Oscar Piastri took pole position in qualifying for the sprint race in Qatar later Saturday, with Max Verstappen on the verge of clinching his third consecutive Formula One title.
Australian rookie Piastri beat his McLaren teammate Lando Norris by .082 seconds for first place, with Verstappen in third, .192 off the pace.
Norris seemed to have the pace to beat Piastri on his last lap of the session but went wide on the last corner.
Verstappen needs to finish at least sixth in the 19-lap sprint to ensure he wins the title. Otherwise, he will also be champion if his Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez finishes outside the top three.
Perez is set to start eighth for the sprint, continuing a run of underwhelming results in qualifying for the Mexican driver.
The start of the “shootout” session — a shortened qualifying format — was delayed by 20 minutes and an extra 10-minute practice was added following concerns that the pointed “pyramid” kerbs used at the Losail circuit had been damaging tires in Friday practice.
One section of the track was narrowed where drivers had been sliding sideways over the kerbs on the exit of corners. The sport’s governing body, the FIA, said it would analyze the tires used on Saturday and if the situation didn’t improve, it could force drivers to make at least three pit stops in Sunday’s race to stop them driving on older, worn tires.
Drivers have used the kerbs extensively Friday and Saturday as they go wide on the exit of corners to carry more speed through the turn. That also meant several lap times were deleted Friday and Saturday because drivers had put all four wheels off the track.
Verstappen, Perez, Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso were among the drivers who had lap times deleted in the final session of qualifying for the sprint.
Piastri’s lap for pole position came a day after the Australian driver had his own trouble with the track limits rules. He thought on Friday he had qualified third for the Grand Prix race but was told during a TV interview that his time had been deleted, dropping him to sixth.