Championship leader Max Verstappen finishes second, sees gap to Briton cut short to eight points
By Yuri Coghe
Lewis Hamilton led every lap on his way to claiming the first-ever Qatar Grand Prix on Sunday for his 30th win in a different circuit.
The seven-time world champion trimmed Max Verstappen’s championship lead to eight points with two races to go in the F1 season. The Dutchman finished second at the Losail International Circuit after taking a five-place grid penalty for failing to respect multiple yellow flags on Saturday’s qualifying session.
“It was a pretty straightforward race in the end and it was a great job by the team because we really needed the points today,” said Hamilton after the race. “To get back-to-back wins is a great feeling and sets us up well for the final two races.”
Despite the setback, Verstappen climbed from seventh to fourth in the first lap, adding overtakes on Piere Gasly on lap 4 and Fernando Alonso on lap 6 to show up in second. The Red Bull star also set the fastest lap of the race to take home the extra point awarded for the honour – and take it away from Hamilton.
“Luckily we had a really good start,” said Verstappen. “At the end of the day to get the fastest lap was very nice.”
Mercedes pitted Hamilton one lap after Red Bull called Verstappen to the boxes on the two times the 24-year-old stopped for fresh tires. The safe strategy meant Verstappen had no way to challenge Hamilton for the win as the Briton showed tremendous pace for the second straight race after winning in Brazil last Sunday.
Returning two-time world champion Alonso finished third to claim his first podium since the 2014 Hungarian GP when he was still a Ferrari driver.
The 40-year-old Spaniard kept his starting position – inherited after Valtteri Bottas and Carlos Sainz Jr. were also punished for ignoring yellow flags, to add a highlight to his comeback season. He enjoyed a beautiful overtake on Gasly on the opening lap for P2 and voted driver of the day.
“It’s been seven years but finally we got there (in the podium). I’m so happy for the team,” said Alonso. “The team was excellent and the reliability of the car is great at the moment. I’ve waited so long for this and I’m so happy.”
Canadian driver Lance Stroll finished in the sixth position for his best result of the season so far. He started the race in P12.
His Aston Martin teammate Sebastian Vettel was tenth, handing a double points-finish to the Candian-owned team for only the third time this season.
Nicholas Latifi, the other Canadian on the grid, suffered a puncture on lap 52 and had to retire moments later, causing a virtual safety car to be deployed. He reported on team radio that the tire felt normal up until the point it failed.
His Williams teammate, George Russell, also had late tire issues and finished in P17.
Bottas, who lost three positions in the grid for ignoring one yellow flag on Saturday, lost five positions in the first lap to find himself out of the top10.
The Finn managed to climb back from P11 to third with a mix of good overtakes and a long first stint but suffered a tire failure on lap 33 when running in third. He made it to the pit lane for fresh tires and came back to their race on P14 before eventually retiring on lap 51.
Sergio Perez, who failed to qualify for the Q3 on Saturday, stormed from eleventh to fourth to make it a 33-point weekend to Red Bull. He had entertaining battles with both Alpines to help the Austrian team trim Mercedes constructors’ championship lead to only two points.
The Mexican driver could have challenged Alonso for third late in the race but the VSF that was deployed as a result of Latifi’s retirement kept him from going for it.
Esteban Ocon came right after in fifth, adding to Alpine’s 25-point weekend. The French outfit started the weekend tied in points with AlphaTauri, who saw both its drivers finish out of the points with Gasly in P11 and Yuki Tsunoda in P13.
In the Ferrari-McLaren fight for P3 in the constructors’ championship, the weekend went the Scuderia’s way for the third race in a row as Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz Jr. finished seventh and eighth, respectively.
Lando Norris was the only McLaren driver to finish in the points again, claiming all the team’s four points in Mexico, Brazil and Qatar. The 22-year-old Briton had to stop late in the race for fresh tires to prevent a puncture, finishing ninth. His teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, was 12th.
Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi were 14th and 15h, respectively.
Last week, the team announced Chinese F2 driver Guanyu Zhou will replace Giovinazzi next year. The 22-year-old will be teammates with Bottas, who will replace fellow Finn Raikkonen as the 2007 world champion will retire from F1 at the end of the season at 43.
The Haas duo of Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin was 16th and 18th, respectively.
F1 is back in two weeks for the first-ever Saudi Arabia GP on the Dec. 3-5 weekend. The season finale is set for a week after that, in Abu Dhabi.
See the full Qatar Grand Prix results below: