Verstappen secures third F1 world title as Piastri takes Sprint victory in Qatar
Red Bull driver Max Verstappen was confirmed as a triple F1 world champion with a battling run to second position in Saturday’s Sprint race at the Qatar Grand Prix, finishing between the McLarens of Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris at the end of an action-packed encounter.
Piastri started the 19-lap dash in pole position and, after losing the lead to Mercedes rival George Russell early on amid opposing tyre strategies, the rookie fought back to take his first F1 victory, with Verstappen – who only needed to finish sixth to kick off another round of championship celebrations – ultimately coming home in the runner-up spot ahead of Norris.
Indeed, Verstappen’s result saw him mathematically put the drivers’ championship out beyond the reach of team mate Sergio Perez, who retired in any case, confirming the Dutchman as the sport’s title winner for the third successive season after his breakthrough triumphs in 2021 and 2022.
It means Verstappen joins an exclusive group of drivers with three F1 crowns, including Jack Brabham, Jackie Stewart, Niki Lauda, Nelson Piquet and Ayrton Senna, leaving quadruple champions Alain Prost and Sebastian Vettel next up on the all-time list.
FORMULA 1 QATAR AIRWAYS QATAR GRAND PRIX 2023
|1 Oscar Piastri PIA McLaren||35:01.297||8|
|2 Max Verstappen VER Red Bull Racing||+1.871s||7|
|3 Lando Norris NOR McLaren||+8.497s||6|
|4 George Russell RUS Mercedes||+11.036s||5|
|5 Lewis Hamilton HAM Mercedes||+17.314s||4|
With the race start approaching, it was revealed that Piastri, Norris and Verstappen had all gone for medium tyres, while just behind them, the Mercedes of Russell and the Ferraris of Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc opted to line up on the more aggressive softs.
Tyre choices were split across the rest of the grid, with Aston Martin pair Fernando Alonso and Lance Stroll, the Alpines of Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly and Williams rookie Logan Sargeant bolting on softs, leaving the remaining drivers on medium rubber.
When the lights went out, pole-sitter Piastri made a clean getaway to keep his lead off the line and into Turn 1, but there was trouble for Norris and Verstappen as both of them got swamped by the soft-tyre starters, losing out to Russell, Sainz and Leclerc in quick succession.
Further back, Liam Lawson lost control of his AlphaTauri and spun into the gravel, putting him out on the spot and triggering a Safety Car, but it was only a lap before Bernd Maylander peeled into the pits and released Piastri back into clear air.
Russell tucked in behind Piastri at the restart and piled on the pressure during the first few corners, managing to jump ahead for the lead with a committed move into Turn 8, moments before Sargeant brought out another Safety Car with his own spin into the gravel.
With the second stoppage playing into the hands of those on soft tyres once again, allowing them to eke out some more life, Russell found himself leading the way from Piastri, Sainz, Leclerc and Verstappen, who was still in position to seal a third world title.
Norris held sixth, while Alonso, who had briefly worked his way past the McLaren, fell back behind and then lost another place to former team mate Ocon, leaving Haas driver Nico Hulkenberg just outside the points-paying positions from Gasly, Perez and Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes.
At the next restart, Russell mastered the timing of his getaway to pull more than a second clear in a matter of corners, with Piastri fending off the advances of Sainz and Leclerc and the rest of the field this time keeping it neat and tidy, including a smart pass from Alonso on Ocon to reclaim P7.
With the race hitting Lap 9 and getting close to its halfway mark, Verstappen turned up his pace to close in on Leclerc, duck into the Ferrari’s slipstream down the start/finish straight and slip ahead during the run to Turn 1, before repeating the trick on Sainz next time around.
Underlining that proceedings seemed to be moving back towards the medium-shod runners, Piastri slashed the gap to Russell and completed another DRS-assisted overtake heading down to Turn 1 to move back into the lead, with Norris also making a pass on Leclerc for P6.
Then came another injection of drama as Perez – who needed a top-three finish to keep his slim title hopes alive – attempted a double pass on Hulkenberg and Ocon into Turn 2, only for the trio to come together and sustain terminal damage. “They sandwiched me!” Hulkenberg shouted over the radio in response.
At this point, with the Safety Car deployed again, Russell declared that “the tyres are done” and urged Mercedes to pit him for fresh rubber, something Stroll, Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu and Haas driver Kevin Magnussen had all opted to do, but his request was denied.
At the end of Lap 14, the race resumed once more, with Piastri surging into the distance from Russell, Verstappen and Sainz, while Leclerc edged his way back past Norris into Turn 1, getting extremely close to the rear of his team mate’s car in the process.
Next time around, Russell’s tyre-related demise continued as Verstappen breezed past down the main straight, before Norris got ahead of both Leclerc and Sainz – who also appeared to hit the cliff with their soft rubber – and looked to give the Mercedes man even more to think about.
Meanwhile, a lock-up from Gasly opened the door for Hamilton to move into the points, with the seven-time world champion going on to pass Alonso and then attack the two Ferraris, managing to clear both across the final two laps.
As the chequered flag arrived, Piastri crossed the line to mark a first in his career with a fine Sprint win, while Verstappen followed him home, just under two seconds adrift, to put both hands on world title number three.
Norris also pulled off a late move on the struggling Russell to bag the final podium spot, but the latter at least managed to lead team mate Hamilton home in fourth and fifth respectively, followed by the Ferraris of Sainz and Leclerc.
Williams driver Alex Albon enjoyed a surge over the final few laps to rise to eighth position and take the final point, clearing Alonso just before the flag, with Gasly 10th after his mistake, from Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas and AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda.
Stroll, Magnussen and Zhou were the final finishers after their pit stops for fresh tyres, with Hulkenberg, Ocon and Perez all out after their joint incident, and Sargeant and Lawson watching from the sidelines following their early spins.
A twist post-race saw Leclerc and Stroll investigated for exceeding track limits, with the stewards deciding to hand both of them a five-second time penalty, dropping the Monegasque out of the points and giving Alonso a reward for his efforts in P8, and pushing the Canadian behind Magnussen and Zhou.
“I’m very happy,” said Sprint winner Piastri. “It was a very stressful race! When I saw all the soft [tyre] guys come through at the start, I thought we were in a bit of trouble, but then their tyres fell off pretty quickly – that was good.
“Safety Cars were my friend today, definitely once Max got behind me, but the pace was reasonable… I think in a race where you had to manage a lot, the tyres, cars on other compounds, I think we did a really good job.”
After Saturday’s standalone Sprint action, the F1 field will now get ready for the main event on Sunday afternoon: the 2023 Qatar Grand Prix. Head to the RACE HUB to find out how you can follow the 57-lap encounter.