We’ve just had a rendition of the Qatar national anthem. The Fifa World Cup (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:
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 ….”
Martin Brundle has now spent two minutes lurking by Fernando Alonso, who studiously ignore him. “Crashing and burning here a bit today,” Brundle says. “How’s your roast lunch at home?” Meanwhile, here’s Sir David of Beckham:
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.
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 …
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