Lewis Hamilton cruised to a dominant victory at the Qatar GP, finishing ahead of championship rival Max Verstappen.
With just three races remaining of the 2021 F1 season, the grid took to the Losail International Circuit for the inaugural Qatar GP.
Max Verstappen was dealt a huge blow, receiving a 5-place grid drop penalty for failing to slow for yellow flags during qualifying yesterday. Meanwhile, his championship rival Lewis Hamilton started pole – a prime position to reduce the points gap to Verstappen. Valtteri Bottas was given a 3-place penalty for the same reason.
Hamilton took off smoothly, cruising away from the rest of the field. Fernando Alonso got a good start as well and managed to fight his way past Pierre Gasly for 2nd place.
Verstappen made a fantastic start, leaping from 7th to 4th by the end of the first few corners. However, the championship leader found himself stuck in 4th behind Gasly and Alonso.
A few laps in, Gasly ran wide at the final corner, allowing Verstappen easily through. By lap 5, Verstappen was back behind his championship rival again. Hamilton managed to extend his lead to around 5 seconds while Verstappen was wrestling for 2nd.
Sergio Perez, meanwhile, was squabbling with Carlos Sainz for P7 after starting 11th. It took him a few laps with some very close calls but he finally fought past on lap 8.
Back at the front of the field, Verstappen spoke with his team on the radio about potential front wing damage. Further team radio messages suggested possible front endplate damage. However, he was still matching Hamilton’s lap times so the damage did not seem too impactful.
Lando Norris climbed back up to 4th, getting ahead of Pierre Gasly at turn 1, which was proving to be a crucial corner for overtaking so far.
Before long, Sergio Perez and Valtteri Bottas were weaving their way through the field in an attempt to reach the top positions once again.
Verstappen began to lose time to Hamilton and decided to pit from medium tires to hards on lap 17. Immediately after, Hamilton responded to Red Bull’s decision and pitted him on the next lap. The gap between Hamilton and Verstappen before the pitstops was around 8 seconds, and it remained a similar amount as Hamilton exited the pit lane.
Perez mimicked his teammate, stopping for hard tires before Bottas at around lap 20. However, the Finn chose to wait longer before following Perez into the pits. He soon reeled in Norris and passed him for 4th while the Mexican re-joined the race mixed within the pack.
Perez rapidly closed in on Alonso until Charles Leclerc locked up ahead at turn 1, causing them to go three-wide into the corner. Alonso slipped by but Perez on the outside line was forced wide and remained behind the Ferrari, before swooping around the outside of him shortly after.
The 30-lap mark rolled around and Bottas continued on the medium tires he started on. The Mercedes reached 3rd place, with a 20-second advantage over Perez who did not seem to lose too much time while fighting the midfield cars.
Soon after, Bottas was the only driver who had not yet pitted with a 35-lap-old medium tire. Unfortunately, the Finn’s front left tire gave in as he pushed a bit too far. The tire was punctured and Bottas had to limp back to the pits after suffering the puncture less than halfway around the lap. Bottas required a front wing replacement after returning to the pits and re-joined the race all the way in 13th. From that moment, it became a Mercedes in the lead followed by a Red bull 2-3.
Teams started to doubt whether they could push to the end with a one-stop strategy, and Red Bull was the first to take action. Verstappen pitted with 16 laps to go from second place to mediums and Hamilton once again retaliated immediately. Perez also pitted for mediums, taking him out of the podium with Alonso re-claiming 3rd place.
Alpine was set on keeping Alonso in the podium position but was wary of the charging Sergio Perez hunting down maximum points for Red Bull. Esteban Ocon put up a valiant fight to hold up Perez, trying to re-pass the Mexican after being overtaken at turn 1. But Perez managed to hold on and was on the hunt for Norris in P4.
Meanwhile, Bottas remained far outside the points and had to retire after the team detected damage to the car.
Both Williams cars ran into trouble within minutes of each other, both sustaining front-left punctures. Russell made it back to the pits, but Latifi pulled to the side of the track and retired from the race. This later triggered the virtual safety car. Once the virtual safety car was retracted, only a lap remained of the Qatar GP.
Alonso managed to hold on to 3rd place over Perez to claim his first podium since 2014. Hamilton crossed the line first to win the inaugural Qatar GP, but Verstappen hauled back the point for the fastest lap of the race.
|2||Max Verstappen||Red Bull||+25.743|
|4||Sergio Perez||Red Bull||+62.306|
|6||Lance Stroll||Aston Martin||+81.274|
|10||Sebastian Vettel||Aston Martin||+1L|
|14||Kimi Raikkonen||Alfa Romeo||+1L|
|15||Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo||+1L|