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Red Bull's Dutch driver Max Verstappen drives during the first practice session ahead of the Qatari Formula One Grand Prix at the Losail International Circuit, in the city of Lusail. Image Credit: AFP

Losail: Formula One leader Max Verstappen topped the first practice session at the inaugural Qatar Grand Prix today and was cleared a second time of an incident at the Brazilian Grand Prix.

The Red Bull driver was .44 seconds quicker than AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly. Verstappen was .47 ahead of Valtteri Bottas and a sizeable .79 faster than his Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton, the defending champion.

Mercedes argued on Thursday for a review of the decision not to penalize Verstappen last Sunday at Interlagos for an incident in which Hamilton was run off course as he attempted a pass for the lead on lap 48.

Hamilton made a pass 11 laps later to win, and Verstappen finished second.

Grid penalty

Stewards decided to reject the admissibility of the review, thus clearing any wrongdoing on Verstappen’s part. Otherwise he could potentially have been hit with a grid penalty for that race or a five-second time penalty.

“It’s obviously the right decision,” Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said. “Otherwise, it would have opened a Pandora’s box.”

Mercedes head of motorsport Toto Wolff said he was not surprised by the decision and had not been optimistic of a decision in his team’s favor.

Verstappen looked comfortable and appeared to have better grip than Mercedes on the 5.4-kilometer (3.5-mile) circuit in Losail, north of Doha. It has hosted MotoGP races since 2004.

Hamilton went back to the team garage with 10 minutes left and mechanics worked on his car, although it was not immediately clear if there was an issue with the front wing. He came back out briefly at the end.

Two races left

Verstappen leads Hamilton by 14 points in the standings with two races left after this one.

Verstappen leads Hamilton 9-6 for wins after 19 races.

Following Qatar, the season concludes with the inaugural Saudi Arabian GP in the Red Sea port city of Jeddah and the final race under floodlights in Abu Dhabi.