Verstappen cruises to Qatar GP victory over Piastri and Norris after Mercedes drivers collide
Red Bull driver Max Verstappen continued his title celebrations with a dominant performance during Sunday’s Qatar Grand Prix, leading home the McLarens of Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris following a first-lap collision between Mercedes pair Lewis Hamilton and George Russell.
Hamilton and Russell went wheel-to-wheel moments after the lights went out at the Lusail International Circuit, the seven-time world champion attempting to go around the outside of his team mate through Turn 1, only for the duo to dramatically make contact in the bottleneck.
With Hamilton out of the race on the spot, and Russell forced to pit for a new front wing at the end of the opening lap, two of Verstappen’s main rivals had already fallen by the wayside and the now triple world champion never looked back, romping to win number 14 of 2023.
FORMULA 1 QATAR AIRWAYS QATAR GRAND PRIX 2023
|1 Max Verstappen VER Red Bull Racing||1:27:39.168||26|
|2 Oscar Piastri PIA McLaren||+4.833s||18|
|3 Lando Norris NOR McLaren||+5.969s||15|
|4 George Russell RUS Mercedes||+34.119s||12|
|5 Charles Leclerc LEC Ferrari||+38.976s||10|
McLaren backed up an impressive Sprint race display as Piastri and Norris came home second and third respectively for another double podium finish, rising from their P6 and P10 grid slots after losing lap times over track limits violations in qualifying.
Russell put in a fine recovery drive to take fourth at the chequered flag, getting the better of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso, who was hindered by an off-track excursion and an overheating seat.
Esteban Ocon came home seventh for Alpine, while Alfa Romeo logged their first double points finish of the season as Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu took P8 and P9, ahead of the other Red Bull of Sergio Perez.
Perez made the points despite starting from the pit lane thanks to major car changes in the wake of his Sprint race accident, and an action-packed evening that saw him pick up three penalties for exceeding track limits.
Lance Stroll (Aston Martin) had crossed the line in the points-paying positions but dropped to 11th after the chequered flag for his own track limits violations, with Pierre Gasly (Alpine) and Alex Albon (Williams) also penalised in P12 and P13.
Haas drivers Kevin Magnussen and Nico Hulkenberg and AlphaTauri pair Yuki Tsunoda and Liam Lawson were the final drivers to make it to the finish in a race that saw the entire field complete at least three pit stops due to tyre-related safety measures.
Hamilton watched from the sidelines following his clash with Russell, while Logan Sargeant retired in the other Williams during the closing stages after reporting that he was feeling unwell at the wheel amid the intense heat.
Before the race had even started, Carlos Sainz was ruled out of proceedings due to a fuel system problem developing on his car that could not be resolved in time, meaning Leclerc was the sole Ferrari driver in action.
AS IT HAPPENED
After Saturday’s standalone Sprint action, which saw Verstappen confirmed as world champion for the third successive season, attention turned to the 57-lap main event, the Qatar Grand Prix, with the Dutchman starting on pole from Mercedes pair Russell and Hamilton.
In the wake of an issue spotted by Pirelli during Friday practice, a range of tyre safety measures were implemented ahead of the race, headlined by a mandatory limit of 18 laps per set, with any driver deemed to have exceeded this due to be reported to the stewards.
Meanwhile, a change to the grid saw Perez moved from his P13 starting position to the pit lane, due to Red Bull changing several power unit components and making significant repairs – including the preparation of a new chassis – after the Red Bull man’s crash in the Sprint.
More drama came just under an hour before lights out when Ferrari confirmed that Sainz would not be taking part in the race due to a fuel system issue developing on his car, meaning the Scuderia would only be represented by Leclerc.
When the race start approached and the tyre blankets came off, it was revealed that the majority of the field would be lining up on medium tyres, with Hamilton, Bottas, Lawson and Magnussen going more aggressive on softs, and pit lane starter Perez aiming to go long on hards.
Verstappen made a clean getaway when the race began to defend his lead on the run down to Turn 1, where disaster immediately struck for Mercedes as Hamilton – attempting a move around the outside – banged wheels with Russell, who got sandwiched between his team mate and the pole-sitting Red Bull.
With Hamilton lacking a right-rear tyre in the gravel and out on the spot, and Russell limping back to the pits for repairs, Piastri was a huge beneficiary of the drama, rising from sixth to second ahead of Alonso, Leclerc, Ocon and Norris, who was another to make up plenty of ground from P10.
Under a Safety Car that allowed marshals to clear the gravel trap, the airing of several radio messages served up contrasting feelings in the Mercedes camp, with Russell shouting in anger and Hamilton initially claiming he was “taken out” by his team mate, only to accept fault in his TV interviews.
At this point, stewards confirmed that the incident would be investigated after the race, with Hulkenberg also noted – and then given a 10-second penalty – for an incorrect starting position, while Bottas, Magnussen, Stroll and Lawson all took the opportunity to pit for fresh tyres.
At the end of Lap 4, and after another radio message from Russell expressing his exasperation at the situation, only to be told to focus by Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff, the race resumed, with Verstappen keeping his advantage over Piastri, Alonso, Leclerc, Ocon and Norris.
Behind the top six drivers, Gasly, the penalised Hulkenberg and Tsunoda ran close together in P7 to P9, with Russell pulling off a series of overtakes to work his way from the back of the field to 10th – and the final points-paying position – by the time the lap count hit double figures.
On Lap 11, Ocon was the first of the front-running group to pit for fresh rubber, followed swiftly by Alonso, Piastri and Leclerc, with at least three stops expected per driver over the course of the race due to the safety measures implemented by Pirelli and the FIA.
Amid an ongoing flurry of tyre changes, Verstappen stretched out his first stint and lit up the timesheets to build a comfortable advantage at the head of the field, eventually stopping at the end of Lap 17 for more of the favoured mediums, along with team mate Perez, to leave only Albon and Zhou as those yet to pit.
Verstappen rejoined the track just behind Albon, giving his former team mate a brief run in the lead, but the Williams man and Zhou’s Alfa Romeo came in a tour later and ensured that every driver had visited the pits at least once by the Lap 20 mark.
After those stops, Verstappen held P1 from Piastri, Bottas, Alonso and Stroll, with Norris clearing Leclerc down the start/finish straight for sixth position and Russell – who had run as high as second before his latest stop – returning to the points at the expense of Magnussen.
Russell was soon in the wars again as he got up close and personal with Gasly and complained on the radio that the Alpine driver “pushed me straight off” during an initial overtaking attempt, but a second effort proved successful and his recovery continued.
On Lap 25, Verstappen led by almost 10 seconds from Piastri, who then triggered another round of pit stops as he pitted for more fresh rubber, with Alonso following him in and asking Aston Martin to throw some water into the cockpit and cool a “burning” seat.
As more pit stops came thick and fast, news landed that Perez had been given a five-second time penalty for exceeding track limits, something many others were at risk of, with drivers throughout the field racking up warnings from Race Control.
“Let’s have a managed increase in pace at this point,” was the message to Verstappen on Lap 31, with his advantage over current second-placed man Russell standing at 22 seconds – an array of tyre strategies playing out and keeping the timesheets rolling on a lap-by-lap basis.
After his seat complaints, Alonso’s race took another turn for the worse when he ran through the gravel at Turn 2 and was then noted by the stewards for rejoining the track in an unsafe manner, having jumped back onto the tarmac alongside Leclerc. Stewards later gave the Spaniard a reprimand.
Elsewhere, Sargeant reported that he was feeling unwell in the cockpit, with Williams team boss James Vowles giving him the option to retire from proceedings, but the American rookie vowed to plough on and attempt to reach the chequered flag.
Verstappen’s next stop came on Lap 35, after which he retained a significant lead over Piastri, with Norris a few seconds further back in third – the Red Bull now on hard tyres, while the McLarens worked through stints on more mediums.
Russell’s action-packed race put him a net fourth, leading a train of hard-shod runners in Leclerc, Alonso, Ocon, Bottas, Gasly and Stroll, with Perez’s hopes of joining that fight for the points taking a hit when he picked up another five-second penalty over track limits.
After several more laps at the wheel, Sargeant reiterated his discomfort in the hot conditions, prompting his race engineer to comment that “there’s no shame” in retiring. “I need to stop,” came the response, and the youngster duly pulled out of the race.
Piastri made what looked set to be his final stop on Lap 44, with Norris coming in one tour later, both McLarens switching to hard tyres and a subsequent message from the pit wall asking the two drivers to hold position to the finish.
After a final stop for mediums on Lap 52, Verstappen calmly saw out the remainder of the race and ultimately crossed the line just under five seconds clear of Piastri, with Norris following one second further back to give McLaren successive double podiums.
Russell completed a closing stint on soft tyres to hold fourth over Leclerc, followed by Alonso, Ocon, the Alfa Romeos of Bottas and Zhou and Perez, who was given a third five-second penalty for exceeding track limits after the chequered flag.
Stroll, Gasly and Albon also picked up multiple penalties over track limits as they ended in positions P11 to P13, with the Haas and AlphaTauri machines of Magnussen, Tsunoda, Hulkenberg and Lawson bringing up the rear.
After joining Hamilton on the list of retirements, the unwell Sargeant was given a once over by medics, while Sainz went down as a non-starter due to the aforementioned fuel system issue on his Ferrari.
“I think what made the race was my first stint,” said winner Verstappen. “After that I could just manage my pace, making sure that my tyres were always in a good window. But the McLarens were quick again today, I had to push for it, so it was definitely a tough race out there.”
The next stop on the 2023 F1 calendar will be Austin for the United States Grand Prix weekend, which takes place from October 20-22.