Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was on course to secure his third Formula One championship on Saturday after qualifying third for a Qatar Grand Prix sprint race with sole title rival and teammate Sergio Perez five places behind.
McLaren’s Australian rookie Oscar Piastri tooknute 24.454 seconds pole position, in a time of one mi, 0.082 quicker than teammate Lando Norris for the 100km race at the floodlit Lusail circuit.
The race is a standalone point-scoring event, with the main grand prix on Sunday.
Verstappen needs to finish only sixth in the sprint — and take three points — to secure his third successive world championship.
Perez, 177 points behind, must meanwhile finish in the top three to have any hope of delaying the inevitable for another day.