F1, Qatar GP 2021: Lewis Hamilton wins his second race in a row after Brazil. The Mercedes driver is now only 8 points behind his rival Max Verstappen in the driver’s championship with just two races remaining in this season.
Lewis Hamilton was on pole, while Pierre Gasly, thanks to Max Verstappen and Valtteri Bottas’s 5 place grid penalty, was promoted to start the race at the front row.
It was lights out and Hamilton started out smooth. Verstappen gained P4 while Bottas dropped from sixth to 11th. Alonso stopped the Redbull driver from entering the top 3, while he himself passed Pierre Gasly to take P2.
By the 5th Lap, Max Verstappen was already on P2 passing the veteran Alonso and Alphatauri’s Pierre Gasly. It was crucial for him to limit the damage for his championship hopes to remain alive.
Sergio Perez was moving on Verstappen’s footsteps climbing from P11 to P6 by 9th Lap. The leaders were on a charge to open a 29s Lap to Alonso. Hamilton led 7s from Max Verstappen by the 15th Lap.
A strategic decision from the Redbull management to bring in Max Verstappen for a hard tyre pitstop. Mercedes did the same on the next Lap to counter Max. Although, Max pitted he joined back the race holding his second place.
Hamilton wasn’t best pleased, telling the team it was “definitely way too early to stop” but was brusquely told that with the pace advantage he was enjoying – sufficient for Hamilton to be 10s clear of Verstappen when he emerged from his stop – it had been worth mirroring Red Bull.
At the halfway mark, Hamilton was enjoying his first spot and so was Verstappen in P2. Bottas, yet to pit, was third, followed by Perez, Alonso, Gasly, Norris, Ocon, Stroll, and Sainz.
Bottas found a puncture in his tyre and was forced to pit on Lap 33. He emerged P14 giving Perez a podium opportunity behind Lewis and Max. At that point, Max Verstappen was leading by almost 50s ahead of Perez. The big question now was whether Hamilton or Verstappen would feel compelled to stop again in light of Bottas’ issues.
Verstappen answered the question on Lap 41 when he stopped for mediums, Hamilton unsurprisingly responding a lap later for the same tyres, as the pair of them maintained status quo at the front.
A surprising decision from Redbull to stop Sergio Perez for mediums on Lap 41. He rejoins the track P7, which gave Alonso the podium spot. However, Alonso still needed his teammate Esteban Ocon to defend Perez for his podium position to stay till the end.
Valtteri Bottas had to retire on Lap 50 for his tyre issues. Along with him, Williams driver Nicholas Latifi was also retired on Lap 55. A virtual safety car was called that gave Max Verstappen a chance to pit for softs claiming the fastest lap point.
The soft tyres did not bother Mercedes as duly swept across the line to secure back-to-back wins after Interlagos. He had been, quite simply, untouchable all evening.
If Verstappen felt a little jaded, Alonso felt pure joy, as he benefitted from the VSC to hold onto P3. “Finally we got it,” said Alonso after the race. “I’m so happy for the team.” Perez took P4 and will likely have some questions over Red Bull’s two-stop move for him, while Ocon took fifth, to move Alpine a decisive 25 points clear of AlphaTauri in their fight for fifth in the constructors’.
A stealthy performance from Stroll was enough to give the Aston Martin driver P6, ahead of the Ferrari pair of Sainz and Leclerc, with Norris ending up P9 – McLaren having suspected a puncture a few laps from the end and stopping the Briton, as Vettel recovered from his poor start to claim the final point.
After starting second, Gasly finished a galling P11, having opted for a two-stop, ahead of Daniel Ricciardo – a third point-less race in a row for the Australian – as Yuki Tsunoda took 13th. Kimi Raikkonen was P14 for Alfa Romeo, having enjoyed a beautiful battle with Latifi, with his teammate Antonio Giovinazzi P15, ahead of Mick Schumacher, Russell, and Nikita Mazepin.