F1 – Qatar GP – Race

Marhaba, MiniFans! Many things have happened since we turned off the TV yesterday, the main one being that both Verstappen and Bottas have been given grid penalties for ignoring the yellow flags at the end of Q3 yesterday. Other drivers were investigated but were deemed not at fault due to either having lifted their foot from the throttle or not having been under a yellow flag at the moment. This meant that Gasly, who had caused the yellow flag, was promoted to second on the grid and Alonso rose to his best starting place since his Ferrari days.

With Verstappen starting from seventh, it seemed as if the start would be as easy as spreading warm butter on toast, but neither Alonso nor Gasly, on softs, were planning on making it easy. Despite their good starts, Hamilton was able to keep his first place, while Verstappen was soon settled in fourth place, right behind Gasly, who had eventually been overtaken by Alonso. The battle of the right hands was tilting towards Pérez, who had managed to climb up a couple places, while Bottas had dropped down out of the points. In just a couple more laps and a couple messages between Red Bull and Alpha Tauri, Verstappen was through Gasly and Alonso, trying to hunt down Hamilton without much success.

The first stop came courtesy of Tsunoda, one of the few who had started on softs, as Bottas finally managed to start overtaking cars after a very non-motivating radio message by his team principal. The first of the ones fighting for the win to change tyres was Verstappen, in lap 18, who changed to hards, and was followed by Hamilton in the following one, defending his position by copying Red Bull. As usual, he did not agree with his team, but still listened to them and boxed. Meanwhile, Alonso was pulling fastest personal laps with very old soft tyres and was still holding the fort in third place but after pitting and holding Pérez behind for a handful of laps, he was eventually overtaken by the Red Bull.

It had been thought that two stops were almost necessary, rather than a choice, but the tyres were going against the current and allowing teams and drivers alike to think that a one-stop strategy was not only plausible but also a good choice. However, Bottas’ front tyre had another plan: being the only one left to pit more than halfway through the race, his medium tyre had a puncture that left him hopping on three wheels to get to the pit lane. His stop was finally completed and rejoined the race out of the points once again.

Bottas’ disaster and tyre vibration made Red Bull pit both their cars and Hamilton followed suit a lap after Verstappen. Alonso, back in third after Pérez got new tyres, knew the only thing he could do was grit his teeth and hope the Red Bull’s path was interrupted by a few cars, including his teammate, who fought all he could taking the pace difference between them into account. With six laps to go, there was no one else between them and the hunt was on. Another puncture surfaced, this time in Russell’s tyre, and not even a lap had ticked down when Latifi’s also gave in.

The last handful of laps made drivers be extremely careful on their old tyres, having already seen that there were no warnings before they were gone, as Latifi had reported that he hadn’t even felt any vibrations prior to losing the tyre. A virtual safety car was eventually deployed to get Latifi’s car out of the gravel, aiding Alonso on his quest to defend from Pérez. When it was finally taken away during the last lap, the gap was reduced immensely, but not enough to take the podium away from the Alpine. With a Hamilton win and a Verstappen second place plus the fastest lap, the battle for the championship tightens more than ever. However, all eyes turned to Alonso, who had finally redeemed himself in his return to F1 and fulfilled his quest to step on a podium one more time.

The race had been predicted to be almost fully devoid of overtaking, but it proved that it wasn’t as difficult as it had been thought, especially with a pace difference or at the end of the main straight, aided by DRS. Three punctures marked the late stages of the race and helped Alonso, both via other cars pitting and the VSC that got deployed at the end, to return to a podium that missed the two-time world champion. The championship race gets tighter, with only two races to go and a few points between both contenders.