'Very clear': Lewis Hamilton at centre of new F1 cheating storm

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·Sports Editor
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Lewis Hamilton, pictured here in action at the Qatar Grand Prix.
Red Bull have levelled fresh allegations against Mercedes and Red Bull. Image: Getty

Red Bull have levelled fresh allegations of untoward behaviour against Mercedes ahead of Sunday's blockbuster Qatar Grand Prix.

Seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton put his Mercedes on pole position for the inaugural race, topping the time sheets in qualifying on Saturday.

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Red Bull's championship leader Max Verstappen, 14 points clear of his British rival with three races to go, will join him on the front row on Sunday but trailed by almost half a second .455 back, a difference team advisor Helmut Marko called "alarming".

Valtteri Bottas was third in the second Mercedes in Saturday's floodlit evening session, with Pierre Gasly fourth for Red Bull's sister team Alpha Tauri and ex-champion Fernando Alonso fifth for Alpine.

Hamilton clocked 1 minute 20.827 seconds on the 5.38-kilometre Losail International Circuit, which in the past has only seen MotoGP racing.

It was his fourth pole of the season and a record-extending 102nd overall.

"Yesterday was a really difficult day for me - I really struggled through that practice yesterday," Hamilton said.

"I was here until midnight last night working with the engineers and found a little variation where I could improve, made some changes for third practice and it worked but - then you have to carry that through to qualifying.

"That last lap was beautiful, it is an amazing track to drive and it felt good."

However there have been fresh allegations raised about Hamilton's wing plates, with Red Bull boss Christian Horner pointing to 'score marks' on the Mercedes car's rear wing.

Lewis Hamilton, pictured here celebrating after claiming pole position for the Qatar Grand Prix.
Lewis Hamilton celebrates after claiming pole position for the Qatar Grand Prix. (Photo by Dan Istitene - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images)

Hamilton was disqualified from qualifying for the Brazilian Grand Prix last week after the rear wing was found to open too far when DRS is activated.

“The straight-line speeds that we’ve seen in Mexico and in Brazil - I think everybody could see in Brazil it was not a normal situation," Horner said on Saturday.

"And yes, a new engine, we know with Mercedes, comes with increased performance.

“But when you have a 27km/h closing speed and witness marks on rear wing end plates that have been marking up from wings that have been flexing it’s very clear to us what has been going on.”

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff hit back at Horner, saying: “I think we’ve been controlled 14 times on this very particular wing.

“The FIA has all drawings about it, there is no such thing as Red Bull expects there to be. So we are happy to send it, cut it, can send you one to Milton Keynes.”

Horner responded: “How do you explain the score marks on the rear wing end plate?”

To which Wolff replied: “I think it is within what is allowed and therefore that’s okay."

Red Bull worried about Mercedes pace at Qatar Grand Prix

After Saturday's qualifying session, Verstappen admitted that Red Bull are struggling a little bit which also showed when teammate Sergio Perez qualified no better than 11th.

"It's been just a bit more tricky for us again in qualifying," the Dutchman said. 

"I wish we could have fought for more ... But nevertheless it's still second, so it's all to play for."

The fallout from last week's GP continued with Hamilton saying a long drivers meeting failed to clarify what was acceptable on the track.

At Interlagos, Verstappen escaped punishment for running his rival off the road as they duelled for first position.

The issue was discussed in a drivers' briefing that lasted over an hour. Hamilton then said the field remained unsure of the rules for overtaking.

"Every driver was asking for clarity but it wasn't very clear. It is still not clear what the limits of the track are," he said.

"It is clearly not the white line any more when overtaking so we just go for it. We just ask for consistency so if it is the same for the last race for us in those scenarios then it is fine.

"It is not clear, they said it is going to be different with every steward, that is what they said."

with AAP

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