Fernando Alonso finished third in Qatar. The last time Alpine’s 40-year-old Spaniard finished in the top three was in 2014 when he finished second on behalf of Ferrari in Hungary.
Verstappen was not fooled in Qatar by his grid penalty, which was pronounced a few hours before the start. The Limburger started his race more than excellently. Immediately after the start lights went out, the Dutchman sped past Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas, moved up to sixth and eventually came out of the first corner in fourth.
In the fourth round, Verstappen moved up to third place. After a mistake by Pierre Gasly, the Red Bull frontman was able to pass easily on the straight. The Frenchman of AlphaTauri indirectly led Verstappen’s grid penalty a day earlier in the ultimate final phase of qualifying with a broken front tire. Despite yellow flags, the Dutchman did not regain sufficient speed, according to the race management.
Max Verstappen had a good start.
On lap five, Verstappen also passed Alonso, who was finishing second. The damage from the grid penalty was thus repaired. No doubt to the delight of Red Bull team principal Christian Horner. “This is a crucial blow for us in the battle for the world title,” he said just before the start, referring to the penalty for his top driver.
Verstappen then set his sights on Hamilton, who was more than three seconds ahead of him. However, the Briton from Mercedes slowly but surely disappeared from the picture. “I’m doing my best, but it’s difficult,” Verstappen said to his team over the on-board radio. Hamilton was again in a class of its own, just like in Brazil, where he put out a new engine.
Max Verstappen rushes past Pierre Gasly and takes P3.
ⓒ Getty Images
The first series of pit stops did not change the front and on lap 27 Verstappen decided it was time for action. “Let’s have some fun. We’ll be second. Let’s try to close the gap.”
Verstappen pressed the accelerator considerably and the difference also decreased somewhat, to about six seconds, but Hamilton always managed to parry. The gap in the remainder of the race kept fluctuating between eight and ten seconds. The second set of stops did not change that. Nor is a virtual safety car situation, after a failure of Williams driver Nicolas Latifi.
The pit stops made no difference on Sunday.
Although Hamilton won the race, Red Bull is still competing for the constructors’ title. Bottas had a dramatic race. After a bad start, he fell back to the middle of the pack before his advance was halted halfway through the race by a puncture. He even had to give up a few laps before the end due to a technical problem. With Perez’s fourth place, the difference between Mercedes and Red Bull with two races to go remains extremely small.
The next Grand Prix will take place in two weeks in Saudi Arabia, where Formula 1 has never landed before. The final race will be held a week later in Abu Dhabi. Last year, Verstappen took the win in the emirate on the Persian Gulf.
View the full results of the Qatar Grand Prix here.