Today, the FIA Formula One World Championship visited Qatar for the first time. MotoGP stalwart Losail International Circuit hosted the race precisely one year before the country hosts the FIFA World Cup in 2022. Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton beat Red Bull’s Max Verstappen to pole in qualifying by four-tenths of a second. However, the Dutch driver would not start the race from second. Verstappen, Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas and Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz were all summoned to the stewards’ office for failing to slow for yellow flags during Q3.
The race stewards finally decided on each of the Q3 penalties only a few hours before the race start. Verstappen started the race from 7th after being given a five-place grid penalty for failing to acknowledge double-waved yellow flags. Bottas received a three-place grid penalty. These penalties would promote AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly to second on the grid, with Alpine’s Fernando Alonso third.
The opening three laps for the race saw Verstappen quickly compensate for his grid penalty with a tremendous start. The Red Bull driver was fourth by the end of the opening lap. He was racing wheel-to-wheel with Alonso for second place by the fourth lap. He would pass the two-time world champion at the end of the start/finish straight on the fifth lap.
Hamilton and Verstappen would drive away from the rest of the field. There was a gap over 8 seconds between the championship contenders when the leaders’ first round of pit stops began at the end of lap 17. The gap only increased as the race went on.
Tire degradation would be a significant factor in race strategy and attrition. Any team that attempted a one-stop strategy or ran a lengthy stint on a set of tires was at risk of tire failure due to excessive wear. Valtteri Bottas would suffer a tire puncture on lap 34 and eventually retire from the race. Both Williams drivers, George Russell and Nicholas Latifi, would have punctures on laps 51 and 52.
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Fernando Alonso needed to hold his one-stop strategy together to finish on the podium. The Virtual Safety Car deployment to retrieve Latifi’s car slightly alleviated fears of a puncture. During the VSC period, Verstappen pitted for a set of soft tires to further solidify his grasp of the fastest lap bonus point.
Lewis Hamilton crossed the finish line first and won the Qatar Grand Prix with Verstappen second and Alonso third. Fernando Alonso secured his first podium since 2014. Red Bull’s Sergio Pérez would finish fourth almost three seconds off the podium. Max Verstappen leads the World Drivers’ Championship by 8 points over Lewis Hamilton. Formula One will return in two weeks, in Saudi Arabia.