QATAR GP – Max Verstappen takes a five-second win ahead of the McLarens after Mercedes collide on opening lap

Testing & Race Reports

Max Verstappen has beaten Oscar Piastri by five seconds to take victory at the Qatar Grand Prix, the Dutchman taking his fourteenth win of the season. The Dutchman who secured his third championship yesterday looked unstoppable despite the mandated three-stop race because of concerns about tyre wear.

Verstappen looked to control the race after the two Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton and George Russell collided at the start fighting for second. Despite the unprecedented tyre regulations – brought in for the race amid safety concerns, it looked to be another controlled drive.

Verstappen’s fourteenth victory of the season leaves him one short of his record total of fifteen from last year, with five races to go. It’s highly likely he will beat that before the end of the year given the stellar season he has had.  It would have been likely that the three time world champions victory would have been bigger, but a rare slow third stop cut his lead dramatically.

Hamilton accepted responsibility for not giving Russell enough space in an incident reminiscent of his attempt to overtake then-teammate Nico Rosberg in Barcelona in 2016. But this time it was only Hamilton who paid the price crashing out on lap one, the seven-time world champion stricken in the gravel.

Having initially said over team radio that he was “taken out” by Russell, after seeing replays Hamilton took responsibility for the incident and offered an apology. Taking to X, formerly Twitter, he wrote, “I’ve watched the replay and it was 100% my fault and I take full responsibility. Apologies to my team and to George.”

He had earlier told Sky Sports: “In the heat of the moment, I didn’t really understand what happened, I just obviously felt the tap from behind. But I don’t think George probably had anywhere to go and, yeah, it’s just one of those really unfortunate situations.”

Russell following his opening lap collision with Hamilton but with him forced to pit was given a slight advantage by being able to go slightly longer. The top four clearly had the edge over the rest of the field once the strategy with the mandated stops started to unfold.

Going into the race Mercedes looked to be in the mix with Verstappen and the McLaren’s, but the collision between the two took Hamilton out and dropped Russell to seventeenth. But a mixture of the mandated tyre stints and the collision allowed Russell to overcut throughout the race, following his early precautionary stop. The seven-time champion accepting he didn’t give Russell enough space.

However it looked unlikely that Verstappen would have been challenged by Mercedes despite them this year having better race performance than in qualifying. But the team has now only a twenty-eight point over Ferrari in the battle for second in the constructors.

The accident also took out Verstappen’s biggest challengers from fighting him for the win. Russell fought back, leaving Mercedes to ponder what might have been, to claim an impressive fourth.

Ferrari was never in a position going into the race to take advantage of the Hamilton-Russell incident, after Carlos Sainz was withdrawn from the race an hour before due to a fuel leak. However Ferrari failed to maximise from crash between Mercedes as both were fighting with a single car.

Going into the race the FIA ‘mandated’ a three-stop race  after Pirelli discovered its product was vulnerable to failure at high speed over the kerbs at the Lusail circuit. That led to a staccato race in which it took time for the order to settle down, all drivers forced to make at least three pit stops by the tyre-mileage limits.

Piastri who took his first win in F1 in the sprint drove a steady race and the forced three-stop strategy allowed him to stay within five seconds of Verstappen. But the Red Bull still looked unbeatable as he celebrated his third world title, while McLaren continued their emergence as the closest challengers in the latter part of the season.

Piastri then drove another strong race as Norris fought up from his tenth place on the grid, caused by having both his laps deleted in qualifying on Friday. By the final stint, Norris was up into third place and closing on Piastri when the team told the drivers to hold position.

Piastri said it was “definitely the hardest race I’ve had in my life” and both Norris and Verstappen, with much more F1 experience, agreed it ranked among their toughest, too.

Verstappen, said: “What made the race was my first stint, after that I could just manage my pace, making sure that the tyres were always in a good window. But the McLarens were quick again today, I had to push for it, it was definitely a tough race out there.”

Piastri said, “I thought you were going say I got given a five second penalty again for track limits, scared me! Very very happy obviously. Turn One was nice, that was definitely the game plan before the race but yeah really impressive pace, definitely the hardest race I’ve had in my life. Lando’s still standing, he’s still going.”

Norris finished third, said: “It was a mega race from start to finish, a good opening lap, I learned from my mistake yesterday going wide, I told you I would go tight and I did and it worked out. Good start, good pace throughout the whole thing, probably the best pace out there today, I’m happy, stressful, hot, sweaty and a little bit tired, but a great job for the team, three in a row now.”

However in the closing stages McLaren decided to tell Piastri and Norris to ‘hold positions,’ before the instruction was given by the team Norris had been putting pressure on his teammate. But the decision may have been to protect position from the charging Russell.

From the start this was going to be a strategy race,  Ferrari for once started to show improvement at the second stop at around the halfway point Charles Leclerc gained fifth following a rare error from Fernando Alonso. The Spaniard running wide in a car he said was burning him.

Esteban Ocon was seventh ahead of the two Alfa Romeo’s. The Swiss-Italian team having their best result of the season with Valtteri Bottas finishing eighth nearly ten seconds ahead of teammate Guanyu Zhou. Sergio Perez finished a difficult weekend with tenth, the Mexican under pressure following Verstappen’s third title to hold onto second from Hamilton.

But Perez gained one point in his championship fight with Hamilton, while Verstappen’s unbeatable lead was extended to two-hundred and nine points.

Lance Stroll was eleventh finishing ahead of Pierre Gasly and Alex Albon. Albon’s teammate Logan Sargeant was ordered to retire from the race after becoming unwell in the later stages, Williams telling him there is no shame in this. The pressure to retain his seat remains though he will not be judged on this race.

Kevin Magnussen was the leader of the lapped cars with Yuki Tsunoda between him and Haas teammate Nico Hulkenberg. Liam Lawson, in what is likely to be his last race for now subbing for Daniel Ricciardo was seventeenth the final finisher.


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