Lewis Hamilton learns penalty investigation fate as Horner gives Perez ultimatum

Max Verstappen sent offer to quit Red Bull and join F1 rival keen to be his team-mate

Max Verstappen will start the Qatar Grand Prix on pole position knowing that he could already have the title wrapped up before he even steps into the cockpit on Sunday. The Dutchman is 177 points clear of Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez in the Drivers’ Championship and won’t be caught in 2023 as he storms his way to a third consecutive title.

He needs only three points to be confirmed world champion and he can confirm his status in the sprint race on Saturday evening at the Lusail Circuit. Verstappen only needs to take sixth place when he goes across the finish line to begin his title celebrations.

The 26-year-old hasn’t finished lower than third in any of the three sprint races so far, as well as winning in Austria and Azerbaijan, so it would take something special to deny him the mathematical title victory in Qatar. Qualifying for the sprint race takes place from 2pm (UK time) on Saturday.

As for Sunday’s race, Mercedes are well positioned to secure another double podium finish in their battle for second against Ferrari in the Constructors’ Championship. George Russell qualified second and Lewis Hamilton third after McLaren pair Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri had their lap times deleted for exceeding track limits, while Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc is in fifth behind Fernando Alonso.

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Perez tells Horner why he struggled

Sergio Perez revealed struggles with the balance of his Red Bull car were behind his latest disappointment in qualifying as the Mexican vowed to make amends in Sunday’s race.

“It was quite difficult. We did struggle a lot for balance. Basically, we had so many issues that I just couldn’t fix any of them, every corner was pretty much different,” he told Sky Sports F1.

“I think the conditions are very difficult though, but just struggled a lot today in qualifying. It’s not over, it’s obviously going to be very difficult to pass, especially with the track conditions that we currently have.

“We’ll see what we are able to do and recover from there.”

Hamilton sets record straight on Wolff ‘BS’

Lewis Hamilton has claimed that Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff is ‘in every meeting’ despite being forced to stay away from the racetrack at the moment after going under the knife for knee surgery.

Wolff took a break from the pitwall ahead of the Japanese Grand Prix, with communications director Bradley Lord and aspiring team principal Jerome D’Ambrosio sharing his duties at Suzuka while he faced his surgery.

Speaking about the impact of Toto’s absence, Hamilton said: “Toto’s in every meeting. I saw someone wrote the other day that he had to call in or something for the last race, which was BS.

“Toto, even though he’s not here in person, and he’s obviously devastated he can’t be here, he’s a part of every single meeting. He dialled into the meeting today, he’ll dial into the meeting tomorrow morning, he’ll be in the meeting in the afternoon, he’s on the comms just like the guys back at the factory on the comms for strategy all weekend.”

Horner issues Perez demand after qualifying nightmare

Christian Horner has warned Sergio Perez to ‘provide an answer’ after the under-pressure Red Bull driver flopped in qualifying once again.

The Mexican could only qualify 13th for the Qatar Grand Prix while his team-mate Max Verstappen took pole position in Lusail, and Horner admitted he was left baffled by the huge gap between their lap times.

“Other drivers also had their laps cancelled,” Horner said. “But the bottom line is that Max once again did his job and Checo once again had a difficult day.

“It’s a tough time for him. There’s a lot of pressure on his shoulders now, but he’s an experienced driver. We’ll support him in the fight for second place in the world championship, but he must now provide an answer.

He later added: “Honestly, I don’t understand the difference between the times of Max and Checo.”

Hamilton discovers penalty fate

The FIA stewards have revealed their decision after placing Lewis Hamilton under investigation for driving too slowly on his out lap during Q1 on Friday in Qatar, judging that the Mercedes driver will face no further action.

Hamilton was called to the stewards off the back of an incident that occurred during Q1 with the seven-time world champion investigated for ‘exceeding the time limit between the safety car lines during qualifying.’

The 38-year-old wasn’t the only driver to catch the eye of the stewards for his out-lap speed during qualifying on Friday. McLaren’s star rookie Oscar Piastri was also flagged up for a potential violation of this rule, while the AlphaTauri duo of Liam Lawson and Yuki Tsunoda were also placed under investigation.

However, it was found by the FIA that all four of them ‘took appropriate actions to not impede other drivers, and in all cases they slowed down significantly to allow other drivers to pass while giving those drivers a clear track’.

Good morning!

Hello and welcome to Express Sport’s coverage in the build-up to the Qatar Grand Prix.

We’ll have all the latest news and developments from Lusail as they happen, so make sure you stick with us this morning.

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