Formula 1 was the first guest in Qatar, but politics and rules were the main topics of discussion in the small oil state. Last week’s confrontation between title contenders Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen in Brazil that reverberated, the rear wing of Mercedes being questioned by Red Bull, Verstappen ignoring a yellow flag in qualifying: there was plenty to talk about.
Of course there was also just racing. Lewis Hamilton continued his strong form from last week with a new pole position. Verstappen took second place, but ignored a double yellow flag on his last lap. That broke the Dutchman sour: he received a grid penalty and would only start the race in seventh, behind Pierre Gasly, Fernando Alonso, Lando Norris, Carlos Sainz Jr and Valtteri Bottas. The latter had also received a grid penalty for ignoring a single yellow flag.
How did the start go?
Lewis Hamilton did what he had to do: he held off Pierre Gasly and Fernando Alonso and stayed in first place. The Brit could immediately make a gap with the rest. Max Verstappen also did exactly what he had to do: the Dutchman immediately moved from seventh to fourth place, although he experienced a moment of shock when he looked up the grass with the right side of his Red Bull. Everyone survived the opening round.
How did the victory come about?
There was absolutely nothing that could be done about Lewis Hamilton at the Losail circuit, as was expected beforehand due to the power advantage of the Mercedes. Because Verstappen also had to squeeze past Alonso and Gasly in the opening laps – something the Dutchman did with verve, Hamilton was immediately able to create a nice gap. He held on to it effortlessly for the remainder of the race. At the end, as expected, Verstappen made a late pit stop for fresh rubber and was able to take the fastest lap and the corresponding World Cup point.
What do we remember from this race?
A new step has been taken towards the most exciting final battle in years. The difference between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen is now barely 8 points in favor of the Dutchman. That’s negligible with two races to go. And yet at the next race in Saudi Arabia, in two weeks, it could already be over: if Verstappen finishes in the top two there and Lewis Hamilton does not score any points, then Verstappen is world champion.