Motor racing-Verstappen fastest in first Qatar practice

FILE PHOTO: Formula One F1 - Qatar Grand Prix - Losail International Circuit, Lusail, Qatar - November 19, 2021 Red Bull's Max Verstappen in the pits during practice REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani

(Reuters) - Red Bull's Formula One championship leader Max Verstappen lapped fastest in first practice for the inaugural Qatar Grand Prix at the Losail circuit on Friday.

The Dutch 24-year-old, who leads Mercedes seven times world champion Lewis Hamilton by 14 points with three races remaining, produced a quickest time of one minute 23.723 seconds in a dusty but uneventful session.

AlphaTauri's Pierre Gasly, who also has a Honda engine, was second and 0.437 slower with a late quick run.

Valtteri Bottas was third on the timesheets, 0.471 off Verstappen's pace, for Mercedes with Hamilton fourth.

Hamilton was 0.786 slower than his title rival, and also ran wide over kerbs at turn 14 before pitting with a damaged front wing.

"Are we slow on the straight or something?" the Briton asked over the radio. "No, not particularly," race engineer Peter Bonnington replied.

Japanese rookie Yuki Tsunoda made it two AlphaTauri drivers in the top five with Ferrari's Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc sixth and seventh.

The session took place with Formula One still waiting on stewards to decide their response to a Mercedes request for a review of an incident between Verstappen and Hamilton in Brazil last Sunday.

The times and mid-afternoon temperatures were not representative of the rest of the weekend, with Sunday's race held at night under floodlights.

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Shrivathsa Sridhar)

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