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F1 Review: With Championship Already in Hand, Max Verstappen Cruises to Win in Qatar Grand Prix

Max Verstappen ruled from start to finish and dominated to win the Qatar Airways Qatar Grand Prix, adding the icing on the cake to the world championship he clinched in Saturday’s (October 7th) spring race. 

Verstappen crossed the line over four seconds ahead of Oscar Piastri, with Lando Norris just over a second behind. It was McLaren’s second consecutive double podium. George Russell took a hard-earned fourth, followed by Charles Leclerc, Fernando Alonso, Esteban Ocon, and the Alfa Romeos of Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu in eight and ninth, respectively. Sergio Perez grabbed 10th after starting from the pit lane.  

“What made the race was my first stint, after that I could just manage my pace,” Verstappen said. “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.”

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Max Verstappen Speeds to Qatar Grand Prix Victory

In the driver standings, Verstappen sits at 433 points, with Perez a more-than-distant second with 224. Lewis Hamilton is third with 193, just 11 ahead of Alonso. whose wild day ended in a DNF and 19th.

In the constructor standings, Red Bull leads Mercedes 657 to 326, with Ferrari 28 points back in third.

The Race

Verstappen was off well as was Russell, who looked for an opening around Verstappen. But Hamilton made an ill-advised move on Russell on the outside of Turn 1, making contact with Russell. Hamilton lost a wheel and slid into the sand, while Russell spun, but was able to continue, albeit well behind. The Safety Car was deployed, leading to several pit stops from cars in the back. 

Hamilton later apologized for causing the accident.

“I’ve watched the replay and it was 100% my fault and I take full responsibility,” Hamilton wrote on social media. “Apologies to my team and to George.”

The Safety Car came in on lap 5, and Verstappen took off, opening up a sizable lead on Piastri. The Australian remained close, while Russell began his desperate charge from the back by passing Perez for 13th on lap 7.

Verstappen’s lead was over two seconds by lap 9, and Piastri’s team urged him to keep the Red Bull in sight. Russell was up to 10th on lap 10 and didn’t seem to be showing any damage from his collision with Hamilton. 

Piastri pitted from second on lap 13th and returned to the track in 13th, ahead of Alonso and Leclerc, who pitted two laps earlier.

Russell was up to second on lap 14, due to pit stops, and made his second pit stop on lap 15, returning to the track in 15th.

Meanwhile, Verstappen was 22 seconds ahead of Alex Albon in second, and Verstappen made his first stop on lap 17, leaving the pits with medium tires. The champion emerged in second, handing the lead to Albon, who had yet to pit. However, Verstappen was well ahead of Piastri who, once the pit cycle completed, would be the Dutchman’s closest competitor.

Albon pitted on lap 19, handing the lead back to Verstappen, Norris picked off Leclerc for sixth. Russell was up to 10th and determined to prove to Hamilton that he, as well, could be a “one-man wrecking crew.”

Verstappen’s lead was over seven seconds on lap 22, with Piastri well ahead of Alonso in third. Norris was in fourth as McLaren eyed a double podium, content to concede the win to Verstappen. 

Russell attempted a pass of Pierre Gasly into Turn 1, but was given the squeeze by the Alpine, running the Mercedes way wide and off the track.   

Piastri pitted from second on lap 26 for another set of mediums. Leclerc and Ocon followed for hard tires. Piastri emerged in eight place and in good shape to maintain second place once pit stops cycled. 

Alonso came in for medium tires on lap 27, and the Spaniard complained of excessive heat in his seat. His team had no remedy for the heat issue, other than words that basically amounted to “deal with it.”

Russell was in second on lap 30, well behind Verstappen, and was radioed by his team that a fourth-place finish was the target. 

Red Bull radioed Verstappen on lap 31 with orders for a “managed increase in pace.” The Dutchman, who may have briefly dozed off, answered “What’s that?” Verstappen’s lead at the time was 22 seconds, so his lack of attention was understandable. 

Alonso went off into the gravel in Turn 2 on lap 33 and rejoined dangerously in front of Leclerc, which resulted in an unsafe re-entry investigation. Alonso was ultimately not penalized.

Verstappen made his second stop on lap 35 for hard tires, and with a 33-second lead on Piastri, easily maintained the top spot and seemed well on his way to his 14th win of the year. The McLarens of Piastri and Norris ran 2-3 and, barring any issues, the double-podium was a near certainty. 

On lap 39, the order was Verstappen, Piastri, Norris, Russell, Leclerc, Alonso, Ocon, Bottas, Gasly, and Lance Stroll.

Verstappen’s lead was nearly eight seconds on lap 40, and considering the race distance of 57 laps and the FIA’s order that cars could run tires no more than 18 laps, upcoming pit stops were crucial. 

Norris had closed the gap to Piastri for second by lap 44, and Piastri pitted soon after for hard tires, emerging in fourth behind Russell. Norris dove in for hard tires a lap later, and came out just behind Piastri. Not long after, McLaren told Norris to “hold position,” essentially telling him not to challenge Piastri. McLaren was apparently worried about Russell in second, who still had to make another pit stop, but had a set of soft tires at his disposal. 

Russell made his fourth pit stop for those tires on lap 51 and came out 17 seconds behind Norris, with six laps to catch him. Russell could make no inroads on Norris.

Verstappen pitted for medium tires on lap 52 and came out about four seconds ahead of Piastri. With fresh tires, Verstappen was eyeing the fastest lap extra point, which would give him maximum race points, assuming he held on to win. 

Verstappen crossed the line for his 14th win of the season, and with five races remaining in the season, seems certain to shatter his record of 15 wins set in 2022.  

The Good

Considering what happened on the first lap, Russell made a miraculous run to pull out a fourth-place finish, which could have even been a podium given just one misstep by McLaren. The fact that Russell’s Mercedes suffered little damage from his collision with Hamilton was remarkable in itself, and by making four pit stops, Russell had to continually pass cars in each pit cycle to make his way back to the front. 

The Bad

Ferrari took their dysfunction to a new level at Qatar, when the team discovered a fuel system issue with Carlos Sainz‘s car just an hour before the race start. Without enough time to correct the issue, Sainz was forced to sit out the race.

We’re all used to Ferrari making blunders during a race, but this is a new low, even for Ferrari. But I’m sure Leclerc wasn’t too upset about it.

But Ferrari’s mistake doesn’t even come close in stupidity to Hamilton’s way-too-bold move into Turn 1. Hamilton took himself out of the race, and nearly wiped out his teammate. It was a risky move so early in the race, and also risky considering Mercedes is locked in a fairly tight battle for second in the constructors standings. Did Sainz missing the race have anything to do with Hamilton’s decision-making, knowing that Ferrari could, at best, have only one car score points? If it did, then his move seems even dumber, given that Mercedes likely would have had two cars scoring points, both probably ahead of Ferrari’s only driver, Leclerc, and increasing Mercedes’ lead over Ferrari in the standings.

Then, on top of all of that, Hamilton walked across the track as cars were lapping behind the safety car. Unwise, dangerous, and just plain stupid.

It all seems to be a symbolic changing of the guard at Mercedes, or more specifically, changing of the team’s leader. Russell seems to clearly be in that position now.   

See also
Slipstream Saturdays: Is the Heat Getting to Lance Stroll?

The Disappointing

What’s up with McLaren telling Norris to stand back and not challenge Piastri for second, even though Norris had the speed and plenty of time to mount a challenge?

McLaren said they were concerned about the threat of Russell, but that threat was slim at best. Russell still had to pit, and would no doubt have needed some kind of major mistake from McLaren to finish better than fourth. 

I understand McLaren’s fear of losing both cars had they wrecked racing for position, but leave the burden of safety on the slower car. In this case Piastri. In other words, let Norris race, but tell Piastri, in the slower McLaren, that the onus is on him not to cause a wreck if he’s being passed by a faster teammate.   

The Driver

Despite Russell’s mad dash, I can’t avoid crowning Verstappen with the title of “The Driver,” especially on the weekend in which he clinched his third-straight world championship. Verstappen may be the most ignored world champion in history, because of his dominance and his knack for making the only thing interesting in a race is what’s going on well behind him.  

The Results (Qatar Airways Qatar Grand Prix, Losail International Circuit)

11Max VerstappenRED BULL RACING HONDA RBPT571:27:39.16826
281Oscar PiastriMCLAREN MERCEDES57+4.833s18
34Lando NorrisMCLAREN MERCEDES57+5.969s15
463George RussellMERCEDES57+34.119s12
516Charles LeclercFERRARI57+38.976s10
614Fernando AlonsoASTON MARTIN ARAMCO MERCEDES57+49.032s8
731Esteban OconALPINE RENAULT57+62.390s6
877Valtteri BottasALFA ROMEO FERRARI57+66.563s4
924Zhou GuanyuALFA ROMEO FERRARI57+76.127s2
1011Sergio PerezRED BULL RACING HONDA RBPT57+80.181s1
1118Lance StrollASTON MARTIN ARAMCO MERCEDES57+81.652s0
1210Pierre GaslyALPINE RENAULT57+82.300s0
1323Alexander AlbonWILLIAMS MERCEDES57+91.014s0
1420Kevin MagnussenHAAS FERRARI56+1 lap0
1522Yuki TsunodaALPHATAURI HONDA RBPT56+1 lap0
1627Nico HulkenbergHAAS FERRARI56+1 lap0
1740Liam LawsonALPHATAURI HONDA RBPT56+1 lap0
NC44Lewis HamiltonMERCEDES0DNF0
NC55Carlos SainzFERRARI0DNS0

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