Qatar GP: Hamilton wins to close F1 title gap – as it happened
So, the 102nd race victory of Lewis Hamilton’s incredible career means that there are now just eight points between him in second and the drivers’ championship leader Max Verstappen. There is no doubt that Red Bull are feeling the heat now – just a couple of weeks ago, it looked as if they were easing their way to the drivers’ and constructors’ titles, but back-to-back victories for Hamilton in Brazil, and now in Qatar, have blown everything open again. Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi are the races remaining on the calendar, and they should be fascinating and thrilling, rather a peculiar feeling for a sport that has often failed to fire the imagination in recent years. See you soon for more.
Updated at 4.55pm GMT
Lando Norris of McLaren has a chat: “It was decent, it could have been a little bit better, we didn’t judge it too well as a team. I couldn’t push as much as I wanted to, but the puncture ruined everything ... we should have had a lot of points today, but we didn’t, because the tyre broke ... I’m proud of what we did ... it wasn’t our fault that we ended P9, we should have been P4, P5 ... let’s hope it doesn’t happen again.”
I missed Horner’s earlier interview with Sky about the Verstappen incident in qualifying which led to the penalty, but it seems he said it was down to a ‘rogue marshall’ and that it was down to a ‘screw up’ between the FIA and the marshalls.
Red Bull’s Christian Horner, having emerged from his dressing-down by race stewards, speaks to Sky Sports: “Some comments were made in our interview earlier, when you asked me about the marshalling ... I’d like to make it clear that they do a wonderful job and they are volunteers ... My frustration wasn’t at marshalls, it was at a circumstance, and if any offence was taken by any individual, I apologise for that.
“It was a phenomenal recovery by Max and the team today. The grid penalty was frustrating but I think we’ve been fairly good with our emotions ... I’m straight: if I think you’re being an arse, I’ll tell you you’re being an arse.
“I’ve spoken to the FIA, I’ve apologised ... my frustration wasn’t with an individual marshall, it was the situation ... [in the incident that led to Verstappen’s grid penalty] one car had driven through, one car gets a single yellow, one car gets a double yellow ... I think we can learn from this as a sport.
“All the marshalls out there, we need you, we think you do a wonderful job, and apologies for any offence that was taken.
“It was a big day. We are sort of back to where we were in Austin ... I think Max’s recovery on the first lap was stunning ... Mercedes had a quicker car than us today ... but we were able to come back at them a bit, the car started to come alive [later in the race].
“Our straight line speed was competitive ... the fact Max was able to get the fastest lap before bolting on that set of softs was also really encouraging ... Max got out there on one lap and he had a little bit of damage to an end plate, but he carried that very well.
“There’s everything to play for, we’re going to go home, work hard for a couple of weeks, see if we can improve the car ass much as we can for the next circuit, come back and do it all again.”
Updated at 4.36pm GMT
Read Giles Richards’s race report right here:
Updated at 4.37pm GMT
Alonso has a chat in the paddock: “It was great, it was fun ... it was about managing the tyres.”
Where does this rank in his career? “The win is the win, so you cannot rank it too high, but finally. We were very close [to a podium] on a few occasions, and I was wondering if I would get another podium again in my career, or not ... let’s see if we can keep the momentum now for next year.
“Still a long way to go for us. It will be fantastic to be fighting with them [Hamilton and Verstappen]. I feel happy to share the podium with them ... no disrespect to the drivers [involved] but in the last couple of years, there have been some strange podiums, because something has happened in the race and they’ve ended up on the podium. Today, I think it was well deserved, and let’s see next year.”
Updated at 7.36pm GMT
Max Verstappen is asked if he was unhappy about the five-place grid penalty: “No surprises there, I knew even last night that I never get presents from them ... when I knew I was starting [in position] seven, I was just motivated to move ahead ... I was determined to keep the gap small the whole race, which we did.”
Verstappen is asked again about the penalty: “I don’t want to talk about it too much ... I don’t want to give anyone the pleasure to talk about it more. It’s of course not great.
“We just need to try and stay focused, there are a two races to go, and a lot of things can happen, even in qualifying.”
Finally, he is asked about the fact that Red Bull chief Christian Horner has been summoned by race stewards post-race, apparently for a breach of the international sporting code: “I don’t even know what it’s about, so no clue ... Racing is not complicated ... there’s a break pedal, an accelerator and a steering wheel.”
Updated at 4.18pm GMT
Hamilton speaks to Sky Sports again: “It’s been fantastic the last two weeks, just amazing. There’s no time for celebrations, I’ll be back with the team next week, back in training, just stay on it, head down ... it’s amazing to be able to close back so many points in these last two races ... they [Red Bull] are still really fast as you saw today, with the fastest lap, and how they got past the other cars ...”
Is he enjoying the battle? “I’m loving it. I love the close battle, and the pressure, and the demands it puts on you, and the whole team ... we’ll be bringing our ‘triple A’ game for the last two races.”
Updated at 4.18pm GMT
Toto Wolff speaks: “Lewis was great ... that one point [Verstappen’s for fastest lap] is a bit annoying, but it’s good he won the race. The car is really fast ... Lewis controlled the race from the front, and that’s a good indication for what’s to come, in Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi.”
On the Bottas puncture: “It came out of nowhere. There was literally no indication [in the data] ... unfortunately for him, he was the first one to pick up the puncture.
“Saudi Arabia should be a good track for us, but we know, it can turn the other way around ... it’s a long straight, we’ll get our ‘spicy’ equipment out ... If everybody finishes the race, [the championship battle] is going to go to Abu Dhabi.”
Wolff is asked if the Mercedes car is performing at its best level of the season: “Yes, definitely. The car is quick on the straight and good in the corners. And Lewis is totally in the zone ... the lion got woken up, at Interlagos on that Saturday.
“If you would have told us, it’s going to go to Saudi Arabia or the last race, we would have taken that ... whoever wins the championship, merits to win the championship ... we would come back strong [if we lose to Red Bull and Verstappen] but I’m not pre-empting anything.
“It’s good fun, when it’s so tough, that’s exactly why are in this sport, and I enjoy every minute. I think we’ve got to push maximum attack [in the final two races] ... we’ve got to push, we’ve got points to make up.”
Updated at 4.45pm GMT
Reaction from Toto Wolff and probably Christian Horner should be coming up shortly ...
With eight points now in it for the drivers’ title, the concern for Red Bull is that Mercedes have shown so much pace in the last two races. And of course, Hamilton has been here so many times before, in comparison to his younger rival. The British driver is looking very relaxed as the pressure comes on more and more. Having said that, it was a stunning drive from Verstappen too, especially to fight his way up to second place, from seventh, having been hit with that five-place grid penalty before the race.
Updated at 3.51pm GMT
With two races remaining , Red Bull’s Verstappen nows leads the drivers’ championship by eight points. All to play for. On the podium, Alonso and Verstappen have a chat, while Hamilton and Verstappen seem to carefully ignore each other.
Updated at 3.51pm GMT
A beaming Fernando Alonso reacts to his third place: “Unbelievable ... seven years [since his previous podium finish]. Finally, we got it. We were close a couple of races, Sochi was the last opportunity ... honestly I thought I could be leading after lap one, on those tyres ... it was a good Sunday.
“We planned one stop from the beginning, but we never knew how the [tyre] wear would be ... the team was great, the car was superb ... Fuck, I was waiting so long for this.”
The customary apology follows from Sky Sports for Alonso’s language, but it only goes to show how much that result means to the two-times world champion, a rare podium finisher in F1 at the age of 40 or over. Brundle then reminisces about a 1994 podium when it was him, Nigel Mansell and Gerhard Berger! Old school.
Updated at 3.47pm GMT
Max Verstappen talks to Sky Sports: “Luckily we had a really good start ... at the end of the day, to get that fastest lap was very nice ... it’s going to be very difficult to the end, but it keeps it exciting. It was good, this track is a lot of fun to drive, it’s really quick. Yeah, it was cool ...
“I feel good. It’s going to be a tight battle to the end.”
Updated at 3.47pm GMT
Lewis Hamilton talks to Jenson Button: “I always like to give a thanks to all the people that came out today ... thank you all for coming ... it was pretty straightforward, it was pretty lonely at the front ... it was a solid job from the team ... I’m really grateful for these points, it’s been a hell of a year ... back to back wins is amazing.
“The feeling’s good. I feel fit, fitter than ever ... recovery’s been great ... so yeah, bring on the next two.”
Updated at 7.35pm GMT
Qatar GP final standings
1 Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) (2 stops)
2 Max Verstappen (Red Bull) +25.743 3
3 Fernando Alonso (Alpine) +59.457 1
4 Sergio Perez (Red Bull) +62.306 2
5 Esteban Ocon (Alpine) +80.570 1
6 Lance Stroll (Aston Martin) +81.274 1
7 Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) +81.911 1
8 Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) +83.126 1
9 Lando Norris (McLaren) 1 L 2
10 Sebastian Vettel (Aston Martin) 1 L 1
11 Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri) 1 L 2
12 Daniel Ricciardo (Mclaren) 1 L 1
13 Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri) 1 L 2
14 Kimi Räikkönen (Alfa Romeo Racing) 1 L 2
15 Antonio Giovinazzi (Alfa Romeo Racing) 1 L 2
16 Mick Schumacher (Haas F1 Team) 1 L 1
17 George Russell (Williams) 2 L 2
18 Nikita Mazepin (Haas F1 Team) 2 L 1
19 Nicholas Latifi (Williams)— 1
20 Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes)— 2
Updated at 3.55pm GMT
Red Bull speak to Verstappen on the radio: “Max, we’ll take that, that was damage limitation, a fantastic first lap.”
Lewis Hamilton speaks to his team on race radio: “Fantastic job guys, fantastic ... let’s keep pushing, we can do this.”
“Fantastic Lewis,” says Toto Wolff ... “Now let’s go to Saudi Arabia.”
Verstappen finishes second! Alonso on the podium!
Verstappen finishes second and takes the point for fastest lap ... and Fernando Alonso of Alpine comes home third, for his 98th podium in F1!! The one-stop strategy pays off for Alpine, a superb result for the team and for the Spaniard.
Updated at 3.48pm GMT
Lewis Hamilton wins the first Qatar grand prix!
Lap 57/57: A phenomenal drive from Hamilton and a brilliant performance from his Mercedes team, too, cranking up the heat in the title race!
Updated at 3.28pm GMT
Lap 56/57: Looks like Hamilton is going to miss out on a chance to go for the fastest lap, thanks to the virtual safety car.
Lap 55/57: It’s a virtual safety car, with Nicholas Latifi’s Williams being recovered from the track after he failed to make it to the pits with that puncture ...
Lap 55/57: Verstappen scorches to another fastest lap! 1.24sec ... Can Hamilton respond?
Further back, Perez is charging, trying to grab the podium place from Alonso ...
Updated at 3.25pm GMT
Lap 54/57: Alonso, on a one-stop strategy, is holding on to his podium place as it stands ... this would be a massive result for him and for Alpine, but they must be worried about those tyres ...
Lap 53/57: Hamilton leads Verstappen by 9.9secs. Four laps to go! Four laps until victory for the British driver and for Mercedes!
Lap 52/57: Nicholas Latifi (Williams) punctures his front-left tyre, just like Bottas did, the third tyre failure of the race.
Lap 51/57: Bottas retires! Yellow flag!
As Lando Norris pits, with David Beckham on hand in the pits to witness it (“Wow”, he says), Valtteri Bottas retires from the race. That takes away the possibility of Hamilton’s teammate going for the fastest lap and denying Verstappen. As it stands, Red Bull, and specifically the Dutchman, will take the point for fastest lap.
(I’m not sure why the yellow flags came out, and neither are the commentators, but it wasn’t anything to do with Bottas retiring.)
Updated at 8.38pm GMT
Lap 50/57: Hamilton, the world champion and race leader, leads Verstappen by 8.366secs.
Updated at 8.38pm GMT
Lap 48/57: Perez overtakes Ocon, and his team are pictured applauding from the pitlane. He’s up to fifth, seven seconds or so behind Norris in the McLaren.
Up front, almost needless to say, Hamilton powers towards another race victory, one that will tighten up the battle for the drivers’ championship to within six or so points (depending on where that point for fastest lap ends up ...)
Lap 47/57: Perez and his Red Bull team fancy moving up from seventh to the podium, given he’s on fresher tyres. Verstappen, meanwhile, takes the fastest lap!
Updated at 8.47pm GMT
Lap 46/57 - latest standings
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes (2 stops)
2 Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing +9.283 2
3 Fernando Alonso Alpine +46.163 1
4 Lando Norris Mclaren +52.906 1
5 Esteban Ocon Alpine +61.038 1
6 Lance Stroll Aston Martin +62.572 1
7 Sergio Perez Red Bull Racing +63.484 2
8 Carlos Sainz Ferrari +67.933 1
9 Charles Leclerc Ferrari +69.707 1
10 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin +78.176 1
11 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri +80.462 2
12 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes1 L 1
13 Daniel Ricciardo Mclaren1 L 1
14 George Russell Williams1 L 2
15 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri1 L 1
16 Kimi Räikkönen Alfa Romeo Racing L 2
17 Nicholas Latifi Williams1 L 1
18 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo Racing L 2
19 Mick Schumacher Haas F1 Team L 1
20 Nikita Mazepin Haas F1 Team L 1
Updated at 3.12pm GMT
Lap 44/57: Perez sets the fastest lap. The battle for that solitary point looks set to be fierce in the final few laps ...
Lap 42/57: Verstappen pits! Hamilton pits! It’s a smooth stop for both drivers and teams, and Hamilton comes back out on to track with a lead of 8.7secs. Alonso is now in third place, 35secs down.
Updated at 3.07pm GMT
Lap 42/57: As it stands, Hamilton will narrow the gap in the drivers’ championship to just six points. Truly, it’s going to be squeaky bum time in the final two races of the season: Saudi Arabia on 5 December and Abu Dhabi on 12 December.
Updated at 8.49pm GMT
Lap 41/57: Hamilton leads Verstappen by 9.1secs. Perez is 54secs back in third.
Updated at 3.25pm GMT
Lap 39/57: Brundle says he thinks today’s fastest lap point could prove crucial in the title race. Also, the commentators are speculating about whether Mercedes will keep Hamilton out on these hard tyres, or bring him in for another stop ... and also, given Verstappen has so much gap to third place, Red Bull can afford to get creative with their tyre strategy, and perhaps give him a nice set of soft tyres to go for that fastest lap at the end.
Updated at 8.49pm GMT
Lap 38/57: Ted Kravitz, on commentary for Sky Sports, says that Hamilton has raced at 34 different F1 tracks, and has won on his first visit to 11 of them. Good stattage.
Updated at 2.59pm GMT
Lap 36/57: In the live constructors’ championships standings, Mercedes lead Red Bull by just three points.
Up front, Hamilton leads by 8.1secs. Sergio Perez of Red Bull, in third place, is 50secs down.
Updated at 2.58pm GMT
Lap 32/57: Bottas punctures his front left tyre!
The Mercedes man – yet to pit – limps off the track and is trying to make it to the pits for some fresh tyres! They pushed it a bit too far with this set of tyres, clearly ... Bottas rolls into the pitlane, and gets a new nose, and new tyres, and the stop takes 11.4secs.
Bottas had done 33 laps on the medium compound tyre, and apparently the guidance from Pirelli is that around 30 laps is the maximum.
Anyway, Bottas comes back into the race now in 14th place.
Updated at 8.50pm GMT
“Becks”, right, and the world champion Lewis Hamilton before the race.
Updated at 2.55pm GMT
Lap 31/57: Latest standings
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes (1 pitstop)
2 Max Verstappen Red Bull +6.879 1
3 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes +31.420
4 Sergio Perez Red Bull +51.511 1
5 Fernando Alonso Alpine +53.717 1
6 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri +61.267 1
7 Lando Norris McLaren +66.967 1
8 Esteban Ocon Alpine +68.369 1
9 Lance Stroll Aston Martin +70.513 1
10 Carlos Sainz Ferrari +73.709 1
11 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri +76.886 1
12 Kimi Räikkönen Alfa Romeo Racing +83.471 1
13 Charles Leclerc Ferrari +84.010 1
14 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin +85.323 1
15 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo Racing +87.098 1
16 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren L 1
17 George Russell Williams L 1
18 Nicholas Latifi Williams L 1
19 Nikita Mazepin Haas F1 Team1 L
20 Mick Schumacher Haas F1 Team1 L 1
Updated at 2.51pm GMT
Lap 29/57: Hamilton clocks another fastest lap. His lead squeezes under seven seconds, though with Verstappen throwing everything at the chase from second position.
Updated at 2.48pm GMT
Lap 28/57: Sainz, of Ferrari, now pits and drops down to 10th position when he re-emerges on to the track.
Up front, Hamilton’s lead is 7.168secs over Verstappen.
Updated at 2.47pm GMT
Lap 27/57: Bottas is third, Sainz fourth, Leclerc fifth, Alonso sixth ... no, Alonso fifth after Leclerc veers off track. Perez is seventh.
Lap 25/57: Hamilton’s lead over Verstappen is 7.757secs. Both drivers and both cars – the Mercedes and the Red Bull – are giving it their all. It’s one of those drives from Hamilton where everything is so smooth and apparently effortless, it’s easy to forget how impressive it is.
Updated at 2.42pm GMT
Lap 24/57: Alonso pits, and comes back out on hard compound tyres, in eighth place, emerging from the pitlane just in front of Ricciardo’s McLaren.
Lap 22/57: Third-placed Alonso of Alpine, who hasn’t pitted, is 14.3secs behind second-placed Verstappen. Hamilton, up front, produces a fastest lap. Bottas moves up to fourth now, taking Lando Norris.
Updated at 8.51pm GMT
Lap 21/57: Verstappen’s left front wing looks like it did indeed take a bit of a whack, and that has cost him a little bit of pace. Mind you, at the moment, he is matching the speed of Hamilton and Mercedes – the gap is staying at 8.5secs.
Lap 20/57: If nothing else, Red Bull’s decision to pit so early on the medium tyres has irritated Hamilton slightly, but that looks to be the extent of the damage. He is still out in front by 8.5secs.
Lap 18/57: Mercedes react immediately, Hamilton pits and goes to the hard tyres. It’s a smooth stop, and Hamilton comes out still with a comfortable lead.
“It’s definitely way too early to stop,” says Hamilton on the radio, clearly not impressed with the decision. But he is still nine seconds clear of Verstappen and well set for victory.
Lap 18/57: Verstappen pits for Red Bull! He goes from the medium tyres to the hard tyres and emerges from the pitlane just ahead of Alonso. “They may as well do that,” Brundle says on commentary ... “They couldn’t match the pace of the Mercedes.”
Updated at 3.26pm GMT
Lap 17/57: Hamilton is now more than nine seconds clear of Verstappen, and is about to start lapping people. Brundle, incredulous, repeats that Hamilton is two seconds faster than the rest of the field.
Lap 15/57: Alonso of Alpine, in third, is now 30 seconds behind Verstappen (Red Bull) in second. Hamilton of Mercedes has produced a masterful drive so far, and unless there is some bizarre occurrence with the pitstops, or some other mishap, he is scorching away to a resounding victory.
Updated at 8.52pm GMT
Lap 14/57 – live standings
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
2 Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing +6.624secs
3 Fernando Alonso Alpine +26.789
4 Lando Norris Mclaren +29.649
5 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri +30.808
6 Sergio Perez Red Bull Racing +33.565
7 Esteban Ocon Alpine +34.368
8 Carlos Sainz Ferrari +35.273
9 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes +35.681
10 Lance Stroll Aston Martin +36.647
11 Charles Leclerc Ferrari +38.763
12 Daniel Ricciardo Mclaren +41.564
13 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo Racing +47.103
14 George Russell Williams +49.320 - -
15 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin +49.863
16 Nicholas Latifi Williams +51.006
17 Mick Schumacher Haas F1 Team +52.888
18 Nikita Mazepin Haas F1 Team +55.424
19 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri +65.707 1
20 Kimi Räikkönen Alfa Romeo Racing +66.944 1
Updated at 2.25pm GMT
Lap 12/57: Bottas’s struggles to move up the field are ammunition for those who don’t rate his driving ability, although it’s possible his Mercedes is not operating as well as Hamilton’s, having said that.
Lap 11/57: A couple of minutes ago, Bottas’s Mercedes team were on the radio, urging him to try and make some headway through the field. He is now up to ninth. Hamilton leads, Verstappen second now nearly six seconds down, Alonso third, 21 seconds further back.
Updated at 2.20pm GMT
Lap 10/57: The leaders are more than two seconds faster than everyone else on track, observes Brundle on commentary, so this is very much a two-way tussle for victory in the inaugural Qatar GP.
Lap 9/57: Verstappen went off track slightly through a bend and there is speculation that he may have sustained a bit of damage to his car. Hamilton is currently leading by 4.9secs so the gap has stretched out ... Looking good for Hamilton and Mercedes right now.
Standings on Lap 7/57
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
2 Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing +4.684
3 Fernando Alonso Alpine +11.380
4 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri +13.125
5 Lando Norris Mclaren +14.093
6 Esteban Ocon Alpine +15.339
7 Carlos Sainz Ferrari +16.525
8 Sergio Perez Red Bull Racing +17.227
9 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri +21.208
10 Lance Stroll Aston Martin +21.795
11 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes +22.245
12 Charles Leclerc Ferrari +23.239
13 Kimi Räikkönen Alfa Romeo Racing +24.004
14 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo Racing +25.406
15 George Russell Williams +26.106
16 Daniel Ricciardo Mclaren +27.454
17 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin +27.743
18 Nicholas Latifi Williams +28.759
19 Mick Schumacher Haas F1 Team +30.216
20 Nikita Mazepin Haas F1 Team +32.709
Updated at 2.16pm GMT
Lap 6/57: Verstappen is now catching Hamilton! He narrows the gap to 3.7secs, but then it seems to go out again, to 4.1secs. Hamilton and Verstappen are turning this into a two-horse race, with Alonso in third place nearly 10 seconds down on Verstappen now.
Updated at 8.57pm GMT
Lap 5/57: Verstappen overtakes Alonso! He is up to second, and Hamilton leads by 4.1secs ... Hamilton has apparently been on the radio to ask where Bottas is. The answer is he is 11th, having had a poor start, certainly in comparison to Verstappen, who has made light work of his five-place grid penalty.
Lap 4/57: Making use of DRS, and the fact that Gasly went wide going into the home straight, Verstappen of Red Bull overtakes and is up to third place, having started the race in seventh. Brundle reckons the best Red Bull can hope for, from here, is second place and fastest lap to limit the damage.
Updated at 2.20pm GMT
Lap 3/57: Hamilton had a perfect start from pole, with Verstappen flying up the inside into turn 1, but then being forced off the track slightly when Alonso slammed the door. Hamilton’s lead has stretched to 2.5secs, while Verstappen is fourth, and goes on the radio to say “I’m a little bit stuck here,” saying he can’t get past Gasly.
Updated at 8.57pm GMT
Lap 1/57: Hamilton leads by 1.8secs. Alonso moved up to second with a good start, Gasly is third, Verstappen is fourth.
Updated at 2.06pm GMT
Lights out! Lap 1/57
The first Qatar grand prix has begun! Hamilton gets a great start and leads into turn 1! Verstappen also gets a good start, he goes off track in the second or third bend, but has made up a few places straight away!
Updated at 2.21pm GMT
A yellow flag briefly appeared during the formation lap. Brundle, on commentary, isn’t clear as to why. But we seem to be back to normal now ...
Updated at 8.58pm GMT
Yes, Red Bull may feel they need to get busy, tactics-wise ... but they can’t start to panic, or start to rush things, either.
The formation lap has begun, and the teams are clearly concerned about the ‘dirty side’ of the track, veering over to the left-hand side of the start/finish straight as they set off.
Updated at 8.58pm GMT
This being the first Qatar GP , teams are in the dark regarding what may be the best strategy. Maybe Red Bull will have to roll the dice in terms of their tyres? And what is going to happen at turn 1, and in the first few laps, with the faster cars of Verstappen and Bottas trying to make up the places they have lost with those grid penalties?
Qatar is the 33rd sovereign nation to host a grand prix, we are told by the helpful people at Sky Sports.
Updated at 2.00pm GMT
More from Giles Richards on the battle between Mercedes and Red Bull, Hamilton and Verstappen, Wolff and Horner:
Gasly and his Alpha Tauri colleagues are having a team photo to mark their unexpected appearance in P2 on the grid ... and why not?
Lando Norris has a word with Sky Sports , anticipating his start from fourth on the grid behind Hamilton, Gasly and Alonso: “We’ll see ... we’ve got some quick cars behind us ... maybe an opportunity to score a few more points. I don’t know how the overtaking is going to be, so that’s going to play a big part.”
Updated at 1.55pm GMT
We’ve just had a rendition of the Qatar national anthem. The Fifa World Cup trophy (the real thing, or a replica?) is placed on a pedestal on the track, with a year to go until the World Cup starts.
On which note:
Updated at 1.55pm GMT
The former Manchester United goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel , who is on the grid and ready to watch the race, speaks to Sky Sports’ Martin Brundle: “I’ve always liked Lewis Hamilton ... obviously he’s proven he’s the best driver over so many years ... but I’ve just been to the Red Bull pit, and of course the only Dane [involved in the title battle] is his mechanic, Max Verstappen’s ... more than anything I’m just looking to the battle between those two [Hamilton and Verstappen].
Brundle asks him about Ole Gunnar Solskær’s departure from Manchester United: “It’s really sad, I am seriously really sad, on Ole’s behalf, on the football club’s behalf, on the fan’s behalf ... it’s too many managers we’ve had to dismiss in to short a period of time ... I just feel for Ole, he’s done everything he could, but in this modern day, football’s modern day, it’s been deemed not to be enough.”
Alonso speaks after his promotion to P3 on the grid: “We were happy with P5 ... P3 is another 16 metres, we take it, and let’s see in turn 1 if we can attack the leaders ... it’s a lovely track, long corners, you can lean on the car, on the tyres ... it’s nice to drive ....”
Read Giles Richards’ report from qualifying:
Martin Brundle has now spent two minutes lurking by Fernando Alonso, who studiously ignores him. “Crashing and burning here a bit today,” Brundle says. “How’s your roast lunch at home?” Meanwhile, here’s a photo of Sir David of Beckham:
Updated at 1.57pm GMT
Brundle also tries to grab a word with Max Verstappen, who is presumably pretty angry about his penalty, but Verstappen doesn’t want to talk. Now he’s trying to grab a word with David Beckham but he’s struggling ...
“I’ve been on this grid 35, 36 years and I’ve never seen anything like this,” says Martin Brundle on his grid walk, referring to the confusion that reigns with the late decision to punish Verstappen and Bottas for failing to observe those yellow flags in qualifying. The provisional order was obviously changed late, so some of the teams were in the wrong positions on the grid, and had to shuffle around.
Updated at 1.30pm GMT
Breaking news: Max Verstappen, the drivers’ championship leader, has been hit with a five-place grid penalty for ‘failing to slow for double waved yellow flags’ in qualifying for the Qatar Grand Prix, meaning the Red Bull driver will be starting from seventh when the lights go out at 2pm UK time. It’s another dramatic twist in the title race, and will be controversial too, with stewards saying they had “sympathy” with Verstappen due to the “lack of display of the yellow light panels, no dash warning lights and no audio signal to the driver” to alert him of the situation when Pierre Gasly went off track at turn 15 and lost his front wing. The stewards argue that ultimately it was Verstappen’s job to observe the flags.
Valtteri Bottas, Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate, has also been punished with a three-place penalty for the same reason. Hamilton is on pole, a superb run in qualifying following his stunning victory in Brazil a week ago , with Gasly of Alpha Tauri second despite qualifying fourth. Fernando Alonso (Alpine) is third on the grid and Lando Norris (McLaren) is fourth.
Regardless of the technicalities of the decision to punish Verstappen and Bottas, Hamilton now looks well set to turn the heat up even further in the drivers’ title race. Verstappen leads the charge for the title with 332.5 points, Hamilton is 14 points back on 318.5. Pre-race reading and more coming up ...