we are starting to see those incremental steps moving closer to the guys ahead.

    “I didn’t expect us to be fighting for pole necessarily, but there were bits there where I thought maybe we will be close and so to be there I’m just grateful.”

    On the team making steps forward, he added: “We’ve made huge steps forward and it’s really just down to every single individual back at the factory who is pushing and designing and making the new parts that we get to bring as early as possible to these races.

    "Slowly the car is crafting into a racing machine that we can hopefully fight the guys at the front.

    “George did a great job today so hopefully tomorrow we can apply pressure to the two cars ahead.” 

    Red Bull's Verstappen will start on the front row, but in second place after being pipped by Norris to claim his second career pole. 

    The Dutchman appeared out of reach when he improved his own time, which was already fastest, by more than 0.2 seconds on his final run, only for Norris to cross the line moments later to beat Verstappen by 0.02 seconds. 

    However, Verstappen is confident of claiming a seventh victory of the season to grow his lead over Leclerc at the top of the driver's championship. 

    "I think in qualifying it was all coming together a bit nicer," Verstappen said. "We have been trying to find the balance because the practice sessions have been difficult.

    "So I was quite happy in qualifying - I even got a nice little tow from Checo to Turn One to really extract everything we could. But unfortunately, it was just not enough. That is how it goes sometimes and overall we can still be very happy with this performance in qualifying and definitely all to play for tomorrow.

    "Even throughout qualifying, the wind started to pick up a little bit, maybe that made it a bit more difficult for us. Overall, a good performance again in qualifying.

    "They are never easy qualis because you're always in a battle with yourself. of course now, there's more teams. And when it's that close for pole position, it's always great."

  • Norris celebrates 'pretty much the perfect lap' after pipping Verstappen to pole Norris celebrates 'pretty much the perfect lap' after pipping Verstappen to pole

    Lando Norris celebrated "pretty much the perfect lap" after he claimed pole position for the Spanish Grand Prix ahead of Max Verstappen.

    McLaren's Norris set the best time of 1:11.383 in Barcelona on Saturday, which had started dismally for the team when their hospitality facilities had to be evacuated due to a fire.

    Norris, who was 0.2 seconds quicker than Verstappen, showed no sign of distraction though, and with all staff having been safely ushered from any danger, it was a day to celebrate for the team, whose second driver Oscar Piastri rounded out the top 10 despite failing to set a time in Q3.

    "It was pretty much a perfect lap, when you are on a good lap and getting excited but the whole thing went perfectly in the end," he said.

    "It was close but super happy, it was my best pole position, I've not had many. We've been close all weekend but really this was about a perfect lap and that is what I did today.

    "It's not just this weekend, we've been quick the last two months, and since Miami we've been very strong.

    "We probably missed out on pole by not doing a perfect lap but today was the perfect lap."

    It was also a good day for Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton, who qualified in third, one place ahead of team-mate George Russell.

    Ferrari duo Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz placed fifth and sixth respectively.

    Top 10

    1. Lando Norris (McLaren) 

    2. Max Verstappen (Red Bull)

    3. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)

    4. George Russell (Mercedes)

    5. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari)

    6. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari)

    7. Pierre Gasly (Alpine)

    8. Sergio Perez (Red Bull)

    9. Esteban Ocon (Alpine)

    10. Oscar Piastri (McLaren)

  • Norris: Catching Verstappen more likely than previous seasons Norris: Catching Verstappen more likely than previous seasons

    Max Verstappen is still the favourite to win the Formula One world title, but Lando Norris is more confident that the Red Bull driver can be caught.

    Verstappen is in the hunt for his fourth straight world championship crown, and leads the drivers' standings with five race wins to his name in 2024.

    However, only 31 points separate the Dutchman, who is on 169, and second-placed Charles Leclerc, while McLaren's Norris sits third with 113 following his victory in Miami last month.

    Mercedes, meanwhile, have come back into contention in recent races, with both George Russell and Lewis Hamilton impressing in qualifying, albeit they have been unable to translate that into a victory as of yet.

    But with more contenders, Norris feels the field is opening up.

    "There is more chance and possibilities now, especially if Mercedes are in the fight; more chance of having a bigger swing of points." he said, as per BBC Sport, ahead of the Spanish Grand Prix.

    "A bad weekend for Max was third but it could be fifth or sixth.

    "And if you can be the guy who wins, within one weekend you can turn quite a lot of points around fairly quickly. If it goes like that, there is a higher chance."

    Norris conceded, though, that Verstappen is still at the very top of his game.

    He added: "Max's bad weekend is never going to be a bad weekend. It's still going to be a good amount of points. He is just strong in all areas. It is rare he makes mistakes or messes up qualifying.

    "But with more pressure you never know how that changes, and always with pressure it is always easier to make mistakes."

    In the world of Mercedes, Hamilton has urged the team's fans to give backing to Russell, who has faced accusations of the team favouring him, given his team-mate is set to join Ferrari next season.

    "I think they know if you look over the years, we've always been a strong team. We've always worked really hard together," Hamilton told reporters.

    "I think we need support, not negativity, and I wasn't actually aware that George was experiencing negativity.

    "George has done nothing but his best every single weekend and is delivering for the team, so he can't be faulted at all.

    "Of course, there can always be things done better within the team, and that comes through conversation, through communication, and that's something that we are consistently working on.

    "But we're all in the same boat. We're all working hard together. We want to finish on a high and feel that we owe that to our long-term relationship that we've had."

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