LOSEL, Qatar (NWN) – Formula One leader Max Verstappen topped the first practice session at the inaugural Qatar Grand Prix on Friday and was cleared for a second time for an event at the Brazilian Grand Prix.
The Red Bull driver was .44 seconds faster than Pierre Gasly of Alphatauri. Verstappen was .47 ahead of Valtteri Bottas and .79 faster than his Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton, who was the defending champion.
Mercedes on Thursday argued at Interlagos for a review of its decision not to penalize Verstappen for an incident last Sunday in which Hamilton was run out as he attempted a pass for the lead on lap 48.
Hamilton made a pass 11 laps later to win, and Verstappen finished second.
The stewards decided on Friday to decline the review’s admissibility, thus clearing any wrongdoing on Verstappen’s part. Otherwise he could potentially have been hit with a grid penalty or a five-second time penalty for that race.
“It is clearly the right decision,” Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said. “Otherwise, it would have opened Pandora’s box.”
Mercedes Motorsport chief Toto Wolff said he was not surprised by the decision and was not hopeful of a decision in his team’s favour.
Verstappen looked comfortable on the 5.4-kilometre (3.5-mile) circuit in Losail, north of Doha, and was in better grip than Mercedes. It has hosted MotoGP races since 2004.
Hamilton went back to the team garage with 10 minutes remaining and a mechanic worked on his car, although it was not immediately clear whether there was a problem with the front wing. He finally came out for a while.
The second exercise took place late on Friday night.
In the standings, Verstappen leads Hamilton by 14 points with two races left.
Verstappen leads Hamilton 9-6 for the win after 19 races.
After Qatar, the season concludes with the opening of the Saudi Arabian GP in the Red Sea port city of Jeddah and the final race under floodlights in Abu Dhabi.
On Thursday, Hamilton again reiterated his call for more investigation into human rights issues In the places where F1 races.
F1 has signed a 10-year deal to hold races in Qatar, which hosts next year’s Football World Cup, amid concerns for migrant workers.
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